MKE Wilsby

Milwaukee, Wis. - If you aren’t already, you’d be in good order to start paying attention to Adam Wilsby.

The 2020 fourth-round pick may not garner as much attention as NHL-tested teammates Spencer Stastney and Marc Del Gaizo, and he may fly a bit under the radar compared to 2023 first-round pick Tanner Molendyk, but that’s no reason to leave the 23-year-old blueliner out of the conversation.

Now competing for the Calder Cup in his sophomore North American campaign with the Milwaukee Admirals, Wilsby has established himself as a player who could make the long-awaited jump to the National Hockey League.

“He's outstanding,” Admirals Head Coach Karl Taylor said after team practice on Wednesday. “He's an NHL prospect and he's a guy that can go up and play, because he defends with his legs. He's learned the North American game over the last two years, he's very comfortable with it and he’s just a great teammate. That's the No. 1 thing - you love him as an individual, but his defending and his ability to close and take away time and space, take pucks away from people I just love. And he's adding the offense now, he's getting some confidence and using his legs to drive the play and you could see it [in Game 3] a little bit as well.”

Though Wilsby has come a long way since making his American Hockey League debut in the postseason two years ago, first impressions were still dazzling.

“He just looked so good in practice when we first got him, without even playing a game, so we played him in the playoffs,” Taylor said. “That should tell you a little bit about his skating, and you could see it [in Game 3]. He's an elite skater, a smart player and a great teammate who wants to do well. His stretch areas are just touching up on his execution with his playmaking and finishing abilities, because he's really grown a lot over the two years he's been here.”

Jump two years and two full AHL campaigns ahead, and Wilsby is a far more complete package, who’s feeling much more confident about his play and his role.

“It was kind of a step for me as a European North American player and also culture wise, just learning how to handle different situations and learning what to do to be more successful,” Wilsby said. “So it's been better this year… The guys in the locker room have been huge, like Kevin Gravel and Roland McKeown. They’ve helped me so much in just learning the North American way of things. Like it's more hard-nosed, in a way, so I've been learning how to handle that and I’m feeling pretty confident right now.”

A quick look at the stat sheet will confirm the confidence Wilsby is feeling, not only in shutting down opposing offense, but in producing for his team as well.

In his second campaign with the Admirals, Wilsby established AHL career highs in points (21), goals (8) and plus-minus (+17), despite skating in 11 fewer contests. Year-over-year, his shot totals jumped from 66 to 96 and his shooting percentage 1.5 percent to 8.3.

Needless to say, the Predators’ brass is seeing exactly what they want from the young defender.

“His skating is elite, and he's getting a lot more confidence on the ice,” Admirals General Manager and Predators Director of Player Development Scott Nichol said. “He’s eluding the F1 forecheck, hanging guys on the net, skating the puck up the ice and having the confidence with the puck on his stick to make the next play. When we’ve had a few injuries, he wore a letter for us… So he's part of our leadership, for sure, and he's only a second-year pro.”

Of course, Milwaukee’s lengthy run through last year’s postseason certainly didn’t hurt Wilsby’s development. In 16 games, the blueliner recorded eight points (2g-6a) and an encouraging +4 rating.

The production, and the experience playing in high-stakes, gritty postseason battles, only helped the blueliner as he entered his sophomore year and another lengthy run in this year’s postseason.

“It helped very much,” Wilsby said. “Both me and [Stastney] had pretty good playoffs last year. So this year, being able to just build off that and knowing that we can play good during this time of year, that's a big strength.”

In the eyes of Milwaukee’s bench boss, Wilsby’s largest strides came not during last year’s Calder Cup run, but midway through the 2023-24 campaign, when Stastney got the coveted call up to Nashville.

With an elite defender out of Milwaukee’s lineup, Wilsby took it upon himself to fill the vacancy.

“[Adam] got a bigger role and sometimes that'll happen, whether it's call ups or injuries,” Taylor said. “He started doing more for us, joining the rush more, playing more confidently. He's always had that ability, but he was always just trying to defend and make sure he was doing the right thing. And it's just confidence and experience. Now he knows he can play, he knows he can do a little more, he knows he can help more in certain areas. And so now he's trying to do those things. And so it's good to see his game grow as the season has gone on.”

Nashville’s front office noticed that too.

“I think with all those things - having him get more ice time, more opportunities, wearing a letter for us - you can just see the growth of his game,” Nichol said. “The way that [Predators Head Coach Andrew Brunette] wants our defensemen to skate, he's right in that mix with those guys. And it's been great for me and our coaching and development staff watching him for the last couple of years. He's taken some really big steps and we’ve seen it. He hasn’t had a whole lot of fanfare, but internally within our group and our organization, he's right on the development path that we'd like to see.”

Though he has largely eluded the same intense speculation surrounding some of his defensive counterparts, Wilsby’s aspirations are the same as anyone else’s. Still, the young blueliner knows that in order to make those aspirations a reality, he needs to stay focused on his own game and make the most of his opportunities in Milwaukee first.

“Obviously, I want to be in their spot one day, but I feel like I've been having the right mindset this year, just worrying about my own stuff and trying to play good,” he said. “And eventually, I will have a chance if I play good enough. Right now, it’s just keeping the right mindset.”

“That's just who he is, he’s happy for his teammates,” Taylor said. “[Stastney] and [Del Gaizo] better watch out for [Wilsby], though, because he might be the guy getting called up. He's handled everything very well. Does he want to get some games? Yes, of course he does. Everyone does. But you never see him change his demeanor, how he goes about his business. He’s very professional, he’s been trained well, been taught well and you can tell he's had good coaching overseas. He's just a guy that's a low-maintenance player, a very good teammate and just a guy who stretches and tries to gain knowledge and experience to better himself each and every day.”

Wilsby will be back in action on Thursday as the Admirals look to stave off elimination in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. CT at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, with the game available to stream with a subscription to AHLTV.