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Two Prized Rookies from Across the Atlantic are Making an Impact in Milwaukee

by Jason Karnosky / Nashville Predators

Considering their names and backgrounds it’s hard to believe there is much in common between Milwaukee’s standout rookies Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki.

Yet, these two first year professional forwards from separate continents play a similar style on the ice, while their impressive and still developing talents are playing a big role in the Admirals’ success the season.

“There is no shortage of effort for either of us,” said Sissons, who leads the Admirals and ranks ninth among American Hockey League rookies with 26 points this season. “We’re both young guys and we are both brand new to this level, but it’s been nice having (Miikka) performing right by my side. So I guess you could say (we are brothers from another country) for sure.”

Canadian born Sissons represents one of Nashville’s most prized prospects and the center has all the tools to be successful in the National Hockey League. The 20-year-old is built with good size (6-1, 194 lbs.) and strength, and plays with tenacity plus an offensive flair as his team leading 15 goals can attest to.

Colton Sissons is just a complete player,” Admirals coach Dean Evason said. “He’s very wise (for his age) on and off the ice.”

Right from training camp Sissions’ Milwaukee teammates noticed the North Vancouver, British Columbia native’s maturity.

“I think the biggest thing you see out of guys that have success immediately at this level is just their level of professionalism,” Admirals captain Scott Ford said. “Colton, especially, has that and really carries himself well. He dresses well and acts like a true professional. People don’t believe it when I tell them that he’s just 20 years old.”

And it does not hurt that the newly minted 2014 AHL All-Star (Milwaukee’s only representative heading to St. John’s February 11-12) is always looking for ways to improve his game and soak up everything he possibly can in his first season.

“It’s been a great first year,” said Sissons, who racked up 28 goals and 67 points in juniors with the Kelowna Rockets last season. “I’ve been getting plenty of opportunities and have been performing pretty well, getting off to a quicker start offensively than I anticipated. I’ve struggled at times with handling the three games in three nights and (logging the big) minutes, but I’m getting accustomed to it and really enjoying my time here.”

Meanwhile, Salomaki represents another in a long line of talented Scandinavian prospects brought in by Nashville to work their way up through Milwaukee en route to a career in the NHL.

Like of his many fellow Finnish countrymen, the 5-11, 200 lbs. Salomaki came to North America well-equipped with a 200 ft., two-way game. But what really surprised teammates and coaches in the organization was the left wing’s determination.

“(Miikka’s) really strong on the puck and his stick skills are fantastic,” Ford said of the Raahe, Finland native who ranks 12th among AHL rookies with 25 points. “He can make all the small plays in those little areas and he’s strong as a bull using his body to protect the puck. He’s kind of got that tenacity, like a Patric Hornqvist, and he doesn’t want to be denied out there.”

Though Salomaki already possesses a defensive game ready-made for the NHL, he’s shown an offensive touch honed during three years of play with Karpat of the Finnish Elite League. It showed up again on the scoresheet Tuesday as the Admirals rode a pair of Salomaki goals for a 3-2 win over North Division leading Toronto.

“(Miikka’s) done a great job on the half wall on our power plays of finding guys and setting up plays,” said Ford of Salomaki, who leads the Admirals with 15 assists. “He’s created a lot of offense for us.”

Salomaki left an impression on his new teammate Sissons the first time the two skaters took the ice together at training camp.

“The first thing I noticed about (Miikka) is just his compete level, and how he’s always in there like a dirty shirt,” Sissons said. “He plays physical and is not afraid of anyone and that’s what I like most about him.”

As far as similarities between the two rookies from across different sides of the pond, there are many. Both players play tough, are effective at both ends of the ice, and enjoy playing together on the same line. Like many of his teammates Sissons has been on the receiving end of quite a few Salomaki setups.

“It’s funny to hear them called rookies because it’s easy to forget they are first year guys,” Evason said. “Each and every night they bring it and they both conduct themselves like pros and it’s allowed them to have success early. They’re doing the right things to set themselves up to have success.”

Though Evason did not pair Sissons and Salomaki together to start the season, the two rookies found plenty of chemistry in recent weeks playing together with linemates Filip Forsberg and Vinny Saponari.

“I don’t even know if (Sissons and Salomaki) are even friends off the ice, but you can have chemistry on the ice and they certainly have that,” Evason said. “They are very similar players once they put their skates on and they’ve been good together. I would think that the Predators are looking at those guys or that line of Sissons-Salomaki-Forsberg as possibly an NHL combination in the (near) future.”

The Predators are keeping a close watch on how all of their prospects are developing in Milwaukee. But Sissons and Salomaki represent important pieces of the franchise’s future, as the two players were the team’s second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2011, respectively. In each of those years Nashville did not have selections in the first round.

“There may be that pressure being a top draft pick, but I certainly don’t feel it (from Nashville) resting on my shoulders which is a nice thing,” Sissons said. “I just try to keep detailed on what I need to do every day at the rink and the rest will take care of itself.”

Certainly Sissons and Salomaki have meant much to Milwaukee’s strong first half play as Milwaukee (19-12-8) resides in fifth place in the Western Conference with games in hand on every team but one (the Marlies) that they are chasing. As the two forwards continue to produce, their path to the National Hockey League grows shorter and shorter.

“Our league’s goal is to develop guys to play at the next level,” Evason said. “It’s a win-win (for us) when guys produce and do the right things. (Sissons and Salomaki) will help us win here and hopefully they will develop into NHL players for the long term.”

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