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Down on the Farm – ‘Dogs Continue Hot Streak

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – The Hamilton Bulldogs may have had their winning streak snapped last weekend, but they remained hot, posting a 2-1-0 record over an always-difficult three games in three nights stretch.

With a 19-15-4 record on the season, they currently sit 7th in the AHL’s Western Conference, and the 7-1-1 record they’ve put up in their past nine games has earned them some separation from the pack of teams lying just below the playoff cut-off (though those clubs do all hold games in hand).

Sunday’s win over the Iowa Wild marked the season’s halfway point for the team, and with that a measurable improvement over where they were last season at this time, with eleven more points in the standings.

Every week, we’ll look at three players who have impressed or are moving up in the depth charts, as well as three players struggling with their games at this junction.

TRENDING UPWARDS

Photo: Kathy K., All Habs Hockey Magazine
Photo: Kathy K., All Habs Hockey Magazine

Sven Andrighetto: The Swiss rookie’s stats have been modest since returning from injury in mid-December (one goal and six points in eleven games), but on a team starved for offensive threats, the 20-year old has become a primary catalyst. Nathan Beaulieu may have scored the game-winner on Sunday, but the play was truly all Andrighetto, as he craftily weaved his way through the offensive zone before releasing a howitzer from the point. Admittedly, Beaulieu’s rebound goal was still from a tough angle requiring an accurate shot to finish the play off, but it was certainly never there for him without Andrighetto’s magic. The former Rouyn-Noranda Huskie finished the game with three shots, but was a constant presence in the attacking zone, just as he had been the night prior despite finishing that game with no points and a -2 rating. Despite his small stature at 5’9”, if the Canadiens are looking for a scoring winger to call up, it should be Andrighetto’s turn to make his NHL debut.

Gabriel Dumont: Another forward who has elevated his game of late is one well known to Montreal Canadiens fans. A second player likely held back by his height limitations (5’10”) with the number of undersized forwards already in Montreal, Dumont and linemate Mike Blunden have become a heart-and-soul pair for the ‘Dogs, being used in starring roles in all game situations. After surprising point totals last season, Dumont started this year slowly, but has picked up his production with four goals and two assists in his past seven games – including a highlight reel marker to open the scoring on Sunday. Unlike Andrighetto – a more one-dimensional offensive winger – Dumont is a three zone player, and as important as his goal was, the team drew even more inspiration from a big third period shot block while killing a penalty in a one-goal match. Dumont retreated to the dressing room in considerable pain, but limped his way back to the bench minutes later, despite the fact that he wasn’t going to play another shift on the night. If the Habs are looking to fill a fourth line role from down in Hamilton, Dumont should be the one making the trip.

Nathan Beaulieu: For a player who knows he’s never going to be a shutdown defenseman in the National Hockey League, Beaulieu’s early season output was mildly concerning. Beaulieu boasts incredible skating ability and off-the-charts raw talent. He is capable of taking over a hockey game, which we saw frequently in Hamilton towards the end of last season. This year, his intensity and focus have waned at times, but if the last five games are any indication, he seems to be putting things together. Taken away from usual partner Greg Pateryn – the Dogs’ number one d-man and a player with offensive ability of his own – to be paired with the more defensive Morgan Ellis has contributed to Beaulieu opening his game up. The product of this is points in four of the last five games (two goals and three assists), with a tougher outing and minus three rating in Saturday’s loss to Rochester. These are the kind of inconsistencies you have to live with as a trade-off for a player like Beaulieu, and as long as he can keep being good four nights out of five the rest of the way, he’ll be close to NHL-ready by season’s end.

 

IN A RUT

Patrick Holland: I’ve made it no secret that I’m a fan of Holland’s game, but his 2013-14 campaign hasn’t built off the successes he enjoyed late last season. Despite playing with skilled offensive linemates Martin St. Pierre and Sven Andrighetto regularly, Holland has managed only one goal and four assists in 16 games since the start of December. He has lost the spot he frequently patrolled at the point on the top powerplay to a combination of Christian Thomas, Martin St Pierre, and even Mike Blunden at one point Sunday (that is, when the ‘Dogs despite to split Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn), despite being on a similar point-per-game pace to his rookie year. To Holland’s credit, he has rounded out his game well. As witnessed during his brief stint with the Canadiens, he is smart in his own end and a willing candidate to get in the lanes and block shots. It’s certainly not unthinkable for him to develop into an Adam Hall-type down the road, but he’ll have to start producing in order to earn another ticket back to Montreal.

Darren Dietz: Like Jarred Tinordi, Dietz had a strong training camp in Montreal, only to see things fall apart early on in the regular season. For Tinordi, his play began to go south once confronted with tougher competition on a nightly basis, while it was an injury that derailed a good start to the year for Dietz. Tinordi is gradually finding his groove on Hamilton’s top D pairing, but Dietz has lost his battle for a top four position to Morgan Ellis, finding himself instead on a third pair, most frequently with Joel Chouinard. A threat from the point in juniors – he led all Canadian Hockey League defensemen with 24 goals last year – Dietz is still seeking his first marker at the professional level, having recorded just four assists in 22 games, and having his powerplay minutes cut. No reason to panic over a twenty-year old pro rookie, but Dietz’s path to the NHL seems a little longer than those who watched him in exhibition play might have guessed.

Photo: Bradley Kalpin
Photo: Bradley Kalpin

Robert Mayer: Goaltending has been likely the biggest reason for Hamilton’s success of late, meaning it’s no coincidence that Mayer was in Europe on loan for the Spengler Cup during a big portion of it. After nearly wrestling away the starting job from veteran Cedric Desjardins last season, Mayer was given every opportunity to challenge Dustin Tokarski for ice time by coach Sylvain Lefebvre early on this year. Mayer’s play has been wildly inconsistent, and while there was hope that a brilliant performance in the Spengler Cup final that led his club to victory might give him renewed confidence, the 24-year old’s return to Copps Coliseum marked the end of a six-game win streak for the ‘Dogs, while seeing his save percentage on the season dip below .900. It’s not to say the loss to Rochester was Mayer’s fault, but the significant separation between he and Tokarski (who has allowed only seven goals total while winning his past six starts) is becoming more and more evident. It certainly makes one question yet another of Marc Bergevin’s moves this past summer, being to give Mayer a two-year deal while only signing Tokarski for one (though perhaps that was the netminder’s own preference). Easy to repair the mistake of signing a mediocre AHL netminder of course, but still an odd assessment of player talent.

The Bulldogs will allow some other clubs to play out games in hand this weekend, as they have only a single opponent. Saturday, the Utica Comets visit Hamilton in a game the ‘Dogs can’t afford to lose if they believe themselves to be in serious contention for a playoff position, as the Comets currently sit a distant 15th place in the Western Conference. Tickets are available at http://www.hamiltonbulldogs.com/

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Down on the Farm – State of the ‘Dogs

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – As the Hamilton Bulldogs approach the halfway point of their 2013-14 season, If one were to summarize it in a single word, it would be inconsistency.

A strong start with only two regulation losses in their first ten games was quickly wiped out by a five game losing streak. Then just when it looked like this season may be a repeat of the last, the ‘Dogs rattled off four straight wins, backed by stellar netminding from Dustin Tokarski.

The two men most responsible for Hamilton's success this season are goaltender Dustin Tokarski and defenseman Greg Pateryn (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)
The two men most responsible for Hamilton’s success this season are goaltender Dustin Tokarski and defenseman Greg Pateryn (PHOTO: HAMILTON BULLDOGS)

The club then idled for a spell, with a 3-3 record over their next six contests, before going cold once again with a second five-game skid in the first half of the year.

But Santa had some renewed hope tucked away in his sack for Bulldog fans, as the holidays brought with them a five-game surge for the boys from Canada’s Steeltown that now has them right in the thick of a playoff race in the AHL’s Western Conference.  It has been a rollercoaster, to say the least, and the real Hamilton Bulldogs will need to rise to the occasion early in 2014 to continue to gain ground on rivals who currently hold games in hand.

In Hamilton’s favour is that they sit in the American Hockey League’s weakest division, only three points back of the leading Toronto Marlies (who have two games in hand, mind you) despite being just three games above .500.

Also arguably in their favour is that they haven’t depended on a single player – or even single line – to carry them offensively this year. When the team is losing, this can be seen as a negative, as there hasn’t been a single forward they can go to for offense in a time of need. In fact, their inability to score often mirrored the problems of their parent club in Montreal. But in the American Hockey League, relying on a single player is a risky strategy, as not only do you live in fear of losing that player himself to injury as you would in any league, but you’re also at risk of losing that player to any injury or trade by your NHL affiliate.

Sure Martin St. Pierre has a sizeable lead on his teammates in terms of points with 25 in 32 games, but the undersized AHL veteran has been rather ineffective at even strength this season, padding his stats with the man advantage. Despite what the stat sheet says, his play thus far can be qualified as underwhelming.

Louis Leblanc’s nine goals lead the Bulldogs, but his game has been hot and cold, disappearing for stretches much like many of his fellow skaters. To his credit, Leblanc has managed to simplify his game this season – perhaps realizing his professional forte won’t be as a finesse/skill player – and cut down on poor undisciplined penalties.

Gabriel Dumont didn’t have a start to the season anywhere near like the past year, but one can’t question his effort level, and he has kicked it up a notch over the most recent win streak. At the moment, I would imagine he heads the call-up list among forwards.

Outside of Dumont, Mike Blunden is the other “safe” call-up at forward, but he’s often a Bulldog equivalent of Travis Moen; frequent recipient of scoring chances only to miss the net.

Patrick Holland got a deserved taste of NHL action earlier this season, and has progressed his game by showing intensity in all three zones. That said, he has failed to improve on his productivity from his rookie AHL season. A player who scored 109 points in his final year in the WHL, Holland was expected to take on more of the offensive load than he has thus far.

If there’s a forward who has delivered well throughout the season up front, it’s pro rookie Sven Andrighetto. The Swiss winger has eight goals and 15 points in his first 23 AHL games, despite missing a full month of the season with injury. Andrighetto is a rather one-dimensional offensive player, so the Montreal brass is likely to want him to mature further before any call-up.

While the forwards have been inconsistent, Hamilton’s MVP to date (perhaps outside of Tokarski) has been their rock on the blueline. Though Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi get all the press in Montreal as former first round picks, it’s Greg Pateryn that anchors the Bulldog defense. Both Beaulieu and Tinordi have struggled as sophomores, with the former frequently looking disinterested on ice, and the latter neither playing physically nor being air-tight defensively. But Pateryn has been getting it done at both ends of the ice (his 15 points in 28 games and plus-11 both lead all Bulldog blueliners) and appears about as ready to make the jump to the NHL as any second year pro could be.

A revelation of late has been the resurgence of Morgan Ellis, practically written off earlier this season as he bided his time as a healthy scratch. Ellis has a strong reputation as a leader on and off the ice, and to his credit, took it in stride, seizing his opportunity when given and establishing himself as a top four blueliner on the squad.

Expanding our coverage of the Hamilton Bulldogs here at AllHabs.net, this column will be a weekly feature on Thursdays for the remainder of the season, updating which Bulldog players are trending upwards or downwards, and highlighting some names you may be less familiar with down on the farm.

 

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Starting from the Bottom – Bulldogs Set to Open Camp

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON – There were few spots up for grabs in Montreal Canadiens training camp. The team had finished 2nd in the NHL’s Eastern Conference last season, and despite a disappointing first round playoff loss to the Ottawa Senators, the return to health of some key veterans and development of young players have many hopeful that the building blocks are in place for long-term success. With many players returning on one-way NHL contracts, camp held little suspense, and what little there was mostly vanished when Michel Therrien revealed his plans to stick to last season’s line combinations.

Stability is a foreign concept in the American Hockey League. Teams that perform well are generally led by top players, whose outstanding performances see them given shots in the National Hockey League the following season. Few players sign long-term deals to stay in the AHL, and thus seeing players swap teams annually is hardly an unusual sight. Drafted North American prospects come of age for league eligibility, and thus teams are stocked with new young hopefuls.

In Hamilton, coming off a season where the hometown squad finished dead last in the league, the multitude of new faces who will report for physicals Friday will be a welcome reprieve from the memories of a year gone wrong. Thursday, the group that will attempt to start from the bottom and work their way back towards respectability, was announced as the Bulldogs revealed their opening training camp roster.

