For the final part of this year's Catching the Torch introduction, we will examine the Hamilton Bulldogs and the fifteen prospects that will be tracked at the start of the season. The Hamilton Bulldogs are coming off a last-place finish in the 2012-13 season so there are certainly some hopes that the team can manage better after a season that lacked any appreciable veteran support and saw many rookies being broken in. Fortunately with Martin St. Pierre and Christian Thomas being added to the 2013-14 squad there is some outside aid coming in to strengthen the group. To further aid matters, the experience gained by players like Nathan Beaulieu, Michael Bournival, Morgan Ellis, Patrick Holland, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi should help out as well.
It should be kept in mind that the AHL tends to feature a level of scoring that is below the NHL's peak levels so that should be taken into consideration if one is holding doubts about a prospect's scoring level. Any forward performing at a point-per-game level would be doing exceptionally well and suggesting they may be ready for NHL work this season. A defencemen scoring at or above half point per game levels would be of a similar mark.
LW Sven Andrighetto: 20 years old, 5'9", 180 pounds, LH shot.
Expectations: Andrighetto's profile is that of a scoring forward so the expectation is simple, to be a meaningful offensive contributor to the Bulldogs for the coming season. The challenge for Andrighetto will the battle for meaningful ice time with his being a rookie and facing competition from older and more experienced prospects who have the edge on him. Also in consideration will be how well he handles pro competition given his size as some players struggle to overcome size disparities at the pro level.
D Nathan Beaulieu: 20 years old, 6'2", 194 pounds, LH shot.
Expectations: The simple expectation of improved numbers and a better defensive game will be the main focus of examining the growth of Beaulieu's game this season. While some no doubt will look to his off-ice issues as a concern, it will not really be possible to accurately gauge his off-ice conduct so the only thing to look at his his on-ice performance. Beaulieu was regarded by some as Hamilton's best defencemen last season so the focus will be for him to maintain such a distinction while improving his performance.
C Michael Bournival: 21 years old, 5'11", 191 pounds, LH shot.
Expectations: A general improvement in his scoring levels is about the shape of the expectations for Bournival as a 2nd-year pro. The two-way forward has earned good marks at the Canadiens training camp so far and could possibly become an injury fill-in depending upon who falls out of the lineup as the season goes on. One would expect Bournival to be an element in Hamilton's penalty killing system, one curiosity about Bournival in Hamilton so far has been his being shifted from centre to the wing. With Hamilton not exactly brimming with natural centres, one has to wonder what has prompted the move without him really being tested at the position.
D Darren Dietz: 20 years old, 6'1", 195 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: With a rather loaded Hamilton roster at the blue line for the 2013-14 season, Dietz may have to work very hard to hold a permanent spot in the lineup and get significant ice time as a rookie performer. While there is no rush for Dietz to be ready for an NHL spot this season, or even next season arguably Dietz would do well to maintain a permanent spot in the team's Top-6 defencemen chart and put some points on the board given his WHL history where he established himself as a dangerous goal scorer from a defencemen's perspective.
D Morgan Ellis: 21 years old, 6'1", 202 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: With a rather unremarkable rookie season in the AHL behind him, Ellis will have to distinguish himself for the coming season as the blue line in Hamilton continues to get crowded with prospects with NHL potential. While offence was never expected to be a large part of Ellis's game at the pro level, his junior numbers were strong enough to suggest he could provide at least a limited amount of offence in order to make himself a more balanced defencemen at the pro level and improve his odds at making it to the NHL. Ellis will need to work towards becoming a key member of the Hamilton blue line this season, improving both defensively and offensively to keep his name in contention.
RW Stefan Fournier: 21 years old, 6'3", 210 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: Stefan Fournier is not coming to Hamilton with any grand projections of his becoming a Top-6 scorer for the Montreal Canadiens, but there is still a ways to go for him to be looked at as any type of potential NHL player. With unremarkable scoring levels for an overage player in the QMJHL last season, Fournier's best bet is to establish himself in Hamilton as a reliable checking forward who can perhaps add some scoring contributions to prove he has the puck skills to be an effective NHL player.
RW Patrick Holland: 21 years old, 6', 175 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: A growth in Holland's consistency is the biggest thing one would like to see from him this coming season. Holland flipped between some good scoring runs and some very cold streaks during his rookie season in the AHL that he will need to improve upon in order to maintain consideration as a legitimate prospect for the organization as competition is fierce to earn a spot with the team this season.
