It's been said the road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee, and as of Wednesday, Florida's Gulf Coast can be added to that development highway.
The Predators have entered an affiliation agreement with the ECHL's Florida Everblades, a move that will see the Everblades function as a developmental affiliate for Nashville and its primary developmental affiliate, the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals.
Nashville's long-standing AHL partner in Milwaukee will remain, but this new deal with the franchise that resides in Estero, Florida, will act as yet another option for players in the prospect pool.
And when the Predators do assign players to the Everblades, they know they'll be in good hands.
Florida has qualified for the playoffs in all but one of their 21 seasons and claimed the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions in 2012. They have reached the league's final on four separate occasions, the most recent coming in 2018.
Led by President and General Manager Craig Brush, as well as Head Coach Brad Ralph, the Everblades are a model franchise in the ECHL, and the Preds couldn't be happier to welcome them to the Smashville family.
"They have a first-class ECHL organization, cream of the crop here for the last two decades," Predators Assistant General Manager Brian Poile said. "We're super excited to partner up with them and continue to grow hockey in the southeastern part of the United States, so we're pumped that the Florida Everblades are our ECHL affiliate."
Poile and Admirals General Manager Scott Nichol will act as the main contacts with the Everblades from the Nashville front office, and there will be constant communication between AHL and ECHL coaching staffs as well. In fact, Admirals Head Coach Karl Taylor has previously worked with Ralph when the two were coaching with affiliates in Idaho and Texas as part of the Dallas Stars system.
Ideally, the Predators will begin to assign players to Florida shortly after they are drafted or signed by the big club, if the player is ready to turn pro. From there, the perfect scenario would see the individual develop at the ECHL level before joining the Admirals in Milwaukee, and then, if everything comes together, a spot may be earned in Nashville down the road.
It's all part of the process for players and management alike, and while every player who skates in Estero isn't destined to make it to the NHL, the possibility always exists. It wasn't all that long ago when Preds forward Frederick Gaudreau was an ECHL player, and his contribution in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final won't soon be forgotten.
So, who will be the next one to make that journey?
"We're in a really good position to succeed with now three different teams that are all working together with a hand-in-hand partnership to produce hockey players, to produce hockey staff," Poile said. "We're in a great spot this time."