Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Mac Bennett gets a contract from the Montréal Canadiens.

With the University of Michigan hockey team's season over, Canadiens prospect Mac Bennett was now free to sign a pro contract, having finished his four-year career there.  Which raised the question as to whether he would actually receive a contract offer from Les Glorieux.

On the one hand, we'd read nothing but glowing reviews about the kid's skating and smarts and work ethic.  Last summer he showed up at the rookie camp proud that he'd met Player Development Coach Patrice Brisebois' target weight of 195 lbs.  He was enthusiastic about his experience at the camp, and was looking forward to applying a lot of what he'd learned there during his final season at Michigan.

On the other, his final season hasn't been a triumph.  He served as captain on a team that underachieved in the eyes of their coach, the legendary Red Berenson.  The Wolverines weren't included in the NCAA tournament, the second consecutive season this has happened after 22 straight seasons of being in.  This is so disappointing that Mr. Berenson has had to field questions about whether he will retire.

Further, Mac's point totals have been relatively stagnant in his four years at Michigan.  While a defenceman is not strictly evaluated on goals and assists tallies, the normal progression for a college player is to gradually increase these numbers as you progress.  A Senior in College is often 22 or 23, playing against players three or four years younger, and derives an advantage from that which is usually reflected by the points he amasses.  In contrast, Mac's points went from 18 points last year to 14 this year, in one fewer game.

So in his case being signed was not a foregone conclusion, at least in the eyes of this hockeydb-reliant expert, and depended on the number of contracts the Canadiens have available to offer out of their 50-contract limit, among other factors.  With the news that he's now entered into an Entry Level Contract with the team, it's apparent that the scouts and Canadiens brass have evaluated him and have decided he fits in the team's plans, and he'll join the Bulldogs in the fall.

Mac will be in a curious position, in that being left-handed will be an advantage for him in trying to make the Bulldogs roster, but a disadvantage if he were to have an unbelievably good training camp and were being considered to make the Canadiens.

We all know that we have only P.K. Subban and stopgap measure Mike Weaver as right-handed defencemen currently with the Canadiens.  Everyone else is a leftie, and this has forced players such as Francis Bouillon, Alexei Emelin and Jarred Tinordi to play on their off side, with mixed results.  So even if Mac Bennett looked like the second coming of Tom Kurvers next September, he'd have a tough time to crack the lineup.

In Hamilton though, when it comes to our prospects, the situation is somewhat reversed.  Trevor Timmins seems to have made a concerted effort to draft righties on the blue line in the lower rounds.  The blue chippers, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu are lefties, but everyone else shoots right: Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz.  Magnus Nygren, who was a Bulldog for half a season before he defected back to Sweden, is also a rightie.  So is Dalton Thrower, who should also receive a contract offer and join the Bulldogs next fall.

I'm also thinking there's a chance Josiah Didier could make the jump to the AHL next season and forego his Senior season in college, and this is pure speculation on my part based on the fact that his game may be better suited to the pros than the NCAA, and the Canadiens brass may encourage him in that direction.

So on the right side, we have Pateryn, Ellis, Dietz, and potentially Thrower, Nygren and Didier.

Meanwhile, on the left we have Tinordi, Beaulieu, Davis Drewiske and Mac Bennett, but in reality we should expect that at least one of Jarred or Nathan will be in Montréal full time next season.

So Mac will, possibly for the first time in his career, since it's rare for a defenceman to be in this situation, be valuable because he's a leftie.  He'll be playing on his natural side, and not be asked to play the right side once in a while, that will be covered by all the other righties.

This scenario also doesn't include any veteran AHL defenceman, to calm the waters and ensure the rookies aren't being led to slaughter.  This season, Nathan McIver, Drew Schiestel and Joël Chouinard were brought in to guide the youngsters and provide experience and a more competitive club.  Next season, we should expect that a couple of these vets will be brought in again.

Which will make for a crowded blue line, and brings us to the point made on a couple of occasions on social media, which is that having such a glut of defenceman isn't that great actually, in terms of their development, since there are only so many minutes available in a game to spread around, there's only so much powerplay time and critical situations to dole out, someone's going to be left wanting.

So yeah, maybe my hunch doesn't make sense.  Maybe Josiah Didier stays in college for another year.  And most probably Magnus Nygren will compete for a job with the Canadiens in training camp, and if he doesn't make the team, he'll be allowed to go back to Sweden, since we can't really force him to stay in Hamilton.

And which probably means that Marc Bergevin will try to deal some of our prospects on the blue line for prospects in areas of need in our organization, namely wingers with size, and scorers.  

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