Joonas Nattinen is finally healthy again but will have to battle for ice time in a contract season.
Joonas Nattinen is finally healthy again but will have to battle for ice time in a contract season.

On it are most of the names you’d expect. Louis Leblanc and Joonas Nattinen return at forward, while Morgan Ellis hopes to take on a larger role on defense. Robert Mayer will again battle for playing time between the pipes. Not listed but undoubtedly soon to join the group once cut from the Canadiens are Martin St. PierrePatrick HollandChristian ThomasMagnus NygrenNathan BeaulieuDarren Dietz, and Dustin Tokarski. Provided there are no further injuries, no more than one of Michael BournivalMichael Blunden, or Gabriel Dumont should stick with the Habs at this point either, though the latter two would be subject to waivers if they are to join the ‘Dogs. Injuries on defense may delay the return of a Greg Pateryn or Jarred Tinordi, but at least the former should eventually spend some time in the Hammer this season.

Then you add in the rest of the fresh wave of prospects with Sven Andrighetto, Stefan Fournier, and Erik Nystrom, and this summer’s depth signings in Stefan Chaput, Ben DuffyJustin CourtnallStephen MacAulayMatt Grassi, and Drew Schiestel, and you start to get a crowded picture.

One imagines a preconceived depth chart might look something like the following:

Patrick Holland – Martin St. Pierre – Christian Thomas
Mike Blunden – Michael Bournival – Louis Leblanc
Erik Nystrom – Nick Tarnasky – Sven Andrighetto
Stefan Fournier – Joonas Nattinen – Steve Quailer
Ben Duffy, Justin Courtnall, Stephen MacAulay, Stefan Chaput

Greg Pateryn – Nathan Beaulieu
Magnus Nygren – Darren Dietz
Morgan Ellis – Drew Schiestel
Matt Grassi, Joel Chouinard

Dustin Tokarski
Robert Mayer
Mike Condon, Peter Delmas

With so many names already penciled in, where does the suspense come into play? Well the names above aren’t the only ones on Hamilton’s camp roster. The Bulldogs have invited a number of others – ranging from high profile veterans and former prospects to the rather obscure – to attend camp on tryouts in the hopes of earning a job with the team.

Would an organization so bent on character give a chance to a player with the reputation of Aliu?
Would an organization so bent on character give a chance to a player with the reputation of Aliu?

The first name that stands out is Akim Aliu. The 6’4″ Nigerian winger was a 2nd round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007, but the offense to his game never developed as the ‘Hawks had hoped. He has been labelled a head case with a bad attitude throughout his career, but has been able to reinvent his style of play, sliding into a tough guy / enforcer role that saw him appear in seven total games for the Calgary Flames split over the past two seasons. There tend to be far more fights in the AHL than the NHL, and thus most squads carry multiple enforcer-types, something the current Hamilton roster is light on. Thus, Aliu’s size and strengths could appeal to the team’s management enough to earn him a spot if he can show improved off-ice demeanour.

A more familiar name on the list is that of Alex Belzile. The 22-year old’s first pro season was spent largely with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, but he impressed on a late-season tryout with the Bulldogs, scoring 8 points in 14 games while driving the net with regularity despite his very average 5’11” frame. Belzile frequently dressed on Hamilton’s top scoring line, though with the new bodies on the roster it’s tough to see exactly where he could carve himself a niche for the coming season. Still, he has already shown he can cut it, and so he should be considered one of the favoured tryouts to further stack Montreal’s AHL affiliate with forward depth.

A couple of other QMJHL-bred forwards also received invites. David Laliberte, a 2004 Philadelphia Flyers fourth round pick with 11 games of NHL experience, and Maxime Macenauer, a Anaheim 2007 third rounder who played 29 games for the Ducks in 2011-12, seem like they could bring every bit as much to the table as a Stefan Chaput or Justin Courtnall, but decisions will ultimately have to be made. While Hamilton certainly endeavours to put up better results than last year, they remain primarily a development team and need to leave room for prospects to get some ice time amidst the more experienced veterans.

wisemannjd
Wiseman’s out to prove he has something left in the tank, and could be a pleasant surprise.

The rest up front: Andre Bouvet-Morrissette is a 6’3″ 22-year old winger coming off his rookie pro season that was split between two AHL and two ECHL clubs… Kelsey Wilson is a 27-year old 6’1″ forward who has bounced around leagues with time in the AHL, ECHL, Austria, and the U.K… Jordan Owens is a veteran of 300 AHL games with a mediocre stat line who is coming off a year in Denmark… Chad Wiseman is a 32-year old Burlington, Ontario native who played nine NHL games between 2002 and 2006 and was once a top AHL scorer, but has been slowed by injuries (he could fill the homegrown scorer void left by Joey Tenute)… Trevor Bruess is an ECHL veteran who gets limited AHL action annually as a temporary injury replacement.

Dalton Thrower will be a name to watch on defense at this camp. Not turning 20 until December 20th, Thrower would be one of the league’s youngest players if he makes the team. But it’s no coincidence the Canadiens have yet to sign their 2012 second rounder to an entry level contract, as Thrower is also eligible to join the WHL’s Vancouver Giants for the coming campaign. If the Canadiens blueline is fairly healthy and thus Hamilton gets both Beaulieu and Pateryn back immediately, it’s likely Thrower will be sent down for a final junior season rather than sitting in the Copps Coliseum press box or heading to the ECHL. That is, unless he forced management’s hand with a standout effort in camp to begin reversing the effects of a disappointing 2012-13 season.

With Tinordi playing like he wants to stay in Montreal, the Bulldogs may be in the market for an experienced blueliner to round out their group. The inside track has to go to Matt Lashoff due to his appearance at Montreal’s camp, but he underwhelmed there, opening a door for the other invitees.

Given the aforementioned absence of toughness in the roster, Nathan McIver might be Lashoff’s biggest competition to earn a deal on D. McIver was a Vancouver Canucks eighth round pick in 2003, and collected 287 penalty minutes in 62 AHL games last season. He also appeared in 36 NHL games between 2006 and 2009, registering one assist and 95 PIMs.

A final notable is another one-time Canuck pick, 2009 fourth round selection Jeremy Price (no relation to Carey Price). The 22-year old two-way d-man completed his stint with Colgate University and then got a five-game tryout with the Chicago Wolves at the tail end of last season, but didn’t show enough to earn a full-time deal. With the prospect of Tinordi, Pateryn, and Beaulieu graduating to the NHL within the next year, the Bulldogs may look at someone like Price to provide extra insurance in case of injuries, trades, and call-ups.

The rest on D: Pierre Durepos is a 21-year old blueliner and former teammate of Nathan Beaulieu‘s, having spent the past four seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs… Paul Cianfrini is a journeyman whose career took from the OHL to Nipissing University and then to the ECHL for the past two seasons… Jonathan Narbonne is a 21-year old d-man who won a Memorial Cup with Michael Bournival and Morgan Ellis in Shawinigan in 2012.

The first on-ice sessions of camp will be this Saturday, and most practices and scrimmages are open to the public. If you’ll be in the Greater Hamilton Area, stop by and check out some potential future Canadiens. The full schedule can be found here:
http://www.allhabs.net/blog/2013/09/18/official-release-bulldogs-2013-training-camp-begins-friday/

 

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Retooled Bulldogs Ready to Rebound

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – One year ago, I wrote an article referring to the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs as potential 2013 Calder Cup contenders. Flash forward to today, and that looks like a foolish prediction given the team’s 30th place overall finish this past season.

It’s easy to see what went wrong. A rookie head coach struggled to get his feet under him early on, and before he knew it, the rug had been swept from beneath him with injuries to both Blake Geoffrion and Aaron Palushaj – the two veteran forwards who were supposed to lead his young team in scoring. The offensive forward who had looked so dominant between the two wingers the season before – Louis Leblanc – was mired in a deep sophomore slump. The other veterans brought in to help a squad full of rookies – Darryl Boyce and Zack Stortini – played so poorly that it was tough to believe they had ever laced up skates in the National Hockey League.

On defense, it wasn’t a banner season for either of the team’s experienced vets. Frederic St. Denis got off to a very slow start, and then battled injuries. Brendon Nash‘s play had him slipping down the team’s depth chart to the point where he was moved for more of a specialist in Jason DeSantis in a failed effort to spark the team’s powerplay, a situation that only became tougher when DeSantis was forced to take personal leave to attend to an ailing parent.

And who could have foreseen goaltending troubles? Cedric Desjardins was as established an AHL netminder as one could have hoped for, but was quickly outplayed by Robert Mayer, a ‘tender that almost no one thought was in the plans beyond the current campaign a year ago.

Beaulieu emerged as one of the AHL’s most dynamic d-men by season’s end (PHOTO: Jennifer Kuhn)

The rest of the squad was composed primarily of rookies, most of whom had successful introductions to professional hockey. When the lockout ended, losing Brendan Gallagher certainly didn’t help Hamilton’s chances of a second half rebound, but his play in Montreal was a testament to how well he had made the transition from the junior ranks. As were the brief call-ups of Jarred TinordiGreg Pateryn, and Nathan Beaulieu, the latter of which was one of the AHL’s top blueliners over the season’s final months.

With so many things going wrong last season, it would be easy to lose hope as a ‘Dogs supporter. But such despair would be misplaced, as the team has quickly gone about readying itself to right the ship, and the 2013-14 edition will be looking to bite back. General Manager Marc Bergevin hasn’t hesitated to bolster the group that finished last season with a number of interesting UFA signings, leaving the current depth chart as follows:

Patrick Holland – Martin St. Pierre – Christian Thomas
Mike Blunden – Michael Bournival – Louis Leblanc
Sven Andrighetto – Joonas Nattinen – Nick Tarnasky
Stefan Fournier – Ben Duffy – Steve Quailer
Stephen MacAulay

Nathan Beaulieu – Greg Pateryn
Darren Dietz – Morgan Ellis
Magnus Nygren – Drew Schiestel

Robert Mayer
Mike Condon

The core roster has familiar faces at every position. However, all of Patrick HollandMichael BournivalSteve QuailerNathan BeaulieuGreg Pateryn, and Morgan Ellis were professional rookies a year ago. By season’s end, Holland was among the most dangerous ‘Dogs offensively, Bournival a responsible two-way player in the mold of Tomas Plekanec, and Pateryn and Beaulieu formed a legitimate AHL top pairing. Certainly, a big part of the team’s success will depend on the continued development of these returnees.

But the depth chart is also sprinkled with new faces throughout. At forward, the big fish was the signing of Martin St. Pierre, a seemingly perennial AHL all-star who, at 29, has appeared in 38 career NHL games split among three different teams. While undersized, St. Pierre – coming off a year of 26 goals and 59 points in 76 games – is a significant upgrade on Joey Tenute who finished 2013 as the team’s #1 centre and has signed with Malmo in Sweden for 2013-14.

The other new veteran is Nick Tarnasky, a pugilist who will contribute far more than either Zack Stortini or Kyle Hagel managed to last season. Twenty-eight year old, 6’2″ Tarnasky won’t hesitate to drop the gloves to defend a teammate, seen in his 138 AHL penalty minutes last season, but also has greater skill with the puck than a Stortini or Hagel, having scored 16 times in 74 contests for Rochester last year.

Thomas played one NHL game in his rookie pro season, coincidentally against the Canadiens (PHOTO: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Thomas played one NHL game in his rookie pro season, coincidentally against the Canadiens (PHOTO: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most surprising acquisition was that of Christian Thomas, who Bergevin ceded Danny Kristo to the New York Rangers in order to acquire. Kristo joined Hamilton late last season to great fanfare once North Dakota’s year came to an abrupt end. While making the jump from college hockey to the American League can be a difficult one, Kristo did little to impress Bulldog faithful in his short time in Steeltown. That, combined with off-ice behavioural questions, may have motivated Bergevin to deal, and in Thomas, Hamilton adds another professional sophomore, who isn’t the biggest at 5’9″, but plays a tough game not unlike Brendan Gallagher. While he may not quite match Gallagher’s ferocity around the net, he compensates with an extra offensive weapon of a quick and heavy arsenal of shots, used to net 19 goals in his first AHL season. Thomas should be an important part of this year’s Hamilton offense.

