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Milwaukee Admirals

3 Predators Prospects Who Helped Their Stock In Calder Cup Playoffs

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Photo of Zachary L'Heureux courtesy of the Milwaukee Admirals

For two straight seasons, the Milwaukee Admirals have been eliminated by the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the Western Conference Finals of the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Playoffs.

The silver lining?

Both postseason runs gave the Nashville Predators’ top minor-league prospects a chance for further development.

While Milwaukee’s playoff roster was dotted by several players with NHL experience hoping to earn another shot, the team’s rookies stole the show this year. Here are three players who especially stood out and likely improved their chances of competing for a roster spot in Nashville sooner rather than later.

Zachary L’Heureux

L’Heureux was a constant highlight producer for the Admirals in the playoffs. The 21-year-old forward led the team with 15 points (10 goals, 5 assists) in 15 games, three game-winning goals and a whopping 62 penalty minutes.

At one point in mid-May, L’Heureux scored at least one goal in five straight games. Two of his tallies against the Grand Rapids Griffins came while Milwaukee was short-handed.

“I wanted to step up my game and be a difference-maker and a leader on this team, even though I am one of the younger guys,” he said on May 20. “I think I’ve done a great job of it. I think everybody’s stepped up their game.”

It’s clear L’Heureux’s all-out playing style is part of what gives him an edge over opponents, though it also gets him in trouble at times. He drew four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties during the playoffs and was ejected for one of them against Coachella Valley on May 29 after being called for tripping when the Admirals were desperately trying to erase a one-goal deficit in the third period.

That may give Predators general manager Barry Trotz and head coach Andrew Brunette pause as they construct next season’s NHL team. But if L’Heureux keeps his cool and impresses during training camp, he’ll have a case to be included on the opening-night roster.

Fedor Svechkov

Svechkov missed about one month of the regular season due to a lower-body injury he suffered in February. He made up for lost time in the playoffs, posting 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) with four power-play goals and a pair of game-winners.

Milwaukee head coach Karl Taylor had high praise for the 2021 first-round pick following a 5-2 loss to Coachella Valley on June 4.

“Through the last five or six games, he’s been our best forward and might be our best player on the ice,” Taylor told reporters. “He looks like he’s in the wrong league out there … Svech’s game has really grown these last five games. You can see something really coming there where he’s setting himself up for down the road.”

Based on Taylor’s assessment, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Svechkov in a Predators uniform at some point next season. Nashville can afford to be patient with the 21-year-old since all four of its starting center spots are accounted for at the moment.

Ryan Ufko

Ufko jumped straight from college hockey at UMass Amherst to the pros this spring after signing an amateur tryout deal with Milwaukee along with his entry-level contract, which begins next season. It didn’t take long for Nashville’s 2021 fourth-round pick to acclimate himself to the speed of the AHL.

After playing just nine regular-season games, the defenseman led Milwaukee in assists (9), finished fourth in points (10) and added a goal in the playoffs.

“I think the overall game is a little bit different and probably a little bit faster. Guys are a lot more skilled and can make a lot more plays,” Ufko said in an interview with Admirals broadcaster Aaron Sims on May 17. “But for me, I think the adjustment has been (going) pretty well so far. I think that’s due to the staff here, the older guys and especially the leadership group.”

There could be an opportunity for Ufko, another 21-year-old, to move up the organizational depth chart this offseason as the Predators rework their blue line. Nashville traded Ryan McDonagh back to Tampa Bay last month, pending unrestricted free agent Tyson Barrie is unlikely to return and Alexandre Carrier’s future is also uncertain.

Follow Russell Vannozzi on X/Twitter @RussellV_MSP.

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