Ufko MKE

If the road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee, the 2023-24 Admirals proved the ride is still smooth as ever.

First capturing the attention of the hockey world during a franchise record 19-game winning streak, the Predators’ American Hockey League affiliate would power themselves to a Central Division title and their 18th Calder Cup Playoffs berth.

There, the Admirals would win three straight against the Texas Stars to keep their postseason alive and advance to the Central Division Finals, where they’d ultimately prevail in another five-game battle against the Grand Rapids Griffins and punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row. 

Though the Admirals finally saw their electrifying campaign come to an end in a stinging Game 5 defeat to the Coachella Valley Firebirds last week, no one in Milwaukee - or in Nashville - had their heads hung too low looking back on the year as a whole.

“Just seeing the growth of our team from the start of the year, where we just kind of hovered around .500 and then we went on that 19-game winning streak - I think everybody grew a lot and learned a lot through it.” Admirals General Manager and Predators Director of Player Development Scott Nichol said. “And it hardened them up a little bit, being down 2-0 to Texas, and then all the elimination games that they played in. We asked a lot for our young group to produce and it's hard to do at that level and they were really good. Usually you don't have that many rookies come in and be a core part of your team, and they were… We believed in these guys, and they showed it on the ice.” 

The historic winning streak and the deep run to the Western Conference Finals were of course all the more impressive given the age and experience level making up much of the Admirals 2023-24 roster. 

In total, 10 Predators prospects - Jeremy Hanzel, Jake Livingstone, Jack Matier, Luke Prokop, Nolan Burke, Alex Campbell, Reid Schaefer, Fedor Svechkov, Ryan Ufko and Zach L’Heureux - made their American Hockey League debuts with the Admirals this season, with the last four on the roster all the way through the Western Conference Finals.

“Now they kind of know how much harder it is and the steps they need to take in the summer. So, I'm excited for them to come to camp and they should have lots of confidence and lots of strut to them,” Nichol said. “They had a fantastic year, but when training camp comes again it's a clean slate. So, that’ll be our discussion with them - keep building off your end result, rather than starting all the way from start again.”

While all will be intriguing prospects to follow next season, below are just a few reasons Predators fans should focus on Milwaukee’s final four postseason rookies as they continue their development in 2024-25.


Reid Schaefer

Though Reid Schaefer struggled to replicate the same offensive numbers he produced in the Western Hockey League, the forward contributed plenty for the Admirals when the games mattered most.

Indeed, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound power forward shone in wearing down opponents with his heavy forechecking abilities and pitched in key minutes on Milwaukee’s special teams units, concluding his first postseason run with a +5 rating to show for, the second-best among his teammates. 

“He's been playing his best hockey for us,” Admirals Head Coach Karl Taylor said ahead of Game 5. “He’s playing physical, playing hard and his game has grown a ton. And he's got more offense to give us, so that's just the next stage of his development when looking ahead to next season and what he can bring. But Reid is a big, strong guy and he's just starting to understand how to utilize his assets to his advantage on a consistent basis.” 

With the transformative freshman season out of the way, look for Schaefer to become a much more complete offensive package next season.

“You look at a guy like [Egor Afanasyev] in his first year, and it was a struggle,” Taylor said. “And then in his next year he became kind of a defensive specialist for us. Now in his third year, he's rounded it out and he's playing a 200-foot game and he's our leading scorer. So, everyone's path is very different.”


Fedor Svechkov

As the Admirals neared the end of their Calder Cup hunt, one player in particular stood out to Milwaukee’s bench boss: 21-year-old winger Fedor Svechkov.

“This is his first experience in North America, and his game is just growing to match the obstacles that are in front of us,” Taylor said of Svechkov before Game 4. “As the moments get bigger, he's playing better and you can't say anything better or anything to describe a player better than that, that he's a big time, big moment player who grabs the opportunities and doesn't shy away from them.”

Svechkov looked right at home as he made the tricky transition from Russian to North American professional hockey, recording 39 points (16g-23a) in the first 57 regular season games of his AHL career, then 12 more (6g-6a) in his first 15 postseason appearances, including a three-point performance (2g-1a) against the Firebirds in Game 4. 

The forward additionally concluded his freshman postseason first among his teammates in power-play goals (4) and second in points and goals.

With no shortage of confidence present in Svechkov’s debut, Predators fans should naturally be excited to see what next season has in store for the young forward.


Zach L’Heureux

By the time the American League’s two conference final series ended, Predators 2021 first-round pick Zach L’Heureux was still leading the pack in points (15), goals (10), shorthanded goals (2) and, of course, penalty minutes (62). 

The 21-year-old forward was just as impactful for the Admirals during the regular season, and finished his rookie campaign second among his teammates in points (48), goals (19) and assists (29). 

Though L’Heureux still has work to do in staying even-keeled after the whistle - the rookie forward finished second among all league skaters with 197 penalty minutes - his offensive production is no doubt right where the Predators’ front office wants it to be.

Look for a step up in discipline and - quite possibly - offensive output as L’Heureux becomes a second-year pro next season.


Ryan Ufko

The only non-first-round pick on this shortlist, Ryan Ufko made quite a splash when he arrived in the Admirals locker room late in the season. 

Finishing his junior year with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen on March 28, the Predators’ 2021 fourth-round pick inked a three-year, entry-level contract with his draft team a day later, clearing the way for him to make his AHL debut on April 2.

While the stage may have been larger, it never seemed to faze Ufko. 

Finishing the first nine games of his professional career with six points (1g-5a) to show for, the 21-year-old blueliner would continue to shine for Milwaukee in the postseason, recording 10 points (1g-9a) in 15 Calder Cup Playoffs outings, the most among Admirals defensemen. 

“The moment, for him, is never too big,” Nichol said. “You go back to his days in college and then even when he was at the World Juniors in Halifax - every opportunity he just seizes the moment and plays the same way… He just has ice in his veins and he makes the right plays. He doesn't overcomplicate his game, he just plays within himself and he has the belief and the confidence that he's going to get it done and so far he’s been awesome.” 

With only a handful of American League games on his resumé, Ufko will be facing a huge year of development as he returns to Milwaukee for his first full-length professional campaign next season.

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