Four players should be making their AHL debuts at forward for the ‘Dogs. The first is Sven Andrighetto, a 2013 3rd round pick as an overage player who had begun to tear up the QMJHL after completing his adjustment from junior Swiss leagues to North American style hockey. Another player without the biggest of frames, Andrighetto is highly skilled and has the potential to fill a top six role on the squad once he adjusts to bigger, tougher, and faster competition.

The other three are undrafted players that earned NHL or AHL contracts coming out of Montreal’s July Development Camp in Brossard. Ben Duffy is last season’s QMJHL scoring champion, and earned a contract following a two-goal performance in the scrimmage on camp’s final day, centering a dominant line with Erik Nystrom and Sebastian Collberg. He brings depth to the squad, even if he’ll be battling to avoid starting in the ECHL in training camp, looking to be a more significant contributor than a Stefan Chaput on last year’s team. Stefan Fournier is a big body who can play a physical game but also put up points, scoring 16 goals in 17 games in the QMJHL playoffs before helping the Halifax Mooseheads capture the Memorial Cup. Finally, Stephen MacAulay was a teammate of Fournier’s in Halifax, both in their overage CHL seasons as 20 year olds. MacAulay is more of a two-way forward who – just like Fournier – has been recognized for off-ice leadership and work ethic.

With the Canadiens renewing their ECHL affiliation with the Wheeling Nailers, there remains room to add a forward or two for extra depth should the right fits arise. There is also the possibility that the team’s top forward last season, Gabriel Dumont, is returned to the AHL, though he’d need to clear waivers to do so, and thus there is a chance that either the Canadiens decide to retain him, or that he is claimed by another organization. Another name to keep in mind is Alex Belzile, a player who impressed on a late-season call-up tryout from Wheeling, and who was then invited to Development Camp in July, but has yet to sign for the coming year.

On defense, it is clear Bergevin must continue his shopping for reinforcements. The current top five members of the depth chart are either first or second year AHL’ers, and thus a veteran presence is needed to stabilize the group and share the tougher minutes. Some available names include former Hab Jay LeachGarnet ExelbyJim Vandermeer, and Jeff Woywitka.

There are two bright new faces on D with reasonable NHL upside. Darren Dietz capped a solid junior career with a season in which he led all CHL blueliners in goals (24) and participated in the Memorial Cup with the host Saskatoon Blades. A 5th round pick in 2011, he backs up his offense with a sound physical package and will quickly battle a player like Morgan Ellis in the injury call-up hierarchy.

Every bit as intriguing is Magnus Nygren, who brings a similar value proposition to the table with toughness and a booming point shot, but who has the benefit of a couple of years experience playing against men in the Swedish Elite League after having been drafted as an overager in 2011. The 23-year old will make his North American debut after 13 goals in 51 games for Farjestad earned him the title of the SEL’s top Swedish blueliner last season.

The most recent addition, Drew Schiestel, fills a depth AHL/ECHL ‘tweener role left vacant by the unqualified Joe Stejskal. The once Buffalo 2nd round selection was taken far earlier than anyone had projected in the entry draft and at 24 has yet to make his NHL debut.

Missing from the above depth chart is Jarred Tinordi, who will battle with Greg Pateryn for the right to start the season in Montreal at least as long as it takes Alexei Emelin to recover from knee surgery (likely at least till late November). Also absent is Dalton Thrower, who as a late birthday would be eligible to play in the AHL this coming season (like Beaulieu last year). Thrower is coming off a difficult season for Saskatoon, and is thus more likely to return for a final year in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, who acquired his rights from the Blades after the Memorial Cup.

Tokarski performed admirably for the Bulldogs, yet doesn't seem to have earned the organization's trust.
Tokarski performed admirably for the Bulldogs, yet doesn’t seem to have earned the organization’s trust.

A glaring weakness in the above depth chart is in goal. Robert Mayer performed well above expectations last season, wrestling the “#1a” tag from Cedric Desjardins, and then competing with Dustin Tokarski for ice-time. Still, he is nothing more than an “average” goaltender even at the AHL level, and would be relegated to back-up duties in an ideal situation.

Tokarski’s case is an interesting one, as the 23-year old still has potential as a future NHL goaltender, but may not see the Canadiens organization as a good fit for his development. Tokarski put up sensational numbers after being acquired by the Bulldogs, with 3 shutouts in 15 games, and a sparkling .927 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. But still coach Sylvain Lefebvre balanced his workload with Mayer’s, unwilling to give the former Tampa Bay Lightning prospect the lion’s share of duty. Adding to this, when the Canadiens needed a goaltender to sit on the bench in the Stanley Cup playoffs following an injury to Carey Price, it was Mayer who got the call to back-up Peter Budaj, rather than Tokarski. The re-signings of both Budaj and Mayer to two-year deals, plus the drafting of Zachary Fucale in the second round this past June further complicate things for Tokarski, who remains a restricted free agent after the Habs qualified him last month.

Enter Mike Condon, a Princeton University standout who was signed to a two-year entry-level deal to further cloud the goaltending pipeline. After completing his college career, Condon appeared in just four ECHL and five AHL regular season games last year, but his .943 and .919 save percentages respectively are enough for one to think that there is some promise to his future. If Tokarski returns – an increasingly bigger IF with each passing day – Condon is likely to start in Wheeling, splitting duties with Peter Delmas, but without Tokarski in the picture, the Bulldogs would be gambling on two highly unproven netminders.

Off the ice, the changes were even more plentiful for the Bulldogs, starting with the introduction of a new Assistant Coach in former Hab Stephan Lebeau. The Bulldogs had just a single Assistant Coach last season following the early dismissal of Ron Wilson (citing philosophical differences with rookie head coach Sylvain Lefebvre), instead opting to rotate player development coaches Patrice Brisebois and Martin Lapointe at times behind the bench. Lebeau is a bit of a peculiar hire considering he is coming out of Bishop’s College – where he coached for the past five seasons – after just two years as a QMJHL head coach. He has no experience at the professional level, on a staff where already Lefebvre has just completed his first season as a head coach at any level (after just two years as an AHL assitant and three years as an NHL assistant) and assistant Donald Dufresne‘s most recent campaign was his first in professional hockey after 10 years as an assistant with Rimouski. The direction seems clear: this is Lefebvre’s team, and improvement will have to come as he grows into the role, managing his staff his way, for better or for worse.

Adding to this were changes to the rest of the off-ice staff, as the Bulldogs attempted to change the team’s culture in letting go virtually the entire equipment management, training, and medical staff. Replacing them are much of the former staff of the Rimouski Oceanic, including Eric Levesque and Francis St. Pierre, both having helped out during Montreal’s development camp, though no formal announcement has been made.

These hires are important in surrounding the impressive group of young men who will be passing through Hamilton over the next few seasons. In addition to the above roster and mentioned players, the Bulldogs may benefit from some added scoring come April. Recent draftees Charles HudonBrady Vail, and Tim Bozon will be eligible to join the team once their junior seasons are over, and will be full time members in 2014-15. The first two got a taste of AHL action at the end of last season, and contributed even at such a young age, while Bozon represented France at the World Championship, facing off against much older men. Another player who would likely come in to support a playoff run is Sebastian Collberg, who played in two end-of-season games for Hamilton last year, but will return to Sweden for one final season after having signed his entry level deal with the Canadiens.  

All of this should make for some exciting hockey this season in Hamilton as the team turns the page on a tough and disappointing 2012-13 campaign. For any Hab fans in the GTA region, the opportunity to watch and follow their team’s stars of tomorrow is not to be missed.

——

The Hamilton Bulldogs 2013-14 schedule has not yet been released, but the team is currently offering a phenomenal deal to attend 4 games – including the always popular home opener and Toy Toss nights – for under $15 a ticket. For more info, see here.

Categories
Feature

End of Season Hamilton Bulldogs Report Card – Part 2

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

[See Part 1 of this report where the focus was on the team’s core players]

HAMILTON, ON – If a number of Hamilton’s core players disappointed this season in leading to the club’s last place finish in the American Hockey League, there were some pleasant surprises among those who joined the team mid-year. Bulldogs fans were treated to sneak peeks of some of the top prospects in the Canadiens’ system, many of whom were auditioned in starring roles with the club.

In this second part of our breakdown of the Bulldogs’ players, we turn our attention to those who played fewer than 20 games with the team this season. As such, the evaluations come with a warning of a small sample size, meaning the grades and descriptions are more first impressions than substantiated career projections.

Hudon was one of a number of rookies who auditioned on the top line. (PHOTO: Jamie Sabau)
Hudon was one of a number of rookies who auditioned on the top line. (PHOTO: Jamie Sabau)

 

[This portion of the report focuses solely on players who suited up for fewer than 20 games for the Bulldogs this season. For assessment of the other players, please see Part 1]

FORWARDS: 

OLIVIER ARCHAMBAULT – B-

AHL Numbers: 10 GP, 1-1-2, -3, 10 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 5’11”, 184 lbs.
His Role: Archambault joined the Bulldogs following the elimination of his Drumondville Voltigeurs from the first round of the QMJHL playoffs (despite his own 6 points in 5 games) as a scoring winger.
His Performance: Archambault played an intense game, generating scoring chances nightly. He most frequently played with Alex Belzile and Danny Kristo (both also on this list), and though his numbers were far from impressive, for a pro rookie playing with two other inexperienced forwards, he showed enough to think there may be some further potential there yet.
Future Outlook: Archambault must be signed by the Canadiens by June 1st, or the team will relinquish his rights. He played well, but in the end, 2 points in 10 games mean the odds of his earning that deal are probably around 50-50. He would have better odds of returning to Hamilton if he decides he’s willing to start on an AHL contract.

ALEXANDER AVTSIN – C+

AHL Numbers: 15 GP, 2-3-5, -4, 4 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’3″, 191 lbs. The riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, who still had a better points-per-game ratio than Louis Leblanc.
His Role: It was to be a make-or-break third year in North America for Avtsin, who needed to prove he could find some consistency and hit the scoresheet on a regular basis.
His Performance: If you saw him in any of the four games he did pick up a point, you’d think he was developing into the homerun swing the Canadiens hoped they were hitting in selecting Avtsin. His game would start at a high level when he was inserted into the line-up, but he was unable to keep up that energy, as it would fade in the games to follow. Still, on a team searching for any offense like the ‘Dogs were for much of the season, it’s a big mystery why Avtsin couldn’t earn more ice time. Certainly it points to off-ice or health-related issues, though it’s nothing the team would ever confirm.
Future Outlook: After being a healthy scratch for much of the season, Avtsin was finally sent to the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers with the year winding down. He wouldn’t appear in any ECHL games, however. Due to contract sliding, it seems Avtsin may still have a year on his deal with Montreal, but at this point, safe to say his bags are packed for the KHL. A shame for a player with all the tools to succeed – size, skating, skills – but just can’t seem to put it all together to overcome an apparent lack of hockey sense.

ALEX BELZILE – A

AHL Numbers: 14 GP, 3-5-8, -4, 11 PIM
The Skinny
: 21 years old, 5’11”, 188 lbs. A late season addition you’ve never heard of who outplayed Danny Kristo. And speaks French.
His Role: A native of St-Eloi, Quebec, Belzile was signed to a tryout late in the year after scoring 30 points in 40 games for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators. At the time, it was likely expected for him to serve as a placeholder until some of Montreal’s junior prospects could join the squad.
His Performance: Belzile performed beyond all expectations, quickly producing and earning a larger role. He found himself almost immediately on a top line with Patrick Holland and Joey Tenute, not looking out of place there. He was moved from the wing to centre once some of the prospects joined the squad, moving to a secondary scoring line to try to spread balance through the team’s units. Belzile plays a simple game. He has a hard shot, though it lacks accuracy. Despite a lack of size, he goes hard to the net, and while not a real hitter, isn’t afraid to engage physically.
Future Outlook: His play should have earned him a longer look with the organization, though I’d be inclined to offer strictly an AHL deal until he can show continued effort over a larger sample size. I could see him starting on such a contract with the Bulldogs, and perhaps earning a two-way NHL contract by year’s end. Would certainly like to see him back.

