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Milwaukee Admirals AHL Playoff Recap

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators caught up with Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton to recap the Milwaukee Admirals AHL playoff run. Fenton has played a major role in the team’s draft strategy and also hold the title of General Manager for the Admirals. Who were the best players on the Admirals during their second round series?
Paul Fenton: Goaltender Jeremy Smith was terrific. It was great for him from a development opportunity to get that chance. It was unfortunate for Mark Dekanich that Dex got hurt, but from our standpoint, the playoff run helped Jeremy grow to another level. Now he has to take that momentum and run with it; show that he can be our third goaltender – our top guy in Milwaukee and first guy we’d call up if a need arises in Nashville. There’s a lot of internal competition in our system right now, but Jeremy grabbed the bull by the horns and he was really good.

Roman Josi was terrific; he’s a guy who should really challenge for a spot in Nashville next season. His puck carrying ability and his offensive sense is just fabulous.

Gabriel Bourque was just tenacious and relentless in the way he played and so was Ryan Thang. Ryan played about as good a hockey as he can; he started off slow this year, but progressively became better and really peaked his performance in the playoffs. Blake Geoffrion and Matt Halischuk both had big performances in Milwaukee’s Game 7 just one day after playing in Game 6 with Preds in Nashville. How difficult was it for them to turnaround like that?
Fenton: Mentally, I’m sure it was a challenge for them, but both of them played the majority of the year with the Admirals; they felt a big part of it and they wanted to be a part of the run with that team. And they made a difference in that game. Blake had two assists. Matt had a goal and an assist. They were difference makers. And Teemu Laakso didn’t have a great stats sheet but he was pretty good, too, that game; he went in wholeheartedly tried to contribute to that series. I think when you look at our organization and our build-up; the guys we have, the criteria we talk about all the time is having the character to persevere and to overcome challenges. And I think they welcomed the challenge to play in both games and showed us what they’re made of. Who stood out the most on Milwaukee down the stretch drive and through the playoffs?
Fenton: Bourque was fabulous; he might have been the best. We rate our players every game and his rankings every night down the stretch were almost off the charts. After Geoffrion and Halischuk got called up, he was carrying the Admirals up front along with Roman Josi doing the same thing from the back end. Bourque and Josi just made plays and refused to lose, which was nice to see. Milwaukee finished first in the conference and division, but the standings were so tight and it came down to the last couple of games. The team had to push and push and those guys were the catalyst for it.
Has Jeremy Smith established himself as an AHL-starting caliber goaltender?
Fenton: I think he’s pretty close. He still has some work to do, but to be able to have the success that he had in the playoffs, he showed that he can be a competitive guy every single night for us and contribute, so yes he’s going to get true consideration to be that guy.

We have Jeremy, Atte Engren, and Chet Pickard all right there pushing Mark Dekanich for the top spot in Milwaukee, that No. 3 slot in the organizational depth chart. They’ll all have an opportunity to win that No. 3 spot in the organization.

Engren came over late in the season and we had a chance to play him in some games; the experience of playing in some games on the smaller North American ice was good for his learning. It was a great springboard for him. Engren certainly would have liked to have been on the ice in the playoffs, but you know what, Jeremy did a great job of keeping Atte behind him. Our coaches had confidence that Atte could do the job if Jeremy stumbled, but Jeremy didn’t give that chance. But now Atte had a chance to see what his competition is and he’ll come over here and prove that he should be the top guy in Milwaukee. We saw a lot of guys come up from Milwaukee and make their NHL debuts this season. Heading in to next season, who are some guys who didn’t make it up this year but are knocking on the door for a chance this coming season?
Fenton: I think we’ve found we have really good depth in our organization right now; from the NHL level through to lower in the organization we have a lot of guys who can play, a lot of guys we project out as NHL talent. We’re going to be a really deep team again next season. Excluding the guys who came up this year, Gabriel Bourque is making a strong case. I think Ryan Thang can make a case to play in the NHL next year; he kept getting better all season long with the Admirals. I think with Jani Lajunen’s experience at the World Championships, that he’ll certainly get consideration to play games in the NHL next year. On defense, Roman Josi is ready to get a look. Ryan Ellis next year, just by his credentials both in Juniors and what he showed during Training Camp this past fall, is poised to make his way into the conversation, too. Mattias Ekholm is real interesting and I think will also force his way into the mix. That doesn’t count Blum, Geoffrion, Halischuk, Laakso, Mueller who all played in the NHL this past season. It’s going to be a deep, quality competition at Training Camp. I’m really excited to see how the guys compete in Camp.

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