The Montreal Canadiens season has already started, but on October 11th the Canadiens' AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs kicks off their season against the St. Johns Ice Caps, at Copps Coliseum. Last season was what some might call terrible. First year coach Sylvain Lefebvre struggled to find consistency in his line up throughout the year and was often without his better players following the NHL lockout coming to a close. However with a full year of experience and a much improved player pool Lefebvre should see marked improvement this year.
Goaltending: Last year one of the major issues plaguing the Bulldogs was a lack of consistent play from their goaltenders, Robert Mayer,Cedrick Desjardins(Traded), and Dustin Tokarski(Acquired for Desjardins) all played their fair share of games last year in Hamilton. Mayer and Tokarski are both back this year and after a solid final stretch last year there is hope that they can stabilize a position that has been lacking since Carey Price left for the NHL.
Dimitri Perdicaris wrote this piece on Tokarski earlier in the year and its worth reviewing to learn about the 'Dogs starting goalie.
Forwards: While the goalies are both returning veterans the forward and defense core each have a major influx of new talent and it is much welcomed in Hamilton. Read this article for more information regarding the new faces.
Last year the Bulldogs iced Zack Stortini and Kyle Hagel on a nightly basis which lead to a less than optimal line up. Stortini had 6 points, 241 PIMs and was -14 and Hagel also had 6 points, 172 PIMs and was -13. Thankfully, both have been replaced in the line up this season. Newly acquired Nick Tarnasky looks to take over the Bulldogs face punching needs and he'll be joined by newly signed Akim Aliu in providing the grit and character Marc Beregevin has instilled within the Habs organization. Proven AHL veteran(and new Bulldogs captain) Martin St.Pierre will look to provide a solid play-making spark down the middle for a team that struggled offensively last season.
Newcomer Sven Andrighetto will look to carry over his scoring touch from the QMJHL to the AHL this year. Joining him from the Q will be former PEI Rocket(and QMJHL scoring leader) Ben Duffy and Memorial Cup winner Stefan Fournier of the Halifax Mooseheads. The most intriguing addition to Hamilton's forward group is Christian Thomas who was acquired in a trade that sent Danny Kristo to the New York Rangers. Thomas has shown a great scoring presence in the OHL and had a solid first season in the AHL playing for the Connecticut Whale. The Bulldogs will rely on his presence alongside Louis Leblanc to guide a young core of forwards. Also in the mix with Leblanc and Thomas will be high energy checking forward Gabriel Dumont, Dumont saw decent time in the NHL last year and will be looking to establish himself as an NHL level player this upcoming season
(Christian Thomas at the Habs training camp)
Defensemen: Defensively the Bulldogs are looking very solid with a good mix of veterans and incoming rookies manning the blue-line this year. While both Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are likely to see time with the Habs they along with Greg Pateryn are the returning veterans for this surprisingly young Bulldogs team. Hamilton native Drew Schiestel was signed in the offseason and will bring another AHL veteran into the fold to help the rookies adjust to AHL hockey. Perhaps the best two additions are former Habs draft picks Darren Dietz and Magnus Nygren to the roster for the upcoming season. Both are offensively gifted defensemen with solid defense to back it up, Nygren in particular is one to watch as he is coming off a season in Sweden where he was named the SHL's Top Defensemen, and consequently won the Borje Salming award.
Nygren also has a ridiculous shot...just ask Robin Lehner
Who to Watch: The Bulldogs this year are an intriguing squad. Since a lot of the dead weight gone from the lineup there is a chance for the offensively talented players to shine. Off these talents it's certainly worth keeping an eye on forwards Christian Thomas and Louis Leblanc who are both battling to be the first call ups to the Habs in case of an injury. But Sven Andrighetto is the rookie who intrigues me those most in the forward group due to his production in Juniors and at the World Junior Championships.
Defensively it's all about Magnus Nygren. Between the booming slap-shot and the point totals put up in a very tough pro league last year, there is a lot of hype about this Swede. Personally I'll be keeping an eye on Akim Aliu who recently signed a PTO with Hamilton.
If you want to read more about Aliu, I recently wrote a profile about him.
Coaching: This season will tell us a lot about Sylvain Lefebvre as a coach. Last year we saw good offensive players saddled with Hagel/Stortini and little to no change in the gameplan throughout the entire season. With the Tokarski/Mayer tandem in net the Bulldogs can enter games knowing they have someone capable of shutting the door when the action heats up and can focus on battering their opponents on the offensive side of the puck.
In short the Bulldogs need to play like this:
Not like this:
BOLD PREDICTIONS: The Bulldogs will struggle early before finding their feet and will battle all season for a bottom playoff spot finishing 7th in the conference. Louis Leblanc and Christian Thomas will fight for the team scoring lead and will both see time in the NHL this season. Nick Tarnasky will have 200+PIMs and less than 15 points and Nygren will score at least 12 goals.
More from Eyes On The Prize:
- Highlights of the Habs' 4-1 win over the Oilers
- Joe Thornton's c*** (and other links)
- Canadiens at Oilers - Top Six Minutes - Habs top Oilers 4-1