ALAIN BERGER – C

AHL Numbers: 9 GP, 0-0-0, -6, 4 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’4″, 194 lbs. If you’ve followed me on Twitter for a while, you know I was obsessed with his shot.
His Role: Played on a third or fourth line without real purpose. Not really an energy player. A depth scorer.
His Performance: An NHL-level shot, good size, and not much else to like in his game. He could be a liability on-ice, which made him a healthy scratch struggling for ice time.
Future Outlook: Berger wanted out, so he and the organization agreed mid-season on an assignment to Bern of the Swiss league. His days with the team are done.

SEBASTIAN COLLBERG – A-

AHL Numbers: 2 GP, 0-0-0, -2, 0 PIM
The Skinny: 19 years old, 5’11”, 176 lbs.
His Role: By the time Collberg got to North America and received medical clearance from the Canadiens after recovering from a concussion, there remained just a single weekend in Hamilton’s season. Thus his task was to simply gain experience and a taste of the North American pro game, though he was given a phenomenal opportunity to fill in for the injured Patrick Holland on the first line with Joey Tenute and Charles Hudon.
His Performance: While he failed to collect his first AHL point, Collberg was highly impressive in his short stint with the squad. It was quite the tease, considering he should be rejoining Frolunda in the Fall to play out one more season in Sweden. Collberg was perhaps the team’s quickest/best skater, and showed off his rocket release, though like Belzile, seemed to miss the net more than he’d hit it. He would park himself in the slot and was always dangerous, while also manning the point on the powerplay.
Future Outlook: As stated, he’s expected back in Sweden next season, where his focus should be on adding muscle to his frame. If the two AHL games he played were any indication, however, he’s ready to take on that level should he decide to come over to North America full-time.
Hear Collberg’s own assessment of his time with the Bulldogs exclusively HERE.

BLAKE GEOFFRION – A

AHL Numbers: 10 GP, 4-2-6, -2, 9 PIM
The Skinny: 25 years old, 6’2″, 195 lbs. The guy who kinda sorta retired, but then didn’t. Yet.
His Role: Geoffrion was expected to be a veteran leader and offensive catalyst on this young team. He had been on fire in the AHL the year prior on a line with Aaron Palushaj and Louis Leblanc before call-ups broke the trio up.
His Performance: Geoffrion played hard right out of the gates, bringing his physical brand of hockey on a nightly basis, while firing plenty of rubber at opposing keepers. Sadly, a hard hit by former Hab Jean-Philippe Cote would see Geoffrion’s neck and head hit the ice hard, fracturing his skull, and necessitating emergency surgery.
Future Outlook: From all we’ve heard, there seems little doubt Geoffrion will announce his retirement at season’s end, as there has been little progress in his condition. We can only wish him well in his continued recovery to allow him to lead a full, healthy, and happy life after he leaves the game.

CHARLES HUDON – B+

AHL Numbers: 9 GP, 1-2-3, -5, 4 PIM
The Skinny: 18 years old, 5’10”, 171 lbs. Phenomenal season derailed by injuries that kept him out of the World Junior Championship.
His Role: Hudon has mentioned what a crushing disappointment missing this year’s WJC tournament was in an otherwise standout season for the Chicoutimi captain. Hopefully getting a peak of what AHL hockey is like as the league’s youngest player compensated for that letdown.
His Performance: Hudon proved to be a gamer despite his age, quickly earning a promotion to the top line with Tenute and Holland/Collberg. His offensive abilities were evident, as he was one of the team’s more creative players during a final stretch that saw them struggle to produce. Given the game he plays, he’ll need to fill out to make the full transition to this league, but his natural ability is very evident at a young age, seen in his frequent toe drags and challenges of opposing defenders.
Future Outlook: Too young to play in the AHL on a full-time basis, Hudon will return to Chicoutimi and will be a lock to play for Canada at next Christmas’s World Juniors barring another injury. He suffered multiple injuries this season, and it’s something to watch as seemingly the only thing that could keep him from a successful pro career. A versatile two-way player, Hudon can fill a 2nd or 3rd line role.

DANNY KRISTO – C+

(Photo by HamiltonBulldogs.com)
(Photo by HamiltonBulldogs.com)

AHL Numbers: 9 GP, 0-3-3, -1, 2 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 5’11”, 185 lbs. Hab fans have been waiting a long time for Kristo to show up. Bulldog fans are still waiting.
His Role: There was much hoopla surrounding the signing of top prospect Kristo, and yet he wasn’t immediately given a prominent role on the ‘Dogs like many of the other late-season additions. He played on a third line, mainly with Archambault and Belzile, while initially receiving limited powerplay minutes.
His Performance: I can’t say Kristo was bad, but he was mostly unnoticeable in the first 9 games of his professional career. You would occasionally see him make a quality pass or skate well on a forecheck, but that would be the only shift where you’d notice him in a given game.
Future Outlook: There is nothing to be concerned about, as the adjustment from college to the AHL can be a big one. Kristo may be less NHL-ready than some had hoped, however, and a season against lesser competition with the University of North Dakota may not have been good for his development. Still, he’ll be a Bulldog again in the Fall and should be counted on as one of the team’s offensive leaders. His experience with Team USA at the upcoming World Championships should certainly help his game reach the needed level. He still projects as a second line winger.

DAULTAN LEVEILLE- C-

AHL Numbers: 19 GP, 0-2-2, -3, 4 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’0″, 185 lbs. Claims he was once taken in the first round of the NHL draft. Fortunately it was one year prior to Rick Dudley’s arrival in Atlanta.
His Role: Leveille was one of the club’s AHL depth signings, and he split the year between the Bulldogs and the ECHL. When injuries and call-ups left holes in Hamilton’s roster, Leveille served as a two-way stop-gap.
His Performance: A serviceable gap-filler, Leveille showed little to earn him another contract. A dime-a-dozen type.
Future Outlook: Could be back on another AHL deal if the staff felt there was a fit there, but more than likely the team will go in a different direction.

TYLER MUROVICH – C+

AHL Numbers: 18 GP, 3-1-4, -7, 37 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 5’9″, 185 lbs. Wait a minute… He actually played how many games this season?!
His Role: Allow the the team to dress 12 forwards. And somehow send three pucks to the back of the net.
His Performance: When you noticed Murovich was playing, it was often making a simple play like getting a puck deep, or else coming up on the short end of a physical battle. A third or fourth line filler with no NHL aspiration.
Future Outlook: See Daultan Leveille.

PETTERI NOKELAINEN – C+

AHL Numbers: 17 GP, 2-2-4, -10, 21 PIM
The Skinny: 27 years old, 6’1″, 202 lbs. 51 GP, 3-3-6 for the Canadiens in 2011-12, but the Bulldogs would have preferred swapping him back for Brock Trotter.
His Role: Nokelainen centered a second line after clearing waivers once finally healthy. He received big minutes on both the powerplay and penalty kill.
His Performance: Joining a team mid-season after missing so much time isn’t an easy task, and unfortunately Nokelainen showed few signs of having been an NHL semi-regular as recently as last year. He used his size to play a tough game, but contributed little at either end of the rink to have any true impact on the team. He was outplayed in all aspects by a first year player in Michael Bournival.
Future Outlook: Nokelainen is unlikely to earn a one-way NHL contract at this stage of his career, and if he’s willing to accept a tw0-way deal rather than return to Europe, it will almost certainly be with a different organization.

IAN SCHULTZ – D

AHL Numbers: 2 GP, 0-0-0, -1, 2 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’2″, 216 lbs. He’ll forever be “the other guy” Montreal got along with Lars Eller for Jaroslav Halak.
His Role: Conditioning has been an issue for Schultz throughout his career, and he wasn’t ready to undertake this season, losing his job quickly.
His Performance: Disappointing. Schultz seemed on his way to filling his potential as a part-time call-up scrapper last season, and instead his career has been thrown completely off course.
Future Outlook: Schultz is an RFA this summer and it is doubtful the Canadiens will qualify him. This update is the only reason he’s even included in this list.

BRADY VAIL – B

AHL Numbers: 12 GP, 1-3-4, +2, 4 PIM
The Skinny: 19 years old, 6’1″, 190 lbs. Once upon a time, he was neck-and-neck with Alex Galchenyuk in OHL scoring. True story.
His Role: When Windsor failed to qualify for the OHL playoffs, a disappointing year turned to opportunity for Vail as one of Hamilton’s youngest players. He played almost exclusively on the fourth line centering Kyle Hagel and Zack Stortini, receiving just a two-game reprieve and opportunity with players of a higher skill level.
His Performance: Despite a lack of playing time and quality linemates, and the fact that even next year he’ll still be too young to play in the AHL, Vail didn’t look at all out of place. A sound defensive forward and penalty killer, Vail showed hard-nosed offensive ability that made him one of the OHL’s tougher centers to line up against.
Future Outlook: Vail will be back with the Spitfires and may have a shot at the USA’s World Junior squad in December. Barring any huge plot twists, he’ll be signed at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season and join the Bulldogs once the Spits are done. He projects as a third line center.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

MIKE COMMODORE – B-

AHL Numbers: 17 GP, 0-2-2, -4, 26 PIM
The Skinny: 33 years old, 6’4″, 225 lbs. Yet still refuses to give in to popular outcry and wear the number 64.
His Role: Hamilton’s blueline was exceptionally young with no fewer than four rookies playing significant roles. Injury and disappointing play from Frederic St. Denis had the team in the market for another veteran presence, and Commodore most frequently formed a giant pairing beside Jarred Tinordi.
His Performance: When in the line-up, Commodore performed respectably, though he wasn’t the defensive rock on D to cover for rookie errors the team hoped he’d be. Worse, a wonky groin meant he was rarely at 100%, and was likely a significant factor in the ‘Dogs not extending him beyond his tryout period.
Future Outlook: After his stint with the Bulldogs, Commodore eventually found work with the Texas Stars, and will continue to attempt to earn his way back to the NHL with another club.

MATT GRASSI – C+

Bulldog Numbers: 3 GP, 0-0-0, +0, 0 PIM
The Skinny: 24 years old, 6’3″, 215 lbs.
His Role: A defensive blueliner having finished his career at Michigan State, Grassi’s size made him an intriguing tryout to compensate for call-ups and injuries on the back end
His Performance: Grassi seemed solid enough that I was surprised when he was released after only three games, though he didn’t display any standout skills. He played decent minutes and was mostly unnoticeable – a compliment for a defensive d-man – though giveaways in his final game may have ultimately led to the club’s decision to set him free.
Future Outlook: Grassi’s size alone should see him land with at least an ECHL squad next year if he decides to continue to play hockey rather than pursue other interests with his college education.

PETER MERTH – C

AHL Numbers: 7 GP, 0-1-1, -5, 8 PIM
The Skinny: 25 years old, 6’3″, 225 lbs. Captained the Wheeling Nailers this season after wearing an ‘A’ a year ago.
His Role: Merth got a taste of AHL action with the Penguins last season, and so the Bulldogs rewarded their ECHL affiliate’s captain with a chance to show he could improve on his debut in the league.
His Performance: A strong two-way player at the lower level, Merth is an example of just how steep the step can be, as he failed to leave a positive impression on the Bulldogs. Merth can make a solid breakout pass, but coverage in his own end and skating were not his biggest strengths.
Future Outlook: He is currently with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for depth on their playoff drive. Seems like he has a home with the Nailers, so could be back in Wheeling next year, but unlikely to be signed by the Bulldogs or Canadiens.

 

GOALTENDERS :

PETER DELMAS – C

Bulldog Numbers: 3 GP, 0-2-0, 3.49 GAA, .865 SV%
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’2″, 188 lbs.
His Role: Delmas provided necessary organizational depth in goal as a third stringer for the Bulldogs, spending the season with the Wheeling Nailers and posting decent ECHL numbers.
His Performance: Unfortunately, unlike the last two seasons, Delmas did not perform up to expectations when pressed into AHL action. His three appearances left much to be desired.
Future Outlook: With one year remaining on his contract, there was hope Delmas could at least be Hamilton’s back-up goaltender next season, However, based on this year’s results, the team may look outside to fill that role while relegating Delmas to a final year as the Bulldogs’ number three.

