The Hamilton Bulldogs have been blessed in the past few years with a defensive core made up of some of the best prospects in the Montreal Canadiens organization. Players like Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu have both more or less made the jump to the NHL level in recent seasons, leaving a bit of a gap at the blue line in Hamilton. Thankfully some solid drafting and a few trades have kept the cupboard stocked on defense.
Let's take a look at the projected defensive core next year:
Acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade for Mikhail Grabovski in 2008 Pateryn will take over as the Bulldogs top defencemen with Tinordi and Beaulieu promoted to the NHL.
His rookie season in Hamilton consisted of 39 games due in part to a broken elbow suffered against Rochester early on in the season. While playing in only 39 games Pateryn posted 12 points(7G 5A) while playing alongside Tinordi, his play also earned him a short 3 game call up with the Canadiens where he failed to record a point.
This past season in Hamilton Pateryn took over a major role with the Bulldogs including playing tough minutes and in all situations. In those tough minutes Pateryn posted career high in points(34) and goals(15) which lead the Bulldogs in scoring by a defencemen. His play earned him a new two year contract with the Canadiens that kicks in next season.
Unfortunately for Pateryn he is trapped behind players like Beaulieu, Tinordi and possibly even Magnus Nygren on the depth chart at the NHL level meaning he is likely to stay in Hamilton for awhile unless a rash of injuries hits the Canadiens.
Acquired at the 2013 trade deadline Drewiske is the elder statesmen of the Bulldogs blue line at just 29 years old. Drewiske only played 9 games for the Habs in 2013 and then had major off-season shoulder surgery that kept him out for several months.
During his recovery he was pushed further down the depth chart by the signing of Douglas Murray, the trade acquisition of Mike Weaver and the play of the aforementioned Beaulieu and Tinordi. After being cleared to return to full contact Drewiske was sent to Hamilton to play out the remainder of the 2013-2014 season with the Bulldogs. In 21 games Drewiske managed only 3 points(0G 3A) and a minus -3 rating during his short stint with the Bulldogs.
Much like this past year Drewiske is behind several defencemen on the depth chart and will likely spend all season in Hamilton unless he's traded to a team seeking a steady defencemen.
Morgan Ellis has been a steady presence on the Bulldogs blue line for the past two seasons while playing alongside Nathan Beaulieu forming an all QMJHL pairing.
Ellis played alongside current Canadien Michael Bournival in Hamilton in 2012-2013 and they also played on the same Shawinigan Cataractes team that won the Memorial Cup in 2012 when they defeated Jarred Tinordi and the London Knights in overtime.
While never known as an offensive juggernaut Ellis plays a steady game in all situations which is exactly what Hamilton needs. Last season Ellis posted 10 points(3G 7A) in 59 games which is still a bit below what is expected of Ellis offensively. Ellis stands to gain the most from the promotion of Beaulieu and Tinordi as he will now be given the chance to play expanded minutes without Beaulieu and Tinordi in the AHL.
Darren Dietz is a former 5th round draft pick by the Canadiens with a nose for finding the back of the net from the blue line. Despite Dietz's solid scoring numbers in the WHL(129 points in 212 games) he struggled to post any sort of offence in his rookie campaign(5 A in 34 games).
The lack of production is not entirely Dietz's fault as he suffered through a number of injuries including one that required season ending surgery. He was also made a healthy scratch in favor of Joel Chouinard and Nathan McIver by Sylvain Lefebvre early in the season and was also involved in a fight with teammate Nick Tarnasky at a Bulldogs practice. If Dietz remains healthy next season he is likely to inherit some powerplay time from the departed Nathan Beaulieu which should help to kickstart his anemic offensive production. Also of note is that his former Blades teammate Dalton Thrower will be joining him next year which could help to boost Dietz's production.
Dalton Thrower is part of the Canadiens incredible 2012 NHL draft when he was selected in the 2nd round 51st overall. There was a large concern that Thrower might not be given an entry level deal by Marc Bergevin partially due to a lackluster season in Saskatoon and a season ending injury this past year in Vancouver. He was however signed to an ELC which allowed many Habs fans to breathe a sigh of relief.
Thrower plays a hard nosed, in your face style of hockey that Bergevin and Therrien both seem to love but he also has a solid offensive upside as well. Before suffering a season ending injury Thrower was playing at nearly a point per game pace(39 points in 42 games) after having a brutal previous season in Saskatoon. If Thrower arrives in Hamilton focused and ready to play he provides a similar presence to Jarred Tinordi in the sense that he can hit, play in all situations and if called upon fight for his teammates.
Mac Bennett was signed two year entry level contract after completing his final year at the University of Michigan where he served as the team captain in his senior year. Bennett is known as a mobile puck moving defencemen with a solid breakout pass who can occasionally chip in goals. After playing top pairing minutes at Michigan it is likely that Bennett could slide in alongside fellow Wolverine Greg Pateryn on the top pairing to form a solid all around pairing for the Bulldogs. Bennett may also garner some powerplay time with his passing ability it will make distributing the puck with a man advantage much easier.
While he has established himself as an NHL caliber defencemen Jarred Tinordi could possibly see some more time in the AHL. Tinordi currently sits behind Alexei Emelin, Josh Gorges, Nathan Beaulieu and if he's resigned Andrei Markov. This creates a tough situation in which Tinordi must either be played on his off side, made a healthy scratch or sent down to the AHL to actually play. Tinordi playing in Hamilton wouldn't be the worst option for both sides as there is always more to learn especially while logging big minutes for the Bulldogs which could be invaluable for Tinordi who will eventually be called upon to play a big role in Montreal in the future.
Beaulieu falls in the same group as Tinordi but has the saving grace of an excellent playoff performance that is likely to see him brought up the NHL full time. Beaulieu also fills the need of having an excellent puck moving defencