by Jason Karnosky | AHL On The Beat Archive
When it comes to players to watch this season in Milwaukee, forward Colton Sissons is player that should be near the top of anyone’s list.
Despite dressing for 17 games in the National Hockey League last season, Sissons led all Admirals with 25 goals in 62 American Hockey League contests. Starting his second professional campaign in Milwaukee, the North Vancouver, B.C. native is poised for even more growth.
“I was super happy with the way I played here as a rookie, and then got to spend quite a bit of time up with the big club in Nashville,” said Sissons, who racked up 44 AHL points, plus one playoff assist in 2013-14. “I really wanted to build off of that this year.”
Though his scoring statistics have not come quite as easily this season (Sissons has four goals in his first 15 AHL games), the sophomore’s development continues to be noticed.
“[Colton’s] on the verge of scoring a lot of goals for us and in the last couple of games he’s gotten some breakaway opportunities because he’s working hard,” Admirals captain Joe Piskula said. “If he keeps working the way he is, he’s going to have great success at this level and a bright future ahead.”
One player keenly aware of Sissons’ abilities is Predators forward and 2013 Stanley Cup champion, Viktor Stalberg, who skated alongside him during a two-week conditioning stint in early November.
“[Colton’s] a pretty mature player and I know the staff likes him up in Nashville,” Stalberg said. “He plays the game the right way in both the offensive and defensive zone. [Though] he might not be a high end, flashy type of guy, I think he’s going to find a way to make it up to the NHL by being one of those third line guys that can put up some points and also take care of their own end.”
When meeting Sissons, the maturation level for a player of his age is astonishing. He simply doesn’t look the part of a 21-year-old, sound the part of a 21-year-old, or even act like a newly-minted 21-year-old.
“Colton goes about his business so professionally,” Evason said. “I know he’s disappointed with his production so far offensively, but he’s [still] a second-year guy that is wearing a letter on our hockey team. He does so many little things well and you can put him in any situation.”
Sissons certainly surprised in 2013-2014, blazing out of the gates with 12 goals and 22 points in his first three months on the job as a professional. By January 28 of that year he was more than ready for the first call to action in Nashville. There Sissons dressed in four games and collected an assist in his NHL debut.
After the Olympic break, Sissons stayed in the Music City for almost a month, dressing in 13 more contests and picking up his first career NHL goal in a 6-1 thrashing of Buffalo on March 27.
After leading all Admirals goal scorers that first year, and finishing seventh league-wide for all rookies, Sissons could be excused for thinking that he’d a least start 2014-2015 back in Nashville. However, Predators General Manager David Poile went in different direction both with a coach (bringing in Peter Laviolette to replace Barry Trotz) and at center ice, where three veterans, Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribeiro, and Derek Roy, were brought on with separate one-year contracts.
“There is no hurry yet in my career,” Sissons said. “I’m still just 21 years old and in my second year as a pro. I got off to a pretty quick start and surprised some people last year, even myself, and was able to get that chance in Nashville. They did sign a bunch of older guys [this offseason], but I know there is going to be plenty of turnover there on down the line.”
Rather than mope about the tough situation, the 2012 second-round pick [50th overall] refocused his efforts on improving his skills in Milwaukee at the AHL level. Sissons has shown flashes of explosiveness this season, chipping in three goals in a two-game stretch while skating alongside Stalberg.
“[Viktor’s] a great player, an NHL player, so when I saw that he was going to be on my line I welcomed him with open arms,” Sissons said. “We generated a ton of chances when we were skating together.”
Even when he’s not scoring, Sissons is finding plenty of ways to contribute, helping Milwaukee rush out to a blistering 11-4-0-1 start.
“I just don’t want to start cheating because Nashville looks at me as a two-way guy in the mold of a Mike Fisher,” Sissons said. “I need to play hard defensively and make decisions quickly. But when I get a chance, turn the puck quickly up the ice and generate on that end as well.”
Admirals coach Dean Evason is happy to have Sissons back in Milwaukee, even if knows it likely will not be for an extended period.
“It’s just a matter of time for Sis,” Evason said. “Unfortunately for him, Nashville signed a lot of center ice men during the summer, so it kind of bumped him [down the depth chart] a little bit. But they are expecting him to develop here quickly so he can get back there.”
Evason is working with Sissons to improve different aspects of his game, especially offensively, so that he’s ready when Poile and Laviolette come calling for a gritty and tenacious forward to play some quality minutes.
“[Colton] probably has think a little bit more offensively in order to make it [in the NHL], which he’s clearly done here,” Evason said. “When he gets to Nashville he’s got to be that two-way player that will play center ice, kill penalties, play on the [power play] and do all of those things.”
Stalberg knows it’s just a matter of time before Sissons is wearing a jersey every night in Nashville or at another NHL city.
“That’s maybe the one thing [Colton] needs to work on a bit is to get a little higher speed there, [because] the NHL game is a little bit quicker and things happen faster,” Stalberg said. “He’s not slow by any means and he’s still just a young guy. He’s going to put on muscle and get more explosive and stronger, so that will come. He’s already a real good player, but he can get even better.”
Until that day arrives, expect nothing less than a full commitment from Sissons to improve his game and contribute for Milwaukee in any way he can.
“I’m just trying to be patient and continue to develop down here,” Sissons said. “I feel like I’m coming along every game, but when it’s my time again with the Predators I want to be running on all cylinders.”