JACOB GERVAIS-CHOUINARD – B-

Bulldog Numbers: 3 GP, 0-2-0, 3.24 GAA, .905 SV%
The Skinny: 21 years old, 6’1″, 173 lbs.
His Role: With two goaltenders already battling for ice time, it was a bit of a head-scratcher when the Bulldogs brought in Gervais-Chouinard after Sherbrooke’s season had ended in the QMJHL. He would see limited action over the course of the final weeks in hopes of earning a contract now that his junior career is over.
His Performance: Though he didn’t play much, the Sherbrooke native was sound when called upon, generally starting games on the nervous side (including allowing a few softies) but settling in as they wore on. His rebound control could use work, but he showed determination in scrambling/fighting to get in front of second chance opportunities.
Future Outlook: Given how little he played, it’s hard to assess whether the organization sees a future for the young netminder. That he started the team’s final game of the season should be a positive sign, but even if he does earn a contract, the club may choose to bring in another keeper still to ensure their bases are covered.

DUSTIN TOKARSKI – A-

Bulldog Numbers: 15 GP, 6-8-0, 2.22 GAA, .927 SV%
The Skinny: 23 years old, 5’11”, 190 lbs. Nicknamed ‘Ticker’ after the picture of comicbook hero The Tick on his mask.
His Role: Tokarski was acquired for a struggling Cedric Desjardins to split time with Robert Mayer in goal. At just 23 years of age, he remains a prospect to be developed, so the team hoped to see the goaltender who won a Calder Cup championship last Spring and had represented Canada at the World Juniors back in 2008-09.
His Performance: In that regard, the Bulldogs got exactly what they wanted, as Tokarski started his career with the organization on fire. His three Hamilton shutouts came in his first 10 games with the squad, and while his consistency would wane over the final stretch, he showed enough to remain a future potential NHL keeper. Moreover, he has the right attitude off the ice, always his own harshest critic with a thirst for continuous improvement.
Future Outlook: While he split time with Mayer this season, Tokarski should enter 2013-14 as Hamilton’s undisputed #1. He provides the Canadiens with a legitimate call-up option should injury require reinforcements in goal.

 

 

Categories
Feature

End of Season Hamilton Bulldogs Report Card – Part 1

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

HAMILTON, ON – There was a lot of hope and promise surrounding the Hamilton Bulldogs entering the 2012-13 season. Despite the team’s struggles last season, an incoming class filled with some of the Montreal Canadiens’ top prospects, combined with the return of a proven top AHL netminder, meant the team had realistic aspirations of a return to the post-season.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. The reasons the team was mired in the Western Conference basement throughout most of the season are plentiful. You can blame the combination of too many rookies on the ice and behind the bench. Early injuries to key veterans. Disappointing performances by players from whom more was expected. Not getting the calibre of goaltending it takes to win. Or a sheer lack of scoring punch.

Not everything was negative, however. A number of rookies impressed in their debuts at the professional level, and we saw the graduation of at least one impact player to the Habs. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to be around the Bulldogs throughout the season in Hamilton, and with the peril-filled campaign now in the books, here’s a look at a breakdown of their performances player-by-player.

reportcard

[part 1 of this report will assess only those who played at least 20 games for the Bulldogs this season; part 2 will look at those who played fewer]

 

FORWARDS: 

MIKE BLUNDEN – A

AHL Numbers: 54 GP, 10-12-22, +2, 76 PIM
The Skinny
: 26 years old, 6’4″, 218 lbs. 39 NHL GP in 2011-12. A favourite of Randy Cunneyworth. Grinder.
His Role: Blunden has shown he can produce at the American Hockey League level, so was most often inserted into Hamilton’s top 6.
His Performance: He was frequently one of the few players to actually show up during the team’s tougher stretches, doing it all on the ice. Produced scoring chances (even when they wouldn’t go in for him), played physically, killed penalties, was used on the powerplay. His numbers could have been a little better, but the effort was there night in and night out.
Future Outlook: He would be a good veteran to have back with the ‘Dogs, while being a serviceable call-up should Montreal’s fourth line need reinforcement.

MICHAEL BOURNIVAL – B+

AHL Numbers: 69 GP, 10-20-30, -3, 26 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’0″, 187 lbs. Played for Canada at the WJC. Captained Shawinigan to a Memorial Cup in 2011-12. Just don’t remind him that his team first lost in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs.
His Role: Bournival played both center and wing on second and third lines as a pro rookie in Hamilton. He was used in every situation, earning considerable minutes on both the powerplay and penalty kill. A true two-way player, whose offensive game perked up in spurts but was unnoticeable on many nights as well.
His Performance: His 30 points were good for third on the offensively destitute Bulldog roster. Showed the development you hope for from a rookie, becoming more consistent as the season wore on, earning praise from his teammates and coach.
Future Outlook: May never project as more than a third liner, but positive signs he still has NHL upside. Requires more seasoning, likely to spend all of next season in Hamilton once again.

DARRYL BOYCE – C-

AHL Numbers: 22 GP, 1-6-7, -5, 27 PIM
The Skinny: 28 years old, 6’0″, 200 lbs. 84 career NHL GP, scoring 6 goals and 18 points. Allegedly.
His Role: A team full of rookies desperately needed some veteran leadership, and hoped to depend on Boyce – particularly once Palushaj and Geoffrion went down with injuries.
His Performance: Boyce was a disappointment from day one, providing little offense, taking poor penalties, and in no way carrying any sort of heavy load to take pressure off the young players.
Future Outlook: Was let go before the end of his 25-game tryout. Nothing to see here.

STEFAN CHAPUT – C+

AHL Numbers: 48 GP, 5-12-17, -12, 25 PIM
The Skinny: 25 years old, 6’0″, 185 lbs. Think of him as this year’s Phil DeSimone.
His Role: A skilled offensive forward that the team looked to for secondary scoring from a second or third line. He was on an AHL deal and worked his way back up from the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers.
His Performance: On a team crying for any additional offense, Chaput produced at a similar clip to his prior pro seasons. He would show flashes on some nights, and like so many of his teammates, be wildly inconsistent on others. But you couldn’t blame him for a lack of effort. Had his season ended early on the receiving end of a big open ice check.
Future Outlook: A dime-a-dozen type, unlikely to be back. Enough continuity in the roster, need to bring in some fresh blood.

GABRIEL DUMONT – A+

AHL Numbers: 55 GP, 16-15-31, -2, 83 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 5’10”, 186 lbs. A career third/fourth line grinder who just happened to lead the team in scoring.
His Role: Everything. There were many glaring weaknesses at forward on this squad, and Dumont did his best to shore them all up. His physical game kept opponents honest in protecting his very young teammates, and he suddenly started burying pucks on a team starving for any scoring.
His Performance: Had he not missed 21 games with his time spent in Montreal, would have been the easy choice for team MVP. Fearlessly charged the net, fired pucks on goal whenever possible, and played big minutes in every situation. Was this season just an anomaly? Perhaps. As he himself said, the last time he led a team in scoring was probably in Midget or Peewee.
Future Outlook: The fourth line is crowded in Montreal, and there is even less room for more undersized forwards. But Dumont’s game is pure effort, and he is likely to stick with the Habs in at least a 13th forward role in the Fall.

OLIVIER FORTIER – C-

AHL Numbers: 32 GP, 1-1-2, -1, 15 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’0″, 185 lbs. Too good for the ECHL. So basically, David Desharnais. Less skilled, but bigger and better defensively. They must be on similar contracts.
His Role: Fortier was Montreal’s third round pick in 2007. The Canadiens opted to let him walk this summer, but then brought him back on an AHL deal for the Bulldogs. He is a two-way forward, but put up strong ECHL numbers, earning him a recall.
His Performance: Fortier’s development was derailed seasons ago by repeated injuries. He got off to a shaky start in training camp, not in peak form, evident in subpar skating. He was a body to fill a spot. A lunchpale blue collar hard worker.
Future Outlook: Not the season Fortier needed to get back in the organization’s good graces. Unlikely to return.

BRENDAN GALLAGHER – A+

AHL Numbers: 36 GP, 10-10-20, +0, 61 PIM
The Skinny: 28 years old, 6’3″, 220 lbs. Actually that’s just how he plays. But you know who this guy is.
His Role: Ideally you don’t depend on a rookie to lead the way up front for your team, but Gallagher quickly assumed the role of offensive catalyst.  And did so with a smile on his face. Never met a shot opportunity he didn’t like or opposing crease in which he didn’t feel at home.
His Performance: His play was far better than his numbers indicated, with a lack of quality linemates and some poor puck luck despite may many shots and chances to blame. A remarkable rookie season that saw him play the exact same way he had in the WHL when making the jump to the AHL, and then ultimately taking that style straight to the NHL post-lockout.
Future Outlook: Gallagher looks to be an impact player in Montreal for years to come. A high-energy second line winger.

KYLE HAGEL – C+

AHL Numbers: 67 GP, 2-4-6, -13, 172 PIM
The Skinny: 28 years old, 6’0″, 205 lbs. The most kind-hearted scrapper since Georges Laraque.
His Role: Hamilton local. Willing combatant. Great teammate and community guy.
His Performance: Seemed like an important cog on the team. Somehow always in the right place at the right time, as opportune scoring chances always ended up on his stick. Unfortunately, you’d rather it have been pretty much anyone else on the team’s stick.
Future Outlook: As a fourth liner or 13th forward, seems like a guy the Bulldogs would want back. A leader off-ice. Every AHL team needs players willing to drop the gloves.

PATRICK HOLLAND – A-

AHL Numbers: 69 GP, 10-18-28, -12, 8 PIM
The Skinny: 21 years old, 6’0″, 175 lbs. Undoubtedly the best former 7th round selection Montreal has ever traded for in the middle of a game.
His Role: To prove that he had game and that his WHL numbers weren’t just a product of playing with two skilled overage forwards. Cemented himself a first line job by mid-season.
His Performance: Holland started hot, went cold for a bit, and then finished out the season as likely the team’s top offensive threat. He was moved to center temporarily then returned to a more comfortable role on the wing. Gained confidence as the season went on, challenging opposing defenders with quick dekes with increasing frequency and often successfully creating quality chances.  Great offensive instincts and played the point on the powerplay for most of the year. Season ended a few games early after taking a heavy hit, but it’s said to not be anything too serious.
Future Outlook: Should be one of the leaders up front for the ‘Dogs next year and a primary call-up option for an offensive forward role.

LOUIS LEBLANC – C

AHL Numbers: 62 GP, 10-8-18, -18, 53 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’0″, 190 lbs. If we pretend he was injured and didn’t play this season, you’ll remember him as one of Montreal’s top prospects.
His Role: Leblanc was expected to be a leader for the team up front as a second year pro on a team of rookies. He wasn’t given much of a chance to rekindle last season’s sparks with Geoffrion and Palushaj, and spent most of the year on a third line with limited powerplay time.
His Performance: That said, Leblanc didn’t earn much more than that. Giveaways. Lazy penalties. Little creativity offensively. Decent work shorthanded, but that’s about where the positives ended most nights. Had a good patch or two, though still a wasted/lost season for him on the whole. He was hindered early on by a high ankle sprain – a tough injury to return from – but you can only point to that as an excuse for so long. Have to assume it became more of a mental thing, with frustrations mounting when production didn’t come as easily as it had the year prior.
Future Outlook: It’s too early to give up on Leblanc at 22, especially after not looking out of place in the NHL last season. He’s got enough skill and instinct to bounce back and even make the Canadiens out of camp in the Fall, but he’ll need to put in a lot of work and training time over the summer.

PHILIPPE LEFEBVRE – D

AHL Numbers: 23 GP, 4-3-7, +6, 10 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 5’11”, 186 lbs. Every aspect of his game is about as remarkable as his size.
His Role: Fill a roster spot. Play on a third line. Keep it simple. Don’t get your team in trouble.
His Performance: I had to check three or four times to confirm he finished the season a +6. Really?? On THIS team?! Ok, seriously. Soft, small two-way player with no real discernible skill set.
Future Outlook: He has a year left on his entry level deal, likely to be spent split between the ECHL and AHL.

