The Milwaukee Admirals look to continue the success that has given the team three consecutive 100-point seasons under the direction of Claude Noel, who has led his team to two Calder Cup trophy appearances in his three seasons as coach. However the loss of several key players to the Nashville Predators might be tangibly felt in Milwaukee in 2006-07.
Pekka Rinne had an outstanding 2005-06 for the Admirals in his first North American season, playing 51 games with a 30-18-2 record and 2.82 GAA. Rinne will be expected to carry the load again for the Admirals. He will miss the beginning of the season, however, due to shoulder surgery.
Karl Goehring is expected to back up Rinne. Goehring signed in the off-season after spending time in San Antonio (AHL) and Jokerit Helsinki (Finnish Elite League) last season. The 28-year-old Minnesota native played in 42 games capturing nine wins and averaging a 3.12 GAA. While not expected to contend for the starting position, Goehring will provide a stable back-up.
Kevin Klein will be a key leader for Milwaukee on defense due to Shea Weber solidifying a spot on the Predators roster. Klein led the team’s defensemen in scoring last year with 10 goals, 33 assists and 44 points. Expect Klein to see some extensive playing time and a possible call-up to Nashville later on in the season.
Ville Koistinen will enter his first season in the American Hockey League after leading the Finnish Elite League defensemen with eight goals and 26 assists for Ilves Tampere. The concern about Koistinen will be his durability throughout the season. He averaged around 50 games per season in the Finnish Elite League, compared to an 80-game AHL schedule.
Former Washington Capital defenseman Nolan Yonkman will provide some veteran leadership on the defense. Injured for the majority of last season, he played 38 games in the NHL in 2005-06. Fellow 25-year-old T.J. Reynolds returns to the team as does 28-year-old Nathan Lutz.
Bruiser Sheldon Brookbank will be another key defenseman to watch out for during the season. The 26-year-old will receive extensive time after finishing second in goal scoring with nine goals among Admirals defensemen last season.
The forward position will be area to watch this year with rising talents such as Alexander Radulov, Cal O’Reilly, and John Vigilante. However, the depth after these talented players will certainly be critical if Milwaukee wants to compete for their fourth consecutive 100-point season.
The No. 1 prospect in the Predators organization will have his first pro appearance after scoring 61 goals and 92 assists for Quebec in the QMJHL last season. Radulov was really close to making the Predators roster this fall, but fell short due to GM David Poile’s concern on the defensive front. Expect Radulov to get promoted at some point during the season, especially if he has a good first quarter of the season for Milwaukee.
The center position is a serious concern for Milwaukee, but expect O’Reilly to be productive. O’Reilly is an assist magician after scoring 18 goals and 81 assists for 99 points last season for Windsor in the OHL. O’Reilly, 20, will be finding holes to feed his linemates. Expect the Toronto native to have an outstanding year in the face-off circle as well.
The left wing position will be rotated with several new faces including Vigilante who will enter his rookie season in the AHL after leading the Plymouth Whalers with 24 goals scored in the OHL. Vigilante racked up 53 assists last season, an increase in 20 from the previous year. He will be expected to score and pass the puck effectively to his teammates. A concern might be his adjustment to the faster play in the league.
Daniel Widing will be another forward who will enter his first season for the Admirals. Widing played 36 games for TPS Turku (Finland) while scoring five goals before transferring to Byrnas (Sweden) and leading the team with 33 penalty minutes. Widing can be considered as a forward who will set up the shots and will bruise his way around the rink. Expect him to be one of the leaders in penalty minutes, but effectively pass the puck.
Seasoned veteran Ramzi Abid who signed a free agent contract with the Predators this season will bring some leadership to the left wing position. Abid led the Chicago Wolves (AHL) with 34 goals and 42 assists last season and is expected to do the same this season. Most expect Abid to be a solid “rush to the net” type of guy who can bring some explosiveness to the left wing position.
Although Brandon Segal isn’t as explosive as Radulov, he will make an impact for the Admirals this season. Segal can be considered the bruising type of right winger who will find his way to the puck by masterfully checking the opponent. Last season, he racked up 127 penalty minutes. Segal scored a career-high 18 goals last year and look for him to improve by scoring 25 to 30 goals this season.
Paul Brown and Patrick Leahy fill the right wing position. Brown is coming off an injury season that saw him only play 41 games and scoring three goals. Leahy played 43 games last year for the Boston Bruins as a checker.
Rich Peverley is the top returning scorer for the Admirals, with 46 points in 65 games last year. Shane Endicott played 41 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, but in 2004-05 had 47 points in 68 games for Wilkes-Barre. Twenty-three-year-old Nebraska-Omaha product Kaleb Betts might see some action in the center position as well.
The losses of Greg Zanon, Scottie Upshall and Weber will be pronounced in Milwaukee. Expectations might not be as high as in years past, but Noel has found a way to coach average teams into contenders. Expect the Admirals to struggle early as they adjust with some of the rookies, but this team should still be able to compete for the Western Division title this year given the number of high-quality returnees.
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