Milwaukee, Wis. - Of the numerous Nashville Predators prospects making their Calder Cup Playoffs debuts with the Milwaukee Admirals this spring, none of them are quite like forward Reid Schaefer.

Landing with the Predators organization via trade with the Edmonton Oilers for veteran defenseman Mattias Ekholm last year, Edmonton’s 2022 first-round pick (32nd overall) concluded his final season of junior hockey in spectacular fashion.

After winning a gold medal with Team Canada in his World Junior Championship debut, Schaefer would cap off the 2022-23 regular season recording 61 points (28g-33a) in 55 games for the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds.

From there, Schaefer would record another 19 points (8g-11a) en route to the second WHL championship title in Thunderbirds history, then two more assists in a five-game run to the team’s first-ever appearance in the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup Final.

Needless to say, the lessons learned along the way were invaluable.

“Just to play in those big moments, that obviously helps you stay calm and composed,” Schaefer said. “Obviously, you can't get too high, you can't get too low. You’ve got to stay pretty even keeled. Little mistakes can cost you, so you want to minimize those to the best of your ability and just try and wear down your opponent. Usually then you'll end up with a good result.”

Staying even keeled has been key for Schaefer during a rookie AHL campaign that saw his production taper off considerably from his consistently high-scoring days in the WHL. Indeed, in the first 63 games of his professional North American career, Schaefer put up 21 points (7g-14a) - the bulk of which were netted during the back half of the season.

“His start was hard for him, because some of the other guys got a lot of points early in the season and he wasn't collecting a lot,” Admirals Head Coach Karl Taylor said. “So he maybe felt less than, but everyone's got their own development curve and it's very individualized."

Make no mistake, Schaefer’s growing pains are not uncommon, nor are they raising any concerns within the Predators organization.

After all, entering a professional league from Canadian Juniors - where most players age out at 21 and start as young as 16 - presents one set of challenges. Being dealt to a brand new organization during your final junior season presents another.

“It is very common and it's not a surprise,” Taylor said. “He got traded from one organization and came to a new organization, so there’s a transitional piece. Some of these other guys have been to three development camps, four development camps. They’ve been in Nashville and gone through the process, know the coaches and know everyone. And that was all new for Reid, and that was all a different world for him coming in. So, I think it was important for him to go through that. It does make it more challenging for him, but Reid is a big, strong forward who's learning how to play hard, learning how to use his assets and is just in the process of learning.

“You look at a guy like [Egor Afanasyev] in his first year, and it was a struggle. And then in his next year he became kind of a defensive specialist for us. And now in his third year, he's rounded it out and he's playing a 200-foot game and he's our leading scorer. So, everyone's path is very different.”

Even without a consistent presence on the score sheet, Schaefer has been contributing plenty as the Admirals chase down the Calder Cup once again.

For starters, the six-foot-four, 220-pound power forward has no problem playing a heavy game, and has excelled at making life extremely difficult for Milwaukee’s opponents - from the Texas Stars to the Coachella Valley Firebirds. His tenacious, physical play has also earned him key minutes on Milwaukee’s power play and penalty kill, as well as a hardy +5 rating on the stat sheet.

“He's been playing his best hockey for us,” Taylor said. “He’s playing physical, playing hard and his game has grown a ton. And he's got more offense to give us, so that's just the next stage of his development when looking ahead to next season and what he can bring.”

“The production's not there, but the physicality and the edge that I bring, I’ve been kind of playing on the line there, and I agree [with Taylor],” Schaefer said. “I think I've been playing one of the more consistent types of games this postseason… You’ve just got to stay even keeled and you’ve got to do what's best for the team and play your role. I’ve played more of a physical role this postseason and I've embraced that.”

Continuing to embrace his role will be paramount as Schaefer’s development continues next season.

“You look at all the first-year players we have in the locker room, and it's crazy what they're going through,” Taylor said. “For Reid it's seeing other people have success and enjoying it, but also understanding his role here and how important he is for us… He’s just got to be excited about the opportunity that’s been presented to him. He's got a good role he should relish in and do really well, so that when the other stuff comes down the road he's got more balance to his game.”

“It's been a learning curve, for sure,” Schaefer said. “Obviously just adjusting to pro and the game style and life away from the rink too… It's an adjustment, but it's been lots of fun. This is obviously a great team, a great group of guys and going on this run here in the playoffs has been pretty special. I just want to keep playing and enjoy the moment with the guys.”

Schaefer will be back in action on Saturday as the Admirals look to stave off elimination once again in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

Puck drop is set for 6 p.m. CT at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, with the game available to stream with a subscription to AHLTV.