I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, so here goes. Let’s try to figure out what the Hamilton Bulldogs’ roster will look like next season. This is difficult without knowing what the Canadiens’ roster will be, it’s putting the cart before the horse, but what the heck, we have six months to kill before another meaningful season starts, so we should stay busy.
To make room for an onslaught of prospects, we’ve eliminated a lot of players like Brian Willsie, Olivier Fortier, Danny Massé, Philippe Lefebvre and Joe Callahan who for the most part were not drafted, were offered contracts on a tryout basis and are not showing much promise.
First, let’s think about the defence. The following players are expected to make the jump to the AHL next season: Mark Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz and Greg Pateryn. With this much influx, I think that Mac Bennet will be strongly encouraged to remain at Michigan for at least another season, seeing as he’s only a sophomore and can benefit from another season at the college level, and it will ease the introduction of so many youngsters in the system. Holdovers would be Brendon Nash, and Frédéric St-Denis. Let’s add Alex Henry for size, and Joe Stejskal for experience (he’s 23) and also because he’s only had one season in Hamilton, let’s give him a chance. On a hunch, let’s also put Raphaël Diaz on this list, he may start the season in the AHL.
On offence, we’re adding Michaël Bournival, Brendan Gallagher and Patrick Holland from the junior ranks. On a hunch, from Northeastern University, let’s add Steve Quailer. After three seasons, and although he spent an entire season on the sidelines with a knee injury, and therefore could spend another two seasons there, he may no longer have anything to learn and be ready for the pros. Also on a hunch, let’s add Danny Kristo, although he has another year of eligibility at North Dakota.
Holdovers would be Robert Slaney, Alain Berger, Andrew Conboy, Joonas Nattinen, Gabriel Dumont, Ian Schultz, and Alexander Avtsin. Based on the current roster, and on a coin flip, let’s act as if Michael Blunden and Louis Leblanc will be on the Canadiens’ roster at the start of the season, and Andreas Engqvist, Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion will at least start with the Bulldogs.
Strictly based on the info we have on our prospects based in Europe none are ready to make the jump, so we won’t add any to our putative roster, although we’d love it if Daniel Pribyl came out to play Junior hockey here. Then again, maybe he’s better off at home playing against men, what do we know...
In goal, there isn’t anyone in the system, so we’ll have status quo unless we add free agents. Any draft pick in June will not make it to the Bulldogs next season.
So the roster looks like this:
1) That’s still a lot of bodies. We have to remember that the Bulldogs will be hit by injuries, and that will cull the herd. More injuries in Montréal will occasion some callups.
2) With a lot of prospects in general and on defence in particular, we may flip two or three of them for one or two serviceable NHL’ers, just to get through next year.
3) The line combos don’t reflect any preferences or ideal matches, at best we have centres in the right position. The farm team is heavy on the right wing but light on the left.
4) Defence pairing just match left and right-handed defencemen, but again they do not show preferable matches.
5) The Canadiens have a need for one or two steady defensive defencemen with size. While we may address this need through trades or free agency, Mark Mitera and Greg Pateryn both fit that bill and may be given a good shot at making the 'grand club', if the team decides next year is a development year.
6) While Brendan Gallagher would benefit from a year of playing big minutes in the AHL, he may also get to stay with the big club if he has an even better training camp next summer. We got the feeling that if he had buried two or three opportunities, he would have stuck last season, so he’s on the radar, and the Canadiens are devoid of forward talent, of forwards who can score, so he might get those big minutes in the NHL anyway.
7) This would be a very young team, even for the AHL I think, so some of those players we’ve cut right off the bat may be important in terms of team chemistry and composition. Brian Willsie was brought in specifically to fill the veteran role, so he and others may be retained. The Canadiens could deal with this even bigger logjam by not graduating Danny Kristo and Steve Quailer early, or sending some younger prospects to Wheeling in the East Coast League. There’s always the option of getting some prospects to play an extra year in junior, but from what we’ve heard that’s not a great option and usually an indication that the player is not ready for the next step.
8) Overall, this is a much more talented team than the current Bulldogs team, but they may struggle again next year with their lack of experience. Two seasons from now we’d be more justified in expecting good results, especially if a quality goaltender were added.