We've looked at the Hamilton Bulldogs potential roster in early September, a difficult task seeing as so many players were invited to the Canadiens' training camp, and others as Bulldogs training camp tryouts. There was lots of chaff to separate from the wheat, and we had to figure out which player might sneak on to the Canadiens roster to start the season. The churning has stopped for now, the game of musical chairs has ended, and we have a largely formed roster to examine. For now. Until the injuries and callups start.
The team will be without a great big piece on defence, with Jarred Tinordi having stuck with the Grand Club. Despite my hope that he be kept in the minors to at least start the season for more training, injuries on the Canadiens blue line and a solid showing by Jarred during camp meant that he was kept on the NHL roster.
In the forward group, my suspicion prior to the start was that Gabriel Dumont would stay in Montréal and platoon with Ryan White on the fourth line, but he had an uneven training camp, while Michaël Bournival knocked it out of the park, so the latter stayed and Mr. Dumont was sent down, even at the risk of losing him on waivers. So early in the season though, with every team chock full of prospects and players, none could spare the roster spot for him, and he landed safely back in Hamilton.
So at centre, we have Gabriel Dumont and Joonas Nattinen to handle the defensive side of things. AHL vet Martin St. Pierre will be counted on to provide offence, and Ben Duffy, last season's LHJMQ scoring champion, will try to contribute as well. Maxime Macenauer, who won a job as a tryout, brings defensive skills and AHL experience, but not much else.
Louis Leblanc conversion to right wing continues, he's listed as such on the roster. The pleasant surprise has been the play of Akim Aliu, a big tough skilled AHL vet who's played a few NHL games, and who the Canadiens' brain trust know from his Chicago days. He's on a 25 game pro-tryout contract, but the initial reports out of camp are encouraging. He brings a skillset that isn't common in our farm system. Patrick Holland and Sven Andrighetto will be counted on to bring offence, and big AHL vet Mike Blunden brings size and physical play, along with rookie pro Stéfan Fournier, to complete a nice blend at this position.
On left wing, a position where we had no incumbents this summer, AHL vets Justin Courtnall and Nick Tarnasky will plug the formerly huge hole. Erik Nystrom, a 2012 draft choice from the Swedish Elite League, will also be on the roster on a 25-game pro tryout basis.
Defence might be a headache, in that there were only two lefties among the Canadiens' strong prospect group, and they kept one in Jarred Tinordi. Further, Nathan Beaulieu, the other leftie, has been yo-yoing between the Bulldogs and Canadiens to start the season, as injuries to Davis Drewiske, Douglas Murray and Alexei Emelin complicate matters for Michel Therrien. So Bulldogs coaches Sylvain Lefebvre and Donald Dufresne still have prospects Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis, Magnus Nygren and Darren Dietz to work with, but they're all righties. Nathan McIver (25-game tryout) and Joel Gervais-Chouinard, both AHL vets and lefties, will try to counter this imbalance. Hamilton native Drew Shiestel (sounds like 'pistol') completes the picture, and he's another rightie.
In goal, there is no big surprise that Dustin Tokarski will be the starter, and erstwhile Swiss-leaguer Robert Mayer will act as his backup.
On paper, this seems like a stronger group than last season. The wave of rookie prospects who swarmed the team last season will be more experienced. They'll have stronger support with the AHL vets brought in. There will be bit more size in the lineup, specifically at forward, to help weather the intimidation tactics a young team is bound to face.
Injured: Steve Quailer, Christian Thomas
Spare: Nystrom, Duffy
Spare: Schiestel, McIver
1) The line combinations are not intended to reflect the current lines used by Coach Lefebvre, or the preferred matchings. Instead, we put four centres in, matched them up with wingers who might complement them best, and who might be best suited for Top 6-Bottom 6 roles. Expect vigourous shuffling and re-shuffling of lines early this season at least.
2) Because there is a lack of able left-wingers, we switched over Messrs. Holland and Andrighetto to the left side, to plug holes. Expect wingers to play their off-wing a lot this season.
3) Steve Quailer and Christian Thomas don't appear in the lineup, it's probably a technical reason that accounts for this. They aren't on the official Canadiens or Bulldogs roster, but habsprospect.com list them both as "injured-no details" on the Canadiens roster. Probably like Aaron Palushaj last season, they'll be allowed to recover and then sent down to Hamilton. Both are immune to waivers for now, so there's no worry there, but they'll both have something to prove once they hit the AHL. They'll both vie for Top 6 status, and Christian Thomas will try to make management forget his poor training camp showing. As for Steve Quailer, it's all of last season he has to atone for. He's a big putative scoring winger, he has an opportunity to move up if he seizes it.
Again, both these players are listed as right wingers, but they'll be part of the winger carousel, and at some point will probably have to play on the left.
4) The defence pairings will be similarly affected. Too many righties, a coach with a mandate to develop his prospects and give them icetime, some AHL vets who'll want to play, callups, it will be a constant mix-and-match on D too.
5) Sent down to the Wheeling Nailers are goalie Mike Condon, defenceman Matt Grassi, 2012-13 Bulldog Stefan Chaput, and rookie checking forward Stephen MacAulay. While this may be disheartening to these guys, they'll be available for callups when injuries strike the Canadiens and Bulldogs and the dominoes tumble. They're in a better position than the raft of players who were outright released by the Bulldogs out of camp.
6) Peter Delmas has been loaned to the Orlando Solar Bears. Cool team name, but not a great sign for Mr. Delmas.