JOONAS NATTINEN – C+

AHL Numbers: 24 GP, 5-4-9, +6, 8 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’2″, 187 lbs. Skinny is a fitting descriptor here.
His Role: A third line center you could think of as a less productive Andreas Engqvist. That may not sound overly flattering, but Engqvist was a great AHL player before heading back to Europe, and Nattinen is still young with potential to reach at least that level.
His Performance: Nattinen was a streaky scorer this season and last, but plays a solid all-around game. Adept in his own end, and willing to take the body. His season was cut short by a shoulder injury, but to his credit, he remained with the team all year, always seen around the dressing room after each game.
Future Outlook: He has one year left on his deal, which will determine his future in the organization. Should be counted upon in a third line role for the Bulldogs.

AARON PALUSHAJ – B+

Bulldog Numbers: 21 GP, 7-3-10, -9, 18 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 5’11”, 187 lbs. 38 GP, 1-4-5 with the Canadiens in 2011-12. A huge fan favourite and leading offensive powerhouse… In the American Hockey League.
His Role: Palushaj was expected to be one of this team’s top players, standing in the spotlight to provide shelter for the first year bunch just getting their feet wet.
His Performance: While the effort was there, his production lagged early on. The magic between he and Blake Geoffrion seen last season was gone. Until the two synched up again. In the sense that a dozen games after Geoffrion was injured, the same fate awaited Palushaj. Pretty amazing he shared honours for being named “Hardest Working Bulldog of the Game” most often at year’s end with two other players despite playing only 21 games.
Future Outlook: You know the story here. When he finally got healthy, the lockout had ended, and Montreal tried to slip him through waivers to return him to the Bulldogs. And he ended up in Colorado, where he has played roughly 3 of every 4 games. RFA this summer.

STEVE QUAILER – B-

AHL Numbers: 64 GP, 6-4-10, -7, 54 PIM
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’4″, 200 lbs. Scored the goal that saved Christmas in Hamilton with a highlight reel solo effort on Teddy Bear Toss night.
His Role: A third line winger who spent a little too much time skating around trying to keep up with the play. Also to provide the Copps Coliseum press gallery with endless hours of entertainment as a certain Hamilton Spectator columnist enjoyed randomly shouting out “QUUAAILERR!” whenever he would see him on the ice.
His Performance: Occasionally he would have a decent game offensively and you’d come away thinking there was something there. A drool-worthy frame, which he would use on other nights to put opposing players into the boards. Showed enough of a varied set of abilities to be hopeful that there remains some potential in him, but a long-shot project for the NHL at this point, despite having just completed his pro rookie season. Yet another player whose season ended with an injury.
Future Outlook: He’ll be back with the Bulldogs next season. He’s in a similar spot to Joonas Nattinen. That would be two-thirds of a tall third line.

ZACK STORTINI – D-

AHL Numbers: 73 GP, 2-4-6, -14, 241 PIM
The Skinny: 27 years old, 6’4″, 215 lbs. 257 career NHL GP, 14-27-41. And if you saw him play this season, you’d swear that was a joke.
His Role: Stortini was a big fan favourite when he won the Calder Cup with the Bulldogs back in 2007, and memories of that season are the only reasonable explanation for many still being a fan of his this year. A fourth line grinder who – most nights – couldn’t reliably take a regular shift.
His Performance: His physical game came and went, picking up later on in the season. His fights were more of the staged variety than sticking up for teammates. A locker room veteran, sure, but mostly useless on the ice. He seemed a coach’s favourite early on, but his poor play could only go on so long until he was put on the fourth line and played under 10 minutes a night.
Future Outlook: Wouldn’t expect him back. There is enough team toughness that one dedicated enforcer is enough in the squad’s everyday line-up. The veteran that’s needed would score more than six points in 73 games.

JOEY TENUTE – A-

AHL Numbers: 40 GP, 8-17-25, -3, 51 PIM
The Skinny: 30 years old, 5’9″, 190 lbs. The best Bulldog most Hab fans have never heard of.
His Role: After toiling in European leagues since 2008, Tenute didn’t play hockey this Fall. When his hometown Hamilton Bulldogs came calling mid-season, it looked like he’d be a short-term injury replacement. He would finish the season as the club’s first line center.
His Performance: Tenute produces from the get-go for the Bulldogs, quickly earning the upgrade from tryout to AHL contract. A leader on and off the ice, Tenute has a good release, quick hands, and sharp offensive instincts. A veteran of a single NHL game back in 2005-06 with the Washington Capitals, he’s unlikely to ever get another shot on that stage, but did everything that could be asked of him, while always a good, long-winded post-game quote.
Future Outlook: I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t like to see the hometown feel-good story back with the ‘Dogs next season, but the pending UFA would be much more natural on a second scoring line with a bigger or more skilled center to bare the top line workload.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

NATHAN BEAULIEU – A

AHL Numbers: 67 GP, 7-24-31, -8, 63 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’3″, 191 lbs. Back-to-back QMJHL championships with Saint John’s under Montreal assistant coach Gerard Gallant – a man who empathizes with Beaulieu’s displeasure over having a French accent placed on his family name.
His Role: Around mid-December, something clicked. Beaulieu grew from a boy to a man, earning a top pairing role – most often with Greg Pateryn once he returned from injury – and holding it till season’s end. Top even strength minutes, number one powerplay minutes, and yes, even big penalty kill minutes.
His Performance: He was named the team’s top defenseman, rookie of the year, and most impressively, M.V.P. He matured on and off the ice. His 31 points tied for the team lead with Gabriel Dumont. And oh yeah, he started the year as one of the youngest players in the league! By season’s end, his confidence was at a point where he never hesitated to try to beat opposing players one-on-one or pull a quick spin-o-rama. He is skilled enough that it all worked more often than not, and when not, his tremendous skating ability often allowed him to correct his own mistakes.
Future Outlook: In a word, bright. Looks to be a certain future top 4 guy in the NHL, and his game will become even more complete as he fills out his frame. There will likely be one opening on the Montreal blueline in the Fall, and Beaulieu starts with an inside track towards locking it down.

ANTOINE CORBIN – C-

AHL Numbers: 30 GP, 1-2-3, -11, 22 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’3″, 206 lbs. Played for Prince Albert, Hamilton, and San Francisco all in 2012-13. Three leagues, three very different cities.
His Role: Injuries necessitated the addition of depth players to the Hamilton blueline early in the season, and Corbin had impressed the most in training camp. A bottom pairing blueliner whose minutes were sheltered and who was often a healthy scratch.
His Performance: His size makes you wonder, but nothing to see here. Coaching staff seemed to lose trust in him early, preferring to bestow increased responsibilities on the other five blueliners many nights when he was in the line-up.
Future Outlook: He was a stopgap this season and shouldn’t be difficult to upgrade.

JASON DESANTIS – C

Bulldog Numbers: 27 GP, 2-3-5, -4, 18 PIM
The Skinny: 27 years old, 5’11”, 185 lbs. No relation to the director of the Montreal Impact.
His Role: DeSantis was a late-blooming breakout offensive rearguard for Saint John’s last season and brought in via trade to help a sputtering Hamilton powerplay.
His Performance: Disappointing offensive output and not the most dependable player in his own end. He had personal off-ice issues to deal with this season that took him away from the team for a spell, and may have been a partial cause for his regression on-ice.
Future Outlook: He’ll be a UFA this summer, and given his play, he’s likely to be one of those let go to allow a last place squad to reformulate its core.

MORGAN ELLIS – B-

AHL Numbers: 71 GP, 4-4-8, -16, 57 PIM
The Skinny: 20 years old, 6’2″, 196 lbs.
His Role: Many believed Ellis’s well-rounded game had him closer to the NHL than Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi coming into the season. He was slower to adapt than the two first round picks, playing a #4 or bottom pairing role for the ‘Dogs, while taking shifts on the penalty kill.
His Performance: Pretty average. There were few nights where you noticed that Morgan Ellis was in the line-up, though for a defense-first blueliners, that isn’t always a bad thing. Had some trouble adapting to the pace of the game. Not much offense. Not particularly physical. Some raw skills with lots of room for improvement. Didn’t frequently make obvious poor decisions with the puck, so an acceptable first season as a pro.
Future Outlook: Ellis is still very young, but he’s behind the three other Hamilton rookies in the depth chart at present, so he’ll have his work cut out for him should he ever aspire to make the Canadiens. He’ll be a Bulldog again in the Fall on the second year of his three-year ELC, facing new challenges from the likes of Darren Dietz and possibly Magnus Nygren.

BRENDON NASH – B-

Bulldog Numbers: 26 GP, 1-7-8, +5, 39 PIM
The Skinny: 26 years old, 6’3″, 206 lbs. 2 GP with the Canadiens in 2010-11, narrowly missing the Heritage Classic in Calgary.
His Role: Nash missed all of 2011-12 following knee surgery, and had a hard time readjusting to start the current season. He and Frederic St. Denis were intended to be elder statesmen on the Bulldog blueline.
His Performance: The offense in Nash’s game took a step backward, and he lost a step in terms of footspeed. His game picked up a bit after his trade to the Florida Panthers (and San Antonio Rampage), but not enough to make him look like the legit NHL prospect he was in the last season he played.
Future Outlook: He will be an RFA this summer, and is probably more likely to earn an AHL deal somewhere than to be qualified and retained by the Panthers.

GREG PATERYN – A

AHL Numbers: 39 GP, 7-5-12, -12, 27 PIM
The Skinny: 22 years old, 6’3″, 214 lbs. Deserving winner of the “I was called up before Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi award.”
His Role: While a rookie himself, at 22 on a blueline with three 20-year olds, Pateryn assumed a leader role. A steady, stay at home type, who can clear the crease and take the body on occasion, Pateryn’s offensive game – notably an accurate point shot – also came alive midseason, earning him a spot in the top powerplay rotation.
His Performance: When Pateryn was called-up to Montreal, he was Hamilton’s top d-man, playing 27+ minutes a night on a regular basis. He and Nathan Beaulieu started nearly every powerplay and penalty kill, with the star rookie attributing much of his progression to learning from the former Michigan Wolverine.
Future Outlook: Pateryn will have his hands full if he wants to stay ahead of Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi in Montreal’s depth chart, but it never hurts to have depth, especially on D. He’ll be an important member of the Bulldogs next season, especially should Frederic St. Denis seek an opportunity with an organization less crowded at the position.

FREDERIC ST-DENIS – B

AHL Numbers: 63 GP, 7-11-18, -2, 24 PIM
The Skinny: 27 years old, 5’11”, 190 lbs. 17 GP, 1-2-3 with the Canadiens in 2011-12.
His Role: To be the veteran leader of a very young blueline, logging the tough minutes in a shutdown role on a squad full of rookies. Or it would have been, had he been healthy and played anything like he did a year ago. Had the lockout no wiped out the first half of the NHL season, he may have gotten some games with the Habs in. But it provided enough time for other to catch up to him and take on bigger roles.
His Performance: It was unfortunately a disappointing season for St. Denis. He admitted as much himself at season’s end, saying he had played poorly much of the way. He recovered his game during the final stretch, gradually reclaiming a role as one of the better d-men on the club, but it was too late for him to benefit from another shot with the Canadiens, as by then his job had been overtaken by three first year players. It is somewhat surprising he wasn’t named as one of Montreal’s black aces heading into the post-season, as he seems a natural leader to keep around with the younger scratches, but it’s an indication as to how management viewed his season.
Future Outlook: He’s still a player who could fill in as needed on an NHL blueline short-term, but at 27 it’s unclear if there is another level to his game that could make him a regular in the league. He would be welcome back with the Bulldogs, but as a UFA, he may opt to join a club with a clearer path to a big league job.

JOE STEJSKAL – C

AHL Numbers: 31 GP, 1-5-6, -5, 16 PIM
The Skinny: 24 years old, 6’3″, 206 lbs. Don’t worry. You won’t have to learn how to pronounce his family name.
His Role: Stejskal got into 55 games as a rookie with the Bulldogs in 2011-12, but it was clear he’d have his work cut out for him to keep with the in-coming class. He occasionally paired with Jarred Tinordi on a giant defensive duo, but also spent considerable time with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers (where, it should be noted, he was no better than with the ‘Dogs).
His Performance: Stjeskal is capable of throwing his weight around, but he isn’t dependable with or without the puck in his own zone, and has no real offense to his game.
Future Outlook: This was the final year of Stejskal’s entry level contract, and it’s doubtful he’s done enough to earn a stay with the organization. His spot would be better filled by an AHL vetaran who can help drag this team out of the AHL cellar.

