Ed. Note: We’re doing something different with Stacking the Pads this week. On Tuesday we interviewed Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason to discuss the team’s early-season success and some individual performances through their first 11 games.
After finishing last regular season on a high note by winning 15 of the final 20 games to make the playoffs, the Milwaukee Admirals opened this season with an eight-game point streak (6-0-2-0), second-best in team history. They opened the 2002-03 season by accumulating points in the first 11 games.
This past weekend that streak came to a halt when the Admirals lost three games in the state of Texas (two to the Texas Stars, one to San Antonio). They will head into this week’s action with a 6-2-2-1 record.
Predators youngster Filip Forsberg tallied five points in three games and drew positive reviews from Head Coach Dean Evason. Other prospects such as Magnus Hellberg, Marek Mazanec, Simon Moser and Colton Sissons, among others, have all played well in the early going. We asked Evason about those players, along with the team as a whole, in our conversation with the Admirals’ bench boss…
Smashville 24/7: This weekend didn’t go your way in Texas, but what has been the key to your team’s good start to the season?
Dean Evason: We attribute our good start to our depth. The depth and leadership coming back from last year has made it very easy for our young people to not only learn the system and the way we play, but it’s allowed them to learn the league because of the leadership our older guys have provided. We’ve got four lines and seven defensemen that we feel very comfortable with. That has really helped us early on.
24/7: With some important Predators draft picks in Milwaukee right now, how do you like the potential of your team?
DE: You never know at eye level what is going to happen with injuries and call-ups and all of that, but we are very happy with our group. I think we have a nice mix. Our job here is to win hockey games but also develop the young people that want to play in Nashville. We’re trying to do both here in Milwaukee and hopefully we can continue to do so.
24/7: Last season there were a lot of moving parts in your first season as head coach, between the NHL lockout and the rash of late-season call-ups to Nashville. Do you personally feel more comfortable this season?
DE: No question. I think everyone here feels more confident and comfortable in their surroundings, just from going through the process last year. Although we had a lot of ups and downs it allowed us to learn a lot of different things about not only the AHL but Nashville, as far as how the call-ups go and all of that. You have to stick together as a group and our group did that at the end of last season.
24/7: Everyone with the Predators talks about how the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee. How often have you been in communication with Barry Trotz this season?
DE: All of the coaches there – Barry, Lane [Lambert] and Phil [Housley] – have been tremendous to us. Barry and I talk every two or three days depending on our schedules. We try to touch base on how individuals are playing and how the team is playing collectively, as well. I’m picking his brain a lot and learning from him, and all the camps we try to suck in as much as we can to learn from those guys. They’ve been a great help to us.
24/7: There was a lot made when Pekka Rinne went down that both Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg didn’t have any NHL experience behind Carter Hutton. What have you seen from those two goalies that suggest that they could succeed in Nashville at a young age?
DE: Without speaking to their technique and all that, I think what is going to allow both of these young men to get there is they are quality people. They have proven they can play; Magnus proved he can play last year and Marek proved in his short time here with us that he has the potential to be an NHL goaltender. We think the future is extremely bright for both guys.
24/7: How have you seen Hellberg develop from last season to this season?
DE: We’ve seen him improve maturity wise. His conditioning has been incredible. Obviously there is always an adjustment for the European players and goaltenders coming over here with the ice surface and different way that the game is played here. The biggest thing is his work ethic has been there right from the start.
24/7: Filip Forsberg had five points in three games over the weekend in Texas. What did you see from him that you liked?
DE: His skill level is incredible. He did some things with pucks that a lot of guys at this level can’t do or don’t do. He had a little bit of a drop off from Friday to Sunday, but clearly he’s not used to playing the minutes that he was receiving with us. He played in all situations – power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5. The thing he has to concentrate on now is being very sound in all areas of the ice, so that when he gets back to Nashville he can take the confidence he is gaining here offensively and combine it with a two-way game.
24/7: What is the challenge for you as a coaching staff to get a young player like him, who is coming from a different environment in Sweden, to play that two-way game considering his offensive upside?
DE: The challenge is just with his thought process and getting him to still do skilled and creative things, but do them in the right areas of the rink. If you turn the puck over and try to beat somebody at your blue line or their blue line, it’s going to end up in a scoring chance; at the NHL level it’s going to end up in your net. Here we have to more lenience but we will still make him aware that can’t happen. He’s still going to play, whereas in the NHL it’s difficult to put the player back on the ice. He has to learn when and where to use his skill level on the ice.
24/7: For some young players of his potential, it can be tough to understand why they are getting sent to the AHL. What was Forsberg’s mindset coming into the weekend?
DE: His mindset was tremendous. When he first came to us on the first day we sat down with him and he understood why he is here and what he has to do to get back there. He embraced it. It says a lot about him. A guy can come down here and pout and be mad at the world. He hasn’t done that. He has gone about his business, he’s been a great teammate and he’s worked hard.
24/7: We’ve heard some rave reviews about Colton Sissons’ play this season. What have you seen from him in 11 games?
DE: Colton is mature above his years. He and Austin Watson are arguably our 1-2 centermen here. Colton is playing big minutes for us already, playing in all situations, very sound defensively, faceoffs – he does everything well. He’s a pro. When he first came to us we recognized that he was a talented player, but his maturity level has allowed him to have success here early in the year. His work ethic is exactly what the Nashville Predators embody. Combine that with some real good vision on the ice and good offensive touch, I think he’ll score more than people realize.
24/7: Simon Moser shined in training camp here in Nashville and earned a two-way contract, all while being new to North America. How have you seen him adapt to his new surroundings?
DE: The same thing goes for Simon. He came here with a tremendous attitude. We heard early on that he may have an opportunity with the Olympics, but the first time he sat down with us he said he wanted to be here, he wanted to play, wanted to get to Nashville. He’s done everything right on and off the ice. He has great speed and gets two or three scoring chances a game. He’s had some success here offensively but I think he’ll have even more once he becomes more comfortable.
24/7: Do you envision Moser potentially getting to Nashville this season?
DE: There’s no question he is a guy that can get called up and play depending on the situation. He’s not far away, that’s for sure.