by Jason Karnosky
This past summer Jordan Gross, one of the American Hockey League (AHL) best two-way defenseman, was trying to figure out the next phase of his career.
Coming off a stunning, 65-point campaign with the Colorado Eagles, the 27-year-old wanted to continue to grow as a player, but also wanted to find an organization where he would have the chance to earn his way back into the National Hockey League (NHL). The Milwaukee Admirals and their NHL-affiliate Nashville Predators have proven to be a terrific fit for the fifth-year defenseman this season.
In 41 games to date with the Admirals, Gross is second on the team in active players with seven goals and 29 points. In addition, Gross scored his first three NHL goals in 10 games with the Predators.
“As a player all that you want is to sign with an organization that is going to give you an opportunity out of camp to play in the NHL,” Gross said. “Looking at the way Nashville plays, and the organization as a whole, you can tell that they set a really high standard here. It just kind of all worked out where we felt the Nashville/Milwaukee organization was the best position for me.”
Milwaukee general manager Scott Nichol was thrilled to pick up the dynamic two-way blue liner in the offseason, and the addition has paid dividends on both levels of the Predators organization.
“Jordan’s professionalism and how he carries himself really stands out,” Nichol said. “On the ice you see how he sees the play, how he carries the play, and that he’s an elite offensive defenseman. It shows with the stats he’s put up in the AHL, and he’s been pretty much as advertised when we signed him. When he came up to the Predators, he really kickstarted our backend in Nashville.”
Gross was firing on all cylinders when the season started. He picked up points in five of his first six games and had a pair of two-assist performances. The defender’s first goal for the Admirals was a huge one—an overtime winner in a 4-3 victory over defending Calder Cup champion Chicago on October 29.
“Jordan has got really good vision, really sees the ice well, and moves the puck well,” Admirals coach Karl Taylor said. “He’s a very good player at the American Hockey League level, and I think he’s on the cusp of being a fulltime player in the National Hockey League. He’s right there.”
Gross’ hot play early on earned him exactly what he was looking for, a callup to the Predators. In just his second game with Nashville, the five-foot, 10-inch defenseman scored the first two goals of his NHL career.
“It was an awesome first goal and awesome to get that out of the way in Vancouver,” said Gross, who helped the Predators overcome a 3-0 deficit to beat the Canucks 4-3 on November 5. “It was one of those games where not a whole lot was going right for me. The goal kind of got me back on the right track, and then I ended up getting a second one later in the game. That was a really big comeback win for our team and it was special to be a part of that.”
Gross added another tally in a 4-3 overtime win over Edmonton on December 19. The ability to earn ice time in Nashville was exactly what Gross was looking for this summer. Nichol was able to sell the undrafted blue liner on the fact that the Predators and Admirals provide real second chance opportunities for players with similar resumes.
“I’m sure in Jordan’s mind he has wanted to play more games up with Nashville, but we’ve been really happy with him,” Nichol said. “He makes all of our younger players around him better and that is a great quality to have.”
While the Predators have drafted and developed many successful NHL players, the organization has a knack for helping players like Gross, who have bounced around a little bit and struggled to earn full time NHL jobs. Nichol was able to point to several success stories in making his sales pitch to the power play specialist this summer.
“With the Colin Blackwell’s, the Rocco Grimaldi’s, and the Jarred Tinordi’s who have come through here and earned their way back to the NHL, you can see that we have a track record for giving players like that an opportunity,” Nichol said. “There is whole list of guys that are around 25 or 26 who want another kick at the can and who are looking for another organization where they can make their mark in the NHL.”
On the Milwaukee side of things, the Admirals were able to add a veteran defenseman who would bring plenty of leadership to a young team. As an added bonus, Gross brought with him the experience of playing for a Colorado Avalanche organization that won a Stanley Cup last spring.
“Being around that group you could tell right from training camp that the organization had extremely high standards,” Gross said. “You could see how hungry those guys were to have a deep playoff run and win a Stanley Cup. I got to play in one regular season game with the Avalanche, and it was a great experience. Just to be able to say that I got to play one game for that team during the season was extremely special.”
Gross took a huge step forward in his career playing mainly for the Avalanche’s AHL-affiliate, the Colorado Eagles in 2021-22. After never scoring more than 27 points in a single season, Gross blossomed into a star at the AHL level, racking up 10 goals and 55 assists. The performance earned the University of Notre Dame product the AHL’s Eddie Shore Award, as the league’s most outstanding defenseman.
“I’ve always believed in myself, but last year a lot of things kind of went right for me,” Gross said. “I was part of a very good team that had a lot of high-end players and a really good power play. It’s similar to what we have here in Milwaukee this year.”
Former Eagles and Admirals teammate Kiefer Sherwood credited Gross with helping him achieve his own personal breakout campaign with the Eagles in 2021-22.
“Jordan is a special player who makes a lot happen with the puck,” said current Predators forward Sherwood. “In Colorado we started to develop a little bit of chemistry. Whenever I was on the ice, I was trying to feed him. From his side he makes some plays where I don’t even see him, and yet he gets me a pass that sets up a great scoring opportunity.”
Gross bounced around a bit between Nashville and Milwaukee in the early going of 2022-23, and that made it difficult for the defender to get into a groove on the ice. But Gross found his stride with the Admirals at the beginning of January, scoring a goal and an assist in 5-1 January 7 win over San Diego. He added two assists in a January 20 contest against Iowa, and his latest tally came in a February 25, 4-3 overtime loss against Manitoba.
“The way Jordan thinks the game is incredible,” current Predators forward and Gross’ former teammate Luke Evangelista said. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve seen out there. When I’m talking to him on the bench, he knows what’s going to happen before the puck is even dropped. It has been really good to be on the ice with him, watch him play, but also to be able to pick his brain (for ideas).”
While with Milwaukee, Gross continues to work on his game so that his next stint in the NHL will be a more permanent one. Talented as a passer, transition blue liner, and as an offensive weapon on the power play, Gross knows that his ability to defend at NHL level will determine whether he will get to stay there on a full time basis.
“I started the year kind of bouncing back and forth a bit, but now I’m kind of settling in with Milwaukee,” Gross said. “It has been nice to see how our team is developing, playing well, and to be a part of that success. For me I’m working on staying focused defensively and being hard to play against every night.”
While he would prefer to be spending all of his time in Nashville, playing in Milwaukee has its perks for Gross on the personal side of things. Gross grew up in Maple Grove, Minnesota, a northwest suburb of the Twin Cities and just 45 minutes away from the Wisconsin border. Gross also played junior hockey for the Green Bay Gamblers, and college hockey at Notre Dame (which plays in the same league as the University of Wisconsin).
From those experiences, Gross got to know Milwaukee well, and knew playing for the AHL squad would be a nice fit for his family.
“Playing here is awesome, and it takes me back a little bit to my time playing in Green Bay,” Gross said. “It just kind of shows that people in Wisconsin are very passionate about hockey. Plus, it’s nice being close to home for my family, and it’s a lot easier for them to come and see me play.”