JARRED TINORDI – B+

AHL Numbers: 67 GP, 2-11-13, -14, 71 PIM
The Skinny: 21 years old, 6’6″, 218 lbs. Or simply, “Tinormous.”
His Role: Tinordi was a second pair player for most of the season, while logging big minutes in shorthanded situations. His production was on par with his yearly totals with the OHL’s London Knights. A captain in London, he earned an ‘A’ on his sweater in Hamilton midway through the year.
His Performance: Typical of a young player with such a large frame, Tinordi needed time to adjust to the correct positioning and speed of the game at this level. Still, his game improved in leaps and bounds over the course of the season, and following his brief stint with the Canadiens, he seemed to look to up his physical play, which had been missing for the most part this season. As he gets more comfortable with play in the professional ranks as well as his own body, it’ll be more natural for him to throw hits without fear of getting caught out of the action.
Future Outlook: Promising, both from a raw skills perspective, and given that what he brings to the table approximates exactly what the Canadiens are seeking. The most likely scenario would see Tinordi battle Pateryn and Beaulieu for one job in Montreal out of camp in the Fall, with the other two continuing to hone their skills back in Hamilton.

 

GOALTENDERS :

CEDRICK DESJARDINS – B-

Bulldog Numbers: 22 GP, 7-13-2, 2.94 GAA, .905 SV%
The Skinny: 27 years old, 6’0″, 192 lbs. Many fans seem to believe he made his NHL debut for the Montreal Canadiens once upon a time. But they’d be thinking of Yann Danis.
His Role: He was brought in to be a veteran starting goaltender and act as a last line of defense to build the confidence of the team’s young blueliners.
His Performance: In a word, underwhelming. Desjardins has proven in past seasons he can be one of the AHL’s top netminders, but he was anything but this season. Shaky rebound control and soft goals were commonplace, and while the club’s struggles were a team thing, not attributable to only goaltending, Desjardins’s play prior to his trade to Tampa Bay did little to steady the ship.
Future Outlook: This was Desjardins’s second stint with the Canadiens organzation. Would he ever come back a third time, to be traded away once again? Doubtful.

ROBERT MAYER – B

AHL Numbers: 38 GP, 16-17-3, 2.93 GAA, .908 SV%
The Skinny: 23 years old, 6’1″, 197 lbs. Affectionately known to some as “Bobbie Mayday.”
His Role: Coming into the season, little was expected of Mayer, who was clearly penciled in as a #2 behind Desjardins. It seemed as if the organization would be happy to just let him or Peter Delmas fight for the back-up position while they played out their contracts with the squad.
His Performance: In my eyes, one of the bigger surprises on the team. His numbers don’t jump out at you as being sensational, but on many nights, singlehandedly kept Hamilton in games. His rebound control was usually stellar, though the “inconsistent” label that’s followed him throughout his career reared its ugly head at times, which had many questioning the strength of his mental game. On multiple occasions, he would make the stellar ten bell stops, only to let a softie squeak through him moments later.
Future Outlook: Mayer has signed to play in Switzerland next season. It is possible the Canadiens may qualify him to retain his NHL rights before he leaves, as they did with Andreas Engqvist one year ago.

 

 

Categories
Feature

End of Lockout not a Cure-All for Bulldogs

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Dumont wouldn't be wrong to feel like he is "all alone" offensively for Hamilton this season. (PHOTO: Kaz Novak/The Hamilton Spectator)
Dumont wouldn’t be wrong to feel like he is “all alone” offensively for Hamilton this season. (PHOTO: Kaz Novak/The Hamilton Spectator)

TORONTO, ON – After starting the season inconsistently, hovering around the .500 mark for the first 23 games, the Hamilton Bulldogs’ 2012-13 campaign has seen far more downs than ups. In the 18 games that have followed, the club is an abysmal 4-10-4, which has left them 30th overall in the American Hockey League, six points behind their closest Western Conference rival and a full 13 points away from the eighth and final playoff spot.

It seemed all along like the ‘Dogs might be one of the AHL’s best positioned clubs to make a second-half run up the standings ladder with the National Hockey League work conflict resolved. It didn’t look like the team was going to lose any of its core players, it would benefit from weakened opposition league-wide, and it had a need to address – a veteran scoring forward – which it could focus on once the NHL fate of those sitting out had been decided.

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Due in part to the health of Max Pacioretty, the Montreal Canadiens have decided to keep Brendan Gallagher – one of Hamilton’s top forwards along with Gabriel Dumont through the first half of the year – for the remainder of the season. Injures have meant Mike Blunden has also been largely unavailable to Hamilton, as he has served as press box filler for the Habs. The club inked local talent Joey Tenute, and while he has performed admirably with four points in six games, he is hardly the veteran fallen-from-grace-NHL’er many had hoped would be acquired.

What did the organization identify as a problem this season? If astute observers questioned the system – or lack thereof – the team had been employing, they may have been right. On January 22nd, in a move strongly reminiscent of the Canadiens’ dismissal of Perry Pearn a year prior, the team relieved Assistant Coach Ron Wilson – easily the most experienced man on the green staff – of his duties, citing a difference in philosophies with Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre.  A strange move, but an early vote of confidence in the man Marc Bergevin picked to lead his AHL squad over the summer. This marked the second time Wilson has been fired from a job with the Bulldogs, previously leaving the team after the 2008-09 season only to come back on board for 2011-12.  He was the only holdover from last season’s ‘Dogs coaching staff.

That Hamilton is 1-0-0 in the post-Wilson era is very likely more coincidental than causal, and it’ll take more than a scapegoat if the team is to build any momentum. Admittedly the club’s schedule didn’t help in the month of January, with a 3-4-3 record not disastrous for a club that played only 4 home games the entire month. February will be much busier, so stay tuned to AllHabs.net for exclusive post-game player interviews and analysis following most contests at Copps Coliseum.

And the month to come should see some reinforcements. While no one is rushing Blake Geoffrion‘s recovery, the other AHL star lost early in the year – Aaron Palushaj – is inching closer to a return. On the blueline, rookie Greg Pateryn had his health status upgraded to day-to-day well over a week ago, and thus should be able to reintegrate into the roster in the coming days to make up for the hole left by the end of Mike Commodore‘s try-out contract. The defense should be one of the team’s strengths moving forward as the trio of promising youngsters – Jarred TinordiNathan Beaulieu, and Morgan Ellis – continue to gain experience and learn the intricacies of the pro game.

Tinordi was a bit of a surprise invite to the Canadiens’ abbreviated training camp, but his rare mix of size and agility combined with Montreal’s need for more toughness on the back end have accelerated his progression towards making an NHL debut, and he looks as though he may be ready to challenge for a job early in the 2013-14 season.

The inconsistencies in Beaulieu’s game have been noticeable, with stretches where he has seemed like Hamilton’s top d-man and other where he seems a long ways from being able to set up residence in la belle province. He is easily the most skilled of the Bulldogs’ defense corps, and if the logjam of offensive blueliners is cleared up this summer through a buyout for Tomas Kaberle and a trade of Yannick Weber, he too may earn some action in 2013-14.

Lastly, based on his dominance at the junior level and well-rounded game, some predicted that Ellis might have the more direct path to the NHL when compared to his first round selection counterparts. He hasn’t been overly noticeable, but that isn’t necessarily troubling for a player who battles hard and does all the little things right. The challenge for Ellis – due to his balanced game – will be to define himself as a professional hockey player.  It’s easy to say the Habs should call up Tinordi if they need size and toughness, or Beaulieu if they need scoring from the point, but under what circumstance will Ellis get his shot? For this reason, he might need a bit more seasoning before cracking the roster, so pencil him in for the Fall of 2014.

Categories
Feature

Beaulieu and Tinordi Stepping Up to Pro Game

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON – The Fall of 2012 saw the professional debuts of a number of bluechip prospects with the Hamilton Bulldogs.  There was no greater hype, however, than that surrounding two of the Montreal Canadiens’ most recent first round picks in Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, high profile defensemen who play quite opposite games.

Beaulieu & Tinordi both participated in the NHLPA rookie showcase last August. (Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)
Beaulieu & Tinordi both participated in the NHLPA rookie showcase last August. (Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Few doubt Tinordi’s eventual progression into a sound NHLer.  From his 6-foot-7 frame to his recognized leadership as captain of the OHL’s London Knights, he is the makings of a character defensive blueliner that can be so important to a winning team.  The questions as he moved to Hamilton surrounded whether his lack of offensive production made him too one-dimensional, and if he’d be able to keep up with a faster pace of play at the next level.

Tinordi scored 16 and 14 points over his two years in the Ontario League respectively, so big numbers weren’t to be expected in the AHL, but he hasn’t looked uncomfortable with the puck at all.  Of course, there is the occasional awkward defensive zone bobble which isn’t uncommon for a young man continuing to grow into his large body, but his four points thus far on the season are only one back of Morgan Ellis and two of Brendon Nash, both considered to have more offensive upside.  He scored his first professional goal on December 16th, a marker temporarily taken away and given to Gabriel Dumont, but later returned to Tinordi whose point shot deflected in off a defenseman rather than the pesky ‘Dog in front.  The one goal matches the total he scored in his entire first season in London.

Though he won’t turn 21 until February, Tinordi’s off-ice presence is already felt in the Bulldogs’ locker room.  With injuries to veterans Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion, and Darryl Boyce‘s tryout contract not being extended, the American d-man was rewarded with the team’s third A added to his sweater, at the least on a temporary basis.  Teammate Frederic St. Denis was quoted as supporting the decision, identifying Tinordi as a “great leader,” in an interview with Dogs’ play-by-play man Derek Wills, and saying he earned the letter with his voice among teammates.

Tinordi still needs time to shore up some defensive zone play, but any concerns about skating haven’t proven problematic, as he is actually quite agile for his size.  Though he is more physical than, say, Hal Gill, there is also hope that he takes the body more frequently once he becomes more comfortable with positioning and pace against better competition.

Whereas much of what Tinordi has accomplished can be credited to his attitude and motivation, success has always seemed to come all too easy for fellow prospect Nathan Beaulieu.  His father, Jacques, is a Canadian Hockey League coach (currently heading Alex Galchenyuk‘s Sarnia Sting), and Nathan had the benefit of playing under pops for his first year with the Saint John Sea Dogs.  When he had to emerge from his comfort zone under a new coach – now Montreal Assistant Coach Gerrard Gallant – he enjoyed being part of a thoroughly stacked roster that posted a 53-12-3 record.  Beaulieu’s 45 points in 66 games that year ranked 7th on his team, ahead of names like Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips.

In his draft year, Beaulieu’s production remained consistent, as the Sea Dogs improved their record further to finish 58-7-3 in a year they would go on to capture the Memorial Cup.  How easy were the points coming?  Beaulieu’s +/- had ballooned to +44, and with Huberdeau now leading the way offensively, he was putting up strong numbers sometimes even on off-nights.

The following season saw Beaulieu improve upon his prior point-per-game numbers on an as-dominant-as-ever Saint John roster.  So what is the concern with the 6’2″ 194 lbs rearguard?  The main issue has seemed to be between the ears, where the Ontario native had been accused of giving up on plays (see: last year’s Canada-Russia WJC game), taking lazy or undisciplined penalties, and occasionally making risky passes in his own end.

There has been a bit of that in Beaulieu’s adaptation phase, though he started the season out showing impressive skill as one of Hamilton’s more dependable defenders (he maintained a +2 rating through October).  The points, however, weren’t coming for the first time in Beaulieu’s career, and he hit a bit of a rut.  The Bulldogs were no Sea Dogs or Team Canada, and Beaulieu had to deal with stronger opposition for the first time in years.  Did his play trail off a bit because of inconsistency in his game?  Simple frustration?  Was it the normal learning curve of a rookie?

We may never know, as a turning point seemed to be the calendar switching over to December. Prior to this month, Beaulieu’s stat line read just 2 assists through 16 contests.  In December, he has impressively been a point-per-game player thus far, registering his first professional goal along with 7 assists in 8 games.  He has been rushing the puck with more confidence, and though he still at times makes ill-advised breakout passes, his overall game is coming along with the point production.

