This season, possibly more than ever, teams around the league will be relying on their farm systems to fill in personnel holes or injuries. The Predators will look upon their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, to provide much-needed depth throughout the season. They have already done so for training camp by calling up Jonathon Blum, Ryan Ellis and Chris Mueller.
The Ellis call-up was a given. He was recalled to Nashville last December and didn’t look back, playing in 32 regular season games and three playoff games. He will likely be paired with Hal Gill on the Predators’ blue-line to start the season. Ellis, who returned in November from a broken wrist, has been playing heavy minutes in Milwaukee of late, meaning he could see as much or more ice time than usual in the first few weeks as the veterans gradually get into game shape.
“You want to earn a spot and show them what you can do. There’s an opportunity there but it’s up to me to earn that,” said Ellis. “I obviously want to play as much as I can, in as many situations as I can, just to prove I’m ready for any type of situation. We were playing in Milwaukee in all sorts of situations and doing pretty well.”
A spot in the Predators’ lineup isn’t guaranteed for Blum and Mueller heading into training camp. Both are looking to let their games do the talking to result in more NHL ice time.
“I wasn’t happy in Milwaukee. Obviously as a player you want to play at the highest level and I hoped to be here,” said Mueller, who scored 32 goals for Milwaukee in 2011-12. “I want to have [the coaching staff] have confidence in me that I can play with these guys and become a regular in the NHL.”
“I played 34 games in Milwaukee, so the level of conditioning is there in games. It’s obviously different here playing against bigger and stronger guys, but I feel like I’m ready,” Blum added.
With the 119-day lockout, Predators head coach Barry Trotz has had more time to watch Milwaukee games from home than ever before.
“I have a better grasp of how guys are playing in Milwaukee, who’s in Milwaukee, what they do, what to expect,” said Trotz. “I haven’t gone to Milwaukee as much, but I’ve watched all their games [on the computer].”
Trotz is really high on the likes of Austin Watson, Taylor Beck and Michael Latta, and believes they have a shot to contribute at the NHL level as soon as this season.
As for the Milwaukee call-ups that are already in Nashville, this is their chance to shine, especially early on in the lockout-shortened season. Ellis and Blum have recently been playing nearly 30 minutes a night in Milwaukee, while Mueller can add grit to the Predators’ fourth line.
There will naturally be injuries out of the gate and Trotz will be leaning on Ellis, Blum and Mueller to play important roles this season – either to replace those injured or to help others avoid early injury with additional ice time.