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AHL Notebook: Predators affiliate full of talent

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com

One could be excused for mistaking the list of Milwaukee Admirals alumni with an NHL All-Star team.

The likes of Shea Weber and Roman Josi now occupy spots on the Nashville Predators' defense after learning the pro game in the American Hockey League with Milwaukee. Goaltender Pekka Rinne carried the Admirals to a Calder Cup final in 2006.

The Nashville roster also includes Milwaukee graduates Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm on its blue line, plus forwards Filip Forsberg and Colin Wilson. Defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein and forward Scottie Upshall are among the Admirals that have moved on to long NHL careers with other organizations.

Now there is another crop of Predators prospects for the next infusion of talent through the Milwaukee-to-Nashville pipeline. At 19-9-0-1, the Admirals are a point behind the Western Conference-leading Rockford IceHogs after a 6-2 win at Rockford on Monday.

Goaltender Juuse Saros, a fourth-round pick by Nashville in the 2013 NHL Draft, headlines the latest round of Milwaukee-based talent. The 20-year-old goaltender is 12-3-0 in his first 15 AHL games with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. At 5-foot-11, 182 pounds, Saaros is an anomaly in today's game of big goaltenders.

But Saros brought an impressive resume with him to Milwaukee. Along with two seasons with HPK Hameenlinna of the SM-Liiga in Finland, Saaros led Finland to a gold medal in the 2014 World Junior Championship. Four months later, he was a part of Finland's silver-medal team at the World Hockey Championship.

"I like it here," said Saros, who made his NHL debut earlier this season. "Lots more happening in a game. Of course, more scoring chances too, but I still like the small rink. I still have a lot to learn about this game.

Swiss right wing Kevin Fiala, the 11th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, is another top prospect learning in Milwaukee. He played his first AHL season in 2014-15 as an 18-year-old and debuted with 11 goals in 33 games. This season, he has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 25 games.

A second-round pick by the Predators in 2012, left wing Pontus Aberg debuted last season with the Admirals and had 16 goals. This season he has eight goals in his first 28 games.

"Clearly Pontus is being rewarded on the scoresheet, but he's working, he's competing, he's battling," Milwaukee coach Dean Evason said after Aberg scored the winning goal in a 7-5 home win against the Manitoba Moose on Saturday. "He's playing fast and hard."

Another second-round pick, 19-year-old center Vladislav Kamenev, has six goals in 24 games in his first season in North America.

But the Nashville-Milwaukee partnership, which dates to the 1998-99 season when Nashville entered the NHL as an expansion franchise, also has a knack for turning less-heralded players into legitimate prospects.

Undrafted coming out of the Ontario Hockey League, Nashville signed defenseman Trevor Murphy in September, and he has bloomed in Milwaukee with five goals and eight assists in 23 games with the Admirals as rookie.

A fourth-round pick in 2014, forward Viktor Arvidsson needed last season and 14 AHL games this season before pushing himself into the Nashville lineup. He had seven goals and 10 assists in 14 games in Milwaukee before earning a recall to Nashville, where he has remained.

Leading scorer Frederick Gaudreau stands out as another undrafted player who is establishing himself as a late-blooming prospect. The 22-year-old center, who had to play an overage year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2013-14, has eight goals and 12 assists in 28 games with the Admirals.

Opposite directions: The Grand Rapids Griffins have a franchise-record 14-game winning streak going into their holiday break; they have not lost since Nov. 14 and have won 10 consecutive games at Van Andel Arena.

Conversely, the San Antonio Rampage ended a seven-game losing streak with a 3-2 win at the Iowa Wild on Sunday. They had not won since Nov. 29 after a 12-3-6-0 start to their season.

San Antonio will also be without leading scorer Mikko Rantanen, the 10th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. He has 10 goals and 16 assists in 22 games as a 19-year-old rookie. He will represent host Finland in the World Junior Championship.

The Rampage have been without captain Ben Street and defenseman Zach Redmond for much of the season. Each player remains with the parent Colorado Avalanche; Street, who had three goals and nine assists in six games with the Rampage, is out with a long-term chest injury. Defenseman Duncan Siemens, veteran center Marc-Andre Cliche and veteran defenseman Maxim Noreau have been out of the lineup at various points in December as well.

Toronto on top: The Toronto Marlies continued to overwhelm opponents and improved their road record to a league-best 15-1-1-0 with a three-game sweep last week. The Marlies went into Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday to face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, whose 12 home wins are most in the AHL. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton held a 3-0 lead entering the third period before Toronto scored three shorthanded goals in a 2:34 span to tie the game and set up a 4-3 shootout win.

From there, the Marlies moved south for a visit with the Hershey Bears and took a 6-2 win. The Marlies' 48 points and .800 winning percentage top the AHL, and they have at least a point in each of their past nine games (8-0-1-0).

The Marlies continue to win even with goaltenders Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks on recall with the Toronto Maple Leafs. To replace them, the Marlies added NHL veteran Ray Emery on an AHL tryout deal. Six goaltenders have won a game with the Marlies this season.

Toronto will be without top prospects William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, who will participate in the World Junior Championship. Nylander, the AHL's leading scorer (14 goals, 20 assists), will represent Sweden while Kapanen will play for Finland.

AHL Game of the Week: Toronto and the St. John's IceCaps play out latest chapter in the AHL's version of the Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs rivalry. They start a two-game series in Toronto at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

As a team with one of the most challenging travel burdens in the AHL, the IceCaps should be refreshed after their traditional lengthy holiday break. They have not played since Dec. 16 after sweeping a two-game series with the Albany Devils at Mile One Centre and are off until they visit the Marlies.

Statistically speaking: Nylander has 34 points in 27 games… Rookie Devin Shore of the Texas Stars, Petr Straka (Lehigh Valley Phantoms) and Scott Wilson (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) are in a three-way tie with an AHL-leading 15 goals. …Ontario Reign goaltender Peter Budaj leads the League with a 1.49 GAA. His .938 save percentage ties him with Sparks and Matt Murray of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for best in the AHL. Budaj is tied with Michael Leighton (Rockford) with a league-high 15 wins. … Toronto defenseman T.J. Brennan has 11 goals in 29 games, most among AHL defensemen.

Around the AHL: Portland Pirates goaltender Mike McKenna won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week Award for the period ending this past Sunday. He won each of his three starts last week and had a 1.00 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage. …The Stockton Heat defeated the Bakersfield Condors 3-2 in the Golden State Hockey Rush outdoor game at Raley Field in Sacramento on Saturday, the eighth outdoor game in AHL history. …The AHL will be represented at the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Two members of the Charlotte Checkers will head to Davos to represent Canada, including a return trip for veteran goaltender Drew MacIntyre. He played three games in the 2014 tournament. Checkers defenseman Trevor Carrick, 21, will also represent Canada. His seven goals rank him third among AHL defensemen. …Albany has added forward Brian O'Neill, who won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's most valuable player last season. …The Utica Comets have brought in veteran AHL defenseman Danny Syvret. Utica's power play ranks 19th, something that the 30-year-old veteran should be able to help. He had a goal and an assist in his first two games this past weekend. …Sixty-seven AHL players have made their NHL debut this season, including six last week.

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