PITTSBURGH – Recently, Milwaukee Admirals owner Harris Turner was looking for a way to show just how much of a role his organization has played in the Nashville Predators’ success this season. So he created a shirt featuring the logos of both teams and one simple message:
“The Road to Nashville Goes Through Milwaukee”
You can find ties to the American Hockey League on the rosters of many Stanley Cup champions. The 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins saw players like Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, Brian Dumoulin, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray, who all spent time with their minor league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, have a big impact on their championship run. That trend continues this year with Jake Guentzel, Scott Wilson and Carter Rowney all playing important roles.
For the 2016-17 Predators, there are 18 players on their Stanley Cup Final roster who have spent time in Milwaukee, either getting a start on their professional careers or developing. That has led to success at both the AHL and NHL levels, with the Admirals winning four division titles and making 11 playoff appearances since 2005-06.
“The coaching staff is great. They really teach us how to be good pros and play the game the right way,” said Predators forward Austin Watson, a veteran of 232 games with the Admirals. “So when guys get a chance to come and play in the National Hockey League we have an idea of how to be just a good 200-foot player. We spend a lot of time just working on all kinds of different parts of your game, whether it be the skill stuff or system stuff, we try to incorporate a lot of the same things as Nashville does in Milwaukee.”
Preparing players to seamlessly transition to the next level is a big job for AHL staffs. Some players can catch on quick to a new system, while others need an adjustment period. One of the constant messages that’s communicated to players is to make a difference at all times out on the ice.
“Everybody starts there as they earn their way up to the NHL,” said Colton Sissons, who has 176 games in the AHL under his belt. “You just got to learn to be impactful down there if you want to do that at the next level. They give us a ton of opportunity just to play lots of minutes and in every situation and we all got that down there and that allowed us to have success up here as well.”
The shirts are here! We're open until 5 today is you want to pick one up! pic.twitter.com/O8mhn0qjMr
— Milwaukee Admirals (@mkeadmirals) May 26, 2017
Nashville’s on-ice success has caused them to only have two top-10 selections in the NHL Draft since 2005. They’ve picked five times in the teens and have had four seasons where their first picks were Nos. 37, 38, 55 and 56. When you’re not able to use high draft picks on top-end talent, that’s where the importance of player development comes in. As Admirals head coach Dean Evason recently told the team’s website, there’s no time for Predators head coach Peter Laviolette to deal with growing pains once players move up.
“There’s a process that goes into it and our guys are pretty thorough about that. I’ve got to witness it for three years on how we put in the time and invest in our young players,” Laviolette said. “Sometimes it’s not a seamless transition. Most of the guys have gone back. Most of the guys that have come up and have stayed, they’ve come in and out of the lineup. But at some point they get it. They get the experience up here. They figure it out. They watch and they learn from the veteran players and they become fixtures on our roster.”
Various reasons has seen the Predators have use 18 forwards this postseason, the most of any playoff team. It’d be easy for a team to see their season come to a premature end due to Injuries and cold streaks, but for Nashville, they’ve accepted the “next man up” mentality and won with it.
Said Predators general manager David Poile: “If it wasn’t for the depth that we had, the younger players that we have in Milwaukee to come up, not only to come up to fill in, but actually make a contribution, we wouldn’t be here today.”
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