Monday afternoon, I sat down and talked with the man behind the Milwaukee Admirals blog, “Admirals Roundtable,” Daniel Lavender.

I asked him a few questions to get his thoughts on how the ECHL affiliate of the Admirals has done so far, and to see how guys under contract with Milwaukee are doing in Cincinnati.

My responses to his questions is in our conversation below:

Q: The Cyclones have been apart of the Nashville organization since 2007-2008. Anthony Bitteto, Mark Van Guilder, Chris Mueller, are just examples of a pretty lengthy list of Cincinnati graduates to go on and play in Nashville. How vital do you think Cincinnati is to the organization and why do you think this affiliation has been so successful over the years?

A: I think it is very important. When you look at something as recent as the last month or so you’re given a perfect example of how vital it is to have depth that extends into the ECHL level. There have been injuries in Nashville and Milwaukee which have meant one-by-one players rotating up. For the developmental process to truly succeed Cincinnati and the ECHL need to really exist to keep Milwaukee and the AHL strong.

Q: Rumors are currently circulating that the Cyclones could be leaving the Predators/Admirals to join the Columbus Blue Jackets/Lake Erie Monsters in the near future. Although it makes more sense from a geographical standpoint, what are your thoughts on that situation?

A: Truthfully, I’ve not come across this news but if it were to happen it would be sad considering Nashville’s entire system (NHL, AHL, and ECHL) has stayed the same since the 2007–08 season. That’s an astonishing thing to think about when you consider the sheer amount of AHL and ECHL affiliation changes that happen each and every year. Were it to take place? It wouldn’t just be sad because of how long the partnership has existed but everything I hear about in regards to the coaching staff, front office staff, and Cincinnati fans is positive. It would be sad to see a franchise like Cincinnati leave only to be another ECHL affiliate to someone else. If a change is afoot I’d be much happier seeing the Cyclones and that fan base, along with the location they sit in, get a crack at AHL hockey. As frequent as affiliation changes happen I wouldn’t be surprised to see such a thing happen.

Q: To talk about the system a bit, Guys like Joe Pendenza, Garrett Noonan, and Brandon Whitney have all made a number of round trips between Cincinnati and Milwaukee. Say somebody goes down to an injury in Milwaukee; you see there’s a few solid options to call-up in Cincinnati like Noonan, Zach Budish, and Jonathan Diaby. Talk about how big the depth is in the organization and how it will help all three cities in the long run. 

A: Depth is everything in this sport. The Nashville Predators currently have the likes of Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomäki. Both were on the Admirals opening day roster. Then there are guys like Viktor Arvidsson and Cody Bass who have also stepped up from Milwaukee. That ripple effect means the Admirals need bodies coming up and certainly having Cincinnati beefed up helps.

I also would love to stress that the players that get sent to Cincinnati from Milwaukee end up generally being surprised by how competitive and beneficial playing ECHL hockey is in the long run for their careers. So, when looking at guys such as Anthony Bitetto or Taylor Aronson, you see the benefit of not only the depth of an organization to place players down to the ECHL but also the benefit of more playing time allowing for better overall player development. It of course doesn’t often have the same results for everyone but those who take their ice time seriously, dedicate themselves to working up the ladder, and competing as a member of the Cyclones will often find their way to where they want to be. Magnus Hellberg wasn’t even the go-to guy in net two-seasons ago for the Cyclones during their Kelly Cup run but was active, learning, and remained a solid teammate throughout the process and right now he finds himself in the NHL as a member of the New York Rangers. That isn’t a mistake. With the right work ethic, Cincinnati should be as much a platform to get to the NHL for lots of the young depth/fringe players in the pipeline as Milwaukee is considered to be.

Q: Unfortunately, Cincinnati has been the “city of pain” for Milwaukee send-downs with Eric Robinson, Jonathan Diaby and Jaynen Rissling all suffering some sort of injury at some point in the season. Diaby and Rissling were short-term however Robinson is expected to miss the rest of the season. How much of a toll do you think this could take on Cincinnati & Milwaukee if these incidents continue?

A: Oh, trust me. We’re feeling it here in Milwaukee already! Frédérick Gaudreau started the season as a lower line winger. He’s the first choice center now. Joe Pendenza was a fourth line winger, sent down to Cincinnati, played fourth line wing again, and is now the fourth line center because Vladislav Kamenev is over in Finland representing Team Russia at World Juniors. Not only that but, without Félix Girard, the Admirals third line is a center away from being the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs top line from the middle of November with Matt White and Zac Larraza on the wings. It’s crazy.

If I were asked this question last season I would have been negative on the thoughts of how much more can the Admirals take. The 2014-15 Admirals really struggled with managing the roster turnover and maintaining a steady team identity. The players would often drift off and play like individuals instead of as a team. This season it rarely has looked that way. I’ve been really impressed by how well they’ve continued to perform despite so many high-end forwards being recalled to play for the Predators. It feels like the chemistry of the players is good and the understanding between the players and coaching staff is strong. So, it’s minimized a lot of the blowback on how rough this stretch could have been.

As for Cincinnati? I have no clue how you folks take it because if it isn’t the injuries the Cyclones have on their own it is the AHL teams such as the Admirals coming in and plucking a guy like Zach Budish on a PTO basis for familiarity sake. If the Admirals roster feels thin, which it does, I cringe at the thought of how Cincinnati feels. It is legitimately an organizational ladder. Things go up when the injuries occur from above and it leaves the ECHL setup more depleted than anyone else. It’s things like that which make me appreciate how great Matt MacDonald and his coaching staff must be.

Q: Milwaukee has also found some free agents through Cincinnati’s recruiting in the past. Most notably being Rob Madore. Adam Payerl who is currently a staple with the Admirals, initially signed with the Cyclones this season, and hasn’t even set foot in Cincinnati yet. Andrew Yogan and Mike Ratchuk also got looks in Milwaukee’s Training Camp. How important is it to have that ECHL outlet who can not only develop organizational prospects, but also recruit outside free agents and turn them into prospects?

A: When I see players grinding up through the ranks one step at a time is exactly when I am reminded why I love covering AHL hockey here in Milwaukee. The ECHL has a lot of scrappy guys, a lot of whom are undrafted players, all looking to prove to more than themselves that they are NHL caliber talent. The first chance they get to establish that claim is earning their first PTO contract, that first AHL call up, or earning an AHL contract from their ECHL work the year before. So when I see someone that gets signed off the Cyclones roster by the Admirals it tells me the two coaching staffs have communicated enough to say he fits perfectly within the same system and is deserving of playing that next tier up from the ECHL. It’s always a great sight to see when someone earns that spot.

My thanks to Daniel for having me.

We switched chairs, and I asked him some of my own questions. To view his responses, head over to the Admirals Roundtable website for that end of the conversation.

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