RW Louis Leblanc: 22 years old, 6', 190 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: In a word, redemption. While his previous season was marred by a nagging ankle injury, he never seemed to regain proper form and with that, had a very forgettable sophomore season as a pro. With the growth of the prospect pool, Leblanc finds himself a bit pressured to show he is not a fading name in the organization and establish himself as one of Hamilton's best players in order to keep his name in consideration for any potential call-ups this season. Scoring at a similar clip to his rookie year (about .66 points per game) or better would do a lot to hold him up as a legitimate NHL prospect.
RW Stephan MacAulay: 21 years old, 6'2", 190 pounds, LH shot.
Expectations: With only an AHL contract to work off, MacAulay will need to outplay several of his peers on the Bulldogs roster this season to maintain a regular spot in the lineup and earn a two-way contract with the Montreal Canadiens. MacAulay will need to display this season that he has the makings of an effective checking-line player, scoring points and perhaps contributing on the penalty kill so he might secure his status in the organization after this season.
D Magnus Nygren: 23 years old, 191 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: With this being Nygren's first year on North American ice, a transition period is to be expected for the newcomer to Hamilton Bulldogs, compounded by his being a defencemen, a more difficult position to adapt to. Nygren comes in as an offensive defensemen without many compliments about his overall defensive game, so at the very least one would look for good offensive numbers to indicate that he can at least be a valued offensive contributor, even if he may have defensive shortcomings.
RW Erik Nyström: 19 years old, 5'11", 180 pounds, LH shot.
Expectations: It is pretty simple for Nystrom, he needs to put some points on the board so he can turn his 25-game professional tryout deal into an entry level contract with the Canadiens. Nystrom has displayed some skill in training camp and preseason so far to suggest he could be capable of contributing as a scorer for the Bulldogs but he will need to maintain a certain level of consistency to play his way into a contract. With Nystrom in his 2nd year as an european drafted prospect, this may be his make-or-break period to earn his entry-level deal with the organization.
D Greg Pateryn: 23 years old, 6'2", 219 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: After an elbow injury shortened his rookie season in the AHL, Pateryn is looking to make a comeback. He was reviewed very well as a steady, stay-at-home defender in the AHL last season and if he can improve along those lines, he may find himself earning time with the Canadiens this season if injuries strike and they require a replacement to fill the gap. Pateryn will no doubt be one of the leaders on the Bulldogs blue line this season, but will need to stand out as he has very tough competition with Jarred Tinordi to be the team's leading choice to replace one of their injured defensive defencemen.
RW Christian Thomas: 21 years old, 5'9", 170 pounds, RH shot.
Expectations: Thomas enjoyed a strong scoring career as an OHL player and he will need to make that the focus of his coming season in the AHL in order to garner attention. Thomas has been regarded as a rather 1-dimensional player in his career thus far so a sudden leap in his defensive abilities may be reaching for too much and it would be best that establish himself as the most dangerous goal scorer on Hamilton in order to heighten his chances he is selected if the team wants immediate scoring impact off of the farm. While he may develop his defensive abilities over time, he is not likely to develop them at a rate to leap over prospects such as Bournival or Leblanc if the team is looking for a more balanced player.
D Jarred Tinordi: 21 years old, 6'6", 218 pounds, LH shot.
Expectations: With Tinordi's training camp and preseason looking to favour him for a potential NHL spot this season, the expectation for him if he is sent to Hamilton would be to simply dominate at his position until the Canadiens decide to call upon his services in an NHL position. An improvement in his offensive numbers would obviously be appreciated for while he will never be looked upon to be a puck-mover for the team, a reasonable ability to manage the puck is necessary for a future Top-4 defensemen.
G Dustin Tokarski: 24 years old, 5'11", 198 pounds, Left-handed Glove.
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Expectations: When it comes to Tokarski, the thoughts of what one would like to see from the presumed No. 1 goaltender for the Hamilton Bulldogs is a strong, if not dominant season in the AHL. Tokarski is 24 coming into this season and his past junior hockey accomplishments (WHL Championship, Memorial Cup Champion and WJC Gold Medalist) are fading into the distance. Top goaltenders in the AHL should be expected to register a save percentage in the .920+ region, so that could be weighed as a benchmark for Tokarski pushing his way to a backup position with the Canadiens. At the same time, Tokarski's fortunes are tied in with the performance of the Bulldogs this season so there will be mitigating circumstances when examining his statistical performance this season.