It’s well known by now that the Nashville Predators have gotten off to a 5-1-2 start and are atop the Central Division, but their partner approximately 480 miles to the north is doing all right, too.
The Milwaukee Admirals, primary developmental affiliate of the Predators, are 6-0-0-0 headed into Wednesday night’s contest against Iowa, and are one of just two American Hockey League clubs without a loss on their record in 2014-15. Plus, it’s the best start in franchise history.
“We’re very pleased with not having lost a game, and I think what we’re most excited about is we’ve been able to win games in different fashions,” Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. “We’ve had a couple of high scoring games, we’ve had a couple of close games, an overtime, a shootout; we’ve had to experience basically every situation, which is clearly a great learning tool for our young group. It’s nice to have success when you get in those situations.”
That success comes thanks in large part to the offensive distribution throughout the lineup. Of the 21 players that have seen game action thus far for Milwaukee, only five are without a single point, and two of those are goaltenders.
“What’s really given us an opportunity to have success is that our depth is extremely good this year,” Evason said. “All four lines are able to play and play in all different situations.”
Brendan Leipsic leads the club in points with seven, all coming via assists, through six games. Forwards Austin Watson, Victor Arvidsson and Pontus Aberg, three likely candidates to be Nashville call-ups, have each potted four goals this season.
And it’s not just the offensive production that has been well-rounded in Milwaukee. From the blue line to the blue paint, contributions are aplenty.
“[The defense] was one area we thought, if anything, would be a little less because of experience in that area, but Joe Piskula, who was named as our captain, has really led in that department,” Evason said. “People know him in Nashville; he’s played games there and he certainly is a call-up guy. A guy like [Johan] Alm, has come in here and has been a real veteran presence for being a young guy. Tony Bitetto is also a guy that Nashville is looking to be a call-up guy in the very near future, and then we’ve had some young people that have really had success here early.”
Piskula has racked up five helpers through six games, while Bitetto has recorded one goal and three assists and is a plus-six on the young season.
Standing tall behind the D, figuratively and literally, are Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg. Mazanec has been the goaltender of choice thus far for Evason, going 5-0-0-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.
“Maz is our guy for sure,” Evason said of the 6-foot-3 Czech netminder. “He has been real steady and has gotten better and better as each game has gone on. Magnus, when he got in there, he hadn’t played in a long time, but he only let one goal in and was great in the shootout. We feel very comfortable with both of them.”
Something Evason is also comfortable with is the level of communication between the two clubs in Tennessee and Wisconsin. The Milwaukee bench boss says that he speaks with Predators Assistant General Manager and Admirals General Manager Paul Fenton at least twice a day and also has regular contact with his counterpart in Nashville.
“[Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette] has called me a few times just to check in,” Evason said. “We exchange our line combinations almost daily. I’ve talked to [Predators General Manager] David Poile as well a couple of times [during this season], so it’s a constant communication factor. Paul Fenton and I talk and then he takes the feedback to Nashville, and if Peter Laviolette wants to phone up and talk to me personally, then he does as well.”
The goal in that communication is for both organizations to be prepared if and when a call-up is needed at the NHL level. Player development is key at the minor-league level, and thanks to Evason and staff, there won’t be any lack of preparedness when a player gets that call.
“[Success] is obviously nice for the Milwaukee Admirals, but it’s great for the Nashville Predators too because we’ve got players that are versatile,” Evason said. “We have people that can play in all different situations and the more that we can get them into those situations, not only the better we’re going to be here, but they’re going to develop.
“You have to progress in different areas and different roles as you’re developing on your way to the National Hockey League. It’s good for us and clearly good for the Nashville Predators as well.”
The Admirals will eventually find themselves on the wrong side of the scoresheet, but for now, the formula in Milwaukee is working. Finding ways to win in regulation, overtime or the shootout only builds confidence in the room. And just like the big club in Nashville, that confidence is emanating hundreds of miles away.
“If you can win in different fashions on the road and at home while playing the same way, obviously it gives you an opportunity to have success in every different situation,” Evason said. “There’s so many ways games can go, so to be involved in all of them and have some success is great.”