Off the ice, Beaulieu and Tinordi are quite familiar with each other, having been teammates in numerous development camps and squaring off at the Memorial Cup and World Junior Championships.  They seem to have developed a good friendship, chatting frequently and usually leaving the dressing room together at game’s end.  While they’re a rather unlikely pairing on-ice given they’re both left-handed shots, and though they both have some work still to do before reaching the NHL, their complimentary skill sets should have them continuing their journeys together in Montreal Canadiens sweaters before too long.

 

[For live coverage of Hamilton Bulldog home games straight from Copps Coliseum, be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DanKramerHabs.  Next up: Friday ,December 21st at 7:30 PM against St. John’s.  And keep checking http://www.AllHabs.net/ for frequent Bulldog updates!]

 

Categories
Feature

Young ‘Dogs Face Early Adversity

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON – It all seemed too easy.

Despite questions about who would score for the team this season and an injury to starting goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, the second youngest team in the American Hockey League got out to a 2-0-0 start to the season.  Perhaps concerns about the lack of veteran stars, the inexperience on the back end, and the heightened competition in the AHL this season had been overblown.

Cedrick Desjardins is out another week or two with his groin injury (Photo: PC)

Two games do not a season make, and just as quickly as the ‘Dogs had gotten off to a perfect start by scoring seven goals (plus a shootout winner) in two nights and receiving stellar play from back-up Robert Mayer, they found themselves on the wrong end of two subsequent decisions, trounced 5-0 by the Toronto Marlies, and then 3-1 by the Rochester Americans.  To make matters worse, the team lost star forward Louis Leblanc to an ankle injury in the Toronto game, and he is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks of action.

All must understand that it isn’t time to panic by any means.  Already, Hamilton has had no less than eight skaters make their first American Hockey League appearances, with Morgan Ellis having debuted as a ninth in a limited role on Tuesday, still rounding into shape after rehabbing a nagging injury.  It’s entirely to be expected for a young team to be maddeningly inconsistent at times – dominating at some, and going through extended slumps at others.  What’s important is that the club focuses on development, and with the experienced coaching staff in place and the close monitoring of the likes of Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin, it shouldn’t be a significant concern.  The measuring stick will be the changes in the games of the young professionals between now and March or April.

Even through the two losses, there remain positives that Habs and Bulldogs fans can hang their hats on.  Despite the scores over the last two matches, the shot totals were much more reflective of play, and they were quite close.  Simply, the bounces weren’t going the ‘Dogs way, and the defensive system was porous at times, something not unexpected of a newly assembled young squad still gelling with its newly hired coaching staff.

Aaron Palushaj has shown glimpses of getting back to be the dominant AHL star he has been in the past, trying to fill the role of go-to offensive producer.  Blake Geoffrion has been as feisty as ever, while also generating chances in the offensive zone.  But it doesn’t stop with two veterans either, as many of the younger players have given notice that their adaptation period may be shorter than expected.  The play of Michael Bournival has notably stood out, he who scored his first professional goal Tuesday night.  His game isn’t pure offense, slotting into a two-way role and seeing ice in every situation, earning his coach’s trust very quickly.  As early as the second game of the season, he actually led all Bulldog forwards in time-on-ice.  Then there’s Brendan Gallagher, for whom the offense hasn’t come just yet, but who has largely looked like the Gallagher fans expected.  That is to say a “little engine that could” – a small fireball who goes hard every shift and does not let up when charging the net.

Patrick Holland has a goal and two helpers in four contests. (Photo: Dario Ayala , Gazette file photo)

A pleasant surprise has been Patrick Holland.  Many attributed his WHL statistics to playing with a pair of talented 20-year old linemates, but he has been an early offensive catalyst at the AHL level.  Through four games, he is tied with Palushaj for the team-lead with three points, but more importantly brings natural offensive playmaking skills to a team loaded primarily with balanced two-way players.

On defense, despite having yet to register his first AHL point, Nathan Beaulieu looks every bit to be the player Montreal hoped to be acquiring when they drafted him.  He may not have P.K. Subban‘s physical dimension, but he brings the same kind of dynamism with the puck and is an even smoother skater. He has demonstrated great confidence in rushing the puck even as a green rookie and never hesitates to pinch in on the powerplay or given any real opportunity in the offensive zone.  His transition to an older league at the age of 19 has been a successful one to date, and no one should doubt that the points will come.

Jarred Tinordi‘s adaptation hasn’t been quite as smooth at all times, though it isn’t hard to see the raw strength and potential that lies in him.  Tinordi’s challenge, like many his size who are still growing into their bodies, will be with the pace of play as he has been caught out of position occasionally and has bobbled the puck on multiple occasions.  At other times, his physical presence has been there, he has shown leadership in sticking up for his teammates, and he has used his long reach effectively in defending one-on-one, so it should only be a matter of time before he puts more of his overall game together.  No one should be concerned that he sits at a team-worst minus-4, as it is also a reflection of the fact that he has generally been Sylvain Lefebvre‘s second most-used defender after Frederic St. Denis.

On the injury front, certainly Leblanc’s loss is a big one to the team, also perhaps serving as an example given he was hurt during a scrap that came out of frustration.  The good news is that this incarnation of the Bulldogs is as deep as any in recent memory, and Leblanc being out allowed Joonas Nattinen – a still inexperienced player with much attainable upside remaining – to make his season debut.  Considering Alexander Avtsin and Alain Berger are also with the team and have yet to play, the squad can handle any short-term injuries with ease this year.

Hamilton is next in action on Friday evening for their already-third matchup of the season against the Toronto Marlies.  The Abbotsford Heat then visit Copps Coliseum on Sunday which will give fans a look at top prospect Sven Baertschi.  The ‘Dogs will look to get back into winning ways, but there shouldn’t be any pressure on the team to round into shape at such an early juncture.  Fans are looking for a quick fix to take the pain of there not being an NHL season away, but with the level of talent on the squad, a little patience will most certainly produce positive results by year’s end.

 

Categories
Feature

Bulldogs Preseason Raises as Many Questions as Answers

By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON — This ain’t your father’s American Hockey League.

The lockout hanging over the National Hockey League this season means the AHL is as competitive as it’s ever been.  Teams are loaded with fringe veterans who no longer have a second league to float between (think Mike Blunden, Aaron Palushaj, Blake Geoffrion.)  Clubs have sent down young stars who are full-time NHL’ers but still eligible to play in the league (think Jordan EberleRyan Nugent-HopkinsAdam Henrique, Jake Gardiner).  Teams find themselves stocked with depth, not having to worry about NHL injuries and call-ups decimating their rosters.

How will the offense of Bournival and Gallagher translate? Will Nattinen produce more consistently? (Photo: Canadiens.com / NHL)

It may not be quite the challenge of winning the Stanley Cup, but contending in the AHL this year will be a tall order for any organization (well, except maybe the Edmonton Oilers.)  There is/was a lot of buzz around the Hamilton Bulldogs coming into the season, and rightfully so.  The players making debuts with the squad include two first round picks in Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, junior scoring stars Brendan GallagherMichael Bournival, and Patrick Holland, and proven college studs in Steve Quailer and Greg Pateryn.  But while the skill and potential of this club is undeniable, training camp and preseason has triggered certain doubts in the minds of those following the squad.

Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin wasted little time this summer identifying the types of players he appreciates the most and felt the organization lacked.  He bolstered the toughness on the Montreal roster through the signings of Brandon PrustColby Armstrong, and Francis Bouillon, and retaining the services of Travis Moen.  But his signing of grinders didn’t end there, with the additions of Zack Stortini and Darryl Boyce, and the retention of Mike Blunden, all on contracts destined for the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Was there a need for the Canadiens and their AHL affiliate to become tougher teams to play against?  No doubt, but it isn’t unreasonable to wonder if the club maybe went overboard on that front when there is still a need for skilled goal scorers in the organization.  Given the lockout, we can ignore the potential hole in Montreal’s top 6 for now, and instead focus on Hamilton where goals have been tough to come by throughout training camp.

The Bulldogs opened their preseason on Saturday against the Toronto Marlies, falling 3-1.  Tryout Stephen MacAulay scored the only Hamilton goal, with many of the team’s stars (Leblanc, Gallagher, Bournival…) watching from the press gallery.  Monday saw a rather complete forward lineup for the Bulldogs, but the results were little different as the team came up on the short end of a 2-0 score.  The ‘Dogs lines, of course still a work in progress, were as follows:

Steve Quailer – Michael Bournival – Brendan Gallagher
Aaron Palushaj – Blake Geoffrion – Patrick Holland
Mike Blunden – Louis Leblanc – Darryl Boyce
Joonas Nattinen – Stephen MacAulay – Zack Stortini

In a normal season, this team would be a force to be reckoned with.  I previously proclaimed them as potential cup contenders.  But if we look at the AHL as virtually half-NHL / half-AHL this season, we can understand why scoring may actually be an issue.  Players like Palushaj and Geoffrion are proven AHL scoring stars, but have struggled to produce when called up to the big league, which would make statistical setbacks for them this year understandable.   The hope, however, is that they and Louis Leblanc can carry the load in the short-term while the team is patient with the adjustment process of the rookie line of Quailer, Bournival, and Gallagher – which, as a positive sign, has shown some nice chemistry when together.

Who will score for the team?  Will Quailer, Bournival, and Gallagher be anything more than intense two-way forwards as pros?  Scoring at this level isn’t the same as doing so in juniors, and there are many who have picked up points in lower leagues only to project as third or fourth liners further into their careers.  There is no forward on the roster who has a certain future as a top-6 player at the NHL level, so it is hard to identify a player the team can send out there when it desperately needs offense.  Grinders are necessary, but wouldn’t a scoring vet have been a better fit in rounding out the roster than the late-added Darryl Boyce or Zack Stortini on a club with plenty of tough customers and penalty killing pros already?

Of course, it’s only preseason. Just as there is no reason to panic or overreact to an NHL team losing exhibition games, no one should give up on Hamilton’s season based on these two results.  But the fact that the difficulty scoring was also noted during the four Red-White intrasquad games the team played raises the issue as a legitimate concern.  It is necessary to be patient with the younger players and not rush them even as AHL stars, but no one should be surprised if the Bulldogs stumble out of the gates a bit during the adaptation process.  Gallagher will be fine.  So will Bournival and Leblanc.  But fans need to temper their expectations of these players given the high level of competition they will be facing and their young age.

Beaulieu’s skills were on display on the powerplay, but the ‘Dogs couldn’t bury one Monday night. (Photo: HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, LA PRESSE)

The positives?  The Bulldogs look pretty sound defensively and between the pipes.  Nathan Beaulieu was arguably one of the better Bulldogs through 2 games, rushing the puck well and looking sharp in the offensive zone.  None of the three tryout blueliners, Antoine CorbinEtienne Boutet, or Kevin Gagne, looked out of place, which will mean some tough decisions for management as to who is retained, and yet another unexpected question to be answered.  Frederic St. Denis will be the team’s anchor on the back end, and Hamilton play-by-play man Derek Wills says the hard-hitting Greg Pateryn reminds him of a young Mike Komisarek.

Another question is in goal.  There is no doubt Cedric Desjardins will be Hamilton’s number 1, and he was given both preseason matchups off.  Both Robert Mayer and Peter Delmas were solid in their outings, and either can be a competent AHL back-up, so it is possible the team decides to keep all three on its roster for the time being.  With the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins already having assigned goaltender Patrick Killeen to Montreal’s ECHL affiliate, the Wheeling Nailers, neither Delmas or Mayer would be a guaranteed clear starter there anyway.

All of the above goes without saying that, should the NHL resume at some point during the season, the landscape of the AHL will change dramatically.  With 23 players on NHL deals already with the Canadiens, it is possible the Bulldogs wouldn’t lose too many players, which can’t necessarily be said of all clubs.  The Toronto Marlies team that beat the Bulldogs twice is coming off a season where they went right to the Calder Cup Finals, and the club then added dominant AHL scorer Keith Aucoin to its roster over the summer.  So should we really be worried?  Of course not.  We’re not even a single meaningful game into the season.  Final cuts have yet to be made to the roster, but they should be on their way.

Still the play of the young prospects up till now is giving fans lots to think about and debate.   With no Habs’ camp results to fret over and proclaim the sky to be falling, in the spirit of Thanksgiving weekend, perhaps the overwhelming number of chronic Canadiens worrywart fans should be grateful for the entertaining, unpredictable, and certainly challenging road ahead.