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Future Preds Set to Make First Stop in Milwaukee

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

They wore Nashville Predators jerseys this weekend, but the reality is that come October, there simply won’t be enough spots available with the NHL club.

Enter in a new home in the Badger State.

Many of the players participating as a member of the Preds rookie team at the current tournament in South Florida will find themselves skating for Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, in about a month’s time.

For some, it’ll be their first foray into a full-time job in the minors, something that is a necessary step for almost every player who one day sees the bright lights of the NHL. But they won’t be completely unfamiliar with what awaits them.

Perhaps most notably, their coaching staff will already know their personality, what kind of player they are and how they can best develop to have a chance at what they’re all working for.

“The guys we had last year [in Milwaukee]… really developed well last year, and then we have guys that we’re not 100 percent on yet - free agents that come in that may win a spot,” Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. “[Trevor] Murphy [who is captaining the Preds rookies] was in that spot last year, came in as a tryout and ended up signing a contract and played the whole year… There’s different levels of what we’re looking for here throughout the tournament in Florida, but we’re real excited about the guys that can make that next step.”

Evason, as well as the rest of the Admirals coaching staff, namely assistants Stan Drulia and Scott Ford, are in charge of the club during the tournament, getting to know the players who they’ll see in their lineup over the coming months.

One of those players expected to join the Admirals full-time this season is forward Justin Kirkland. A 20-year-old who has spent the last four seasons with Kamloops of the Western Hockey League, Kirkland has plenty of potential to make impressive strides this season in Milwaukee.

“I’m really excited; I absolutely loved my time in Kelowna, but I think I’m ready to move on and make that next step,” Kirkland said. “I think it’s exciting to go in and have a bit of a fresh start, little change of scenery. I’m really thrilled that everything has worked out, and I’m hoping to have a good year coming up.”

While Kirkland’s future club is already known, where he’ll find himself in the lineup is less certain. Mostly used as a winger in junior hockey, Kirkland switched to a center role and has been playing in the middle of the ice during the current tournament as well. Evason likes the flexibility a player like Kirkland, who stands 6-foot-3, will give him moving forward.

“We’re not 100 percent where he’s going to fit in Milwaukee as far as a position… but now we’re really excited about having the opportunity and versatility of a big guy who has the skill that he does to flip back and forth,” Evason said. “We’ll get a good look at him at center, and I’m sure he’ll get a bunch of looks here at main camp as well.”

On the contrary to Kirkland, who has sported the same logo for the last four seasons, defenseman Jack Dougherty is used to moving around. Another future member of the Admirals, Dougherty will be joining his fifth different team in the past five seasons - from the U.S. National Development Team Program, to the WHL and back to the Midwest – when he skates in Milwaukee in 2016-17.

Dougherty saw three games of action with the Admirals at the end of the 2015-16 campaign, and going back to a city not too far from his Minnesota home isn’t a bad fit.

“It’ll be an adjustment, but I’m excited to get there,” Dougherty said. “It’s a great city, it’s close to home, great staff members, my teammates last year were awesome and that kind of got me acclimated to the culture around there. I know what it’s all about, so I’m excited.”

Similarly to Dougherty, defenseman Alexandre Carrier is also scheduled to join the Admirals this season, and the 2014 fourth-round pick is looking forward to utilizing the skills he picked up in last summer’s development camp cooking class, among other things.

“I’m looking forward to just living like a man, outside the rink, your own apartment, cook your own food, I think that’s the most exciting thing,” Carrier said. “And just playing with some guys that played pro with Nashville, so that’s going to be fun.”

While Carrier is more confident thanks to his experience with the organization to this point, he’s also well aware that nothing is guaranteed in professional sports, something he has in the back of his mind as he continues on his journey.

“You always have to work hard, there’s no spot that secure,” Carrier said. “You need to work every day to be a pro. In junior, it’s a different life, different living, so I’m pretty excited for that.”

When the Admirals begin their season next month, they’ll do so knowing a couple of things. For one, the coaching staff will already have an idea on what numbers to call in certain situations. But more importantly, there’s an assurance of the type of people they have in the locker room – individuals who will be wearing Preds Gold soon enough.

“Our scouting staff, they do such a good job with bringing in quality players, which is exciting, but you sit down, you talk to these guys, they’re real quality people,” Evason said. “That’s important for our whole organization.”


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