An NHL club is permitted to carry 23 players on its roster at any time during the regular season. The Nashville Predators currently have 55. It doesn’t require a mathematician to realize that more than a few skaters will have to move elsewhere once the regular season starts in October.
Enter in the Milwaukee Admirals.
Affiliate of the Preds since the team’s inception in 1998, the Admirals have groomed a number of skaters over that time period to eventually make their way to Music City.
Milwaukee Head Coach Dean Evason, Assistant Coach Stan Drulia and a number of players who saw time in both Wisconsin and Tennessee in 2013-14 have been taking part in Predators training camp, as usual, over the past week.
With a new head coach at the NHL level in Peter Laviolette, the opportunity to impress a new set of eyes has arisen. It’s a chance that some guys that may be on the cusp of staying with the big club are looking to take full advantage of.
“This year especially with [Laviolette], everyone’s trying to make a good impression,” forward Mark Van Guilder said. “For me and guys in my situation, it’s the same thing every year. Whether there’s a different coach or new coach, you’re just trying to get noticed and earn some trust in these coaches to give you a chance if they need you and know that you can get the job done.”
“It’s a fresh set of eyes on everybody and everybody’s got an opportunity to prove what they can bring to the table and prove why they belong here,” forward Austin Watson said. “The pace of camp is really high, and you can see everybody’s really excited to get the year going.”
And it’s not just the players who are adjusting to a new system with Laviolette in Nashville. Evason admitted that Laviolette gave him and Drulia full reign to implement their own system in Milwaukee, but the Admirals bench boss has no plans to deviate too far from the plan of the big club.
“It makes sense to play the same system, to mirror it [in Milwaukee], not only for us coaching-wise, but for the players,” Evason said. “When they come up [to Nashville], it’s not fair to them to play one system [in Milwaukee], then come up here and now they have to start thinking about a new system. They’re not going to have the opportunity to show well and they’re not going to have the opportunity to do what they do because they’ll be thinking about the change in systems. We’ll mirror the system that they’ll play here in Nashville and then we’ll tweak it to our schedule.”
For players like Van Guilder who may go back and forth between the two clubs, the similarities in on-ice style make a world of difference when joining one squad or the other.
“When you’re comfortable, when you’re used to doing something and you come up from Milwaukee and you’re already accustomed to all of the systems, it makes it so much easier,” Van Guilder said. “You don’t have to worry about it, you don’t have to think and you just get out there and relax and have fun.”
The communication factor between the coaching staff is evident and it falls back to the players as well. Watson appreciates the ability to converse with those in charge no matter where he is, knowing that the answers to his questions won’t differ much.
“Playing for Dean and Stan for two years, there’s a comfort level from knowing those guys,” Watson said. “They’re two guys that are good for us coming from Milwaukee that we can bounce questions off of. If we can’t get to talk to Coach Laviolette, we can bounce ideas off of them because they’re trying to teach the same system.”
Those systems being implemented throughout the organization lend themselves towards the offensive side of the puck, something that Evason is looking forward to seeing once the roster for his respective club is filled.
“I think the whole organization really likes the skill level that we have up front,” Evason said. “The young kids that are coming in are certainly exciting for us because a lot of them are going to be with us in Milwaukee. In the past, we haven’t had that breakaway kind of offensive ability, so it’s exciting. We still have to concentrate on playing a two-way game and being defensive, but I think that excites the entire organization for sure.”
And when one of those young kids does get the call to head down to Nashville, Evason never tires of delivering the good news.
“I don’t know if you can describe it,” Evason said. “For me in particular, to tell a kid, to bring him into the office, to see his face, to say that you’re going to the National Hockey League, I know the feeling. I’ve been there so I love to be the guy that can deliver that message. You just see the gleam in their eye.”
But once that message is delivered to the recipient, Evason knows there’s not much more to say. It wouldn’t be worth it anyway.
“As soon as you say it, you might as well not say another word because they won’t understand or remember anything after you say that,” Evason said. “All they’re thinking about is calling their mom and dad, family and friends, girlfriends and wives; after we tell them we just pretty much just say, ‘That’s it, get outta here.’”