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.
[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]
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+
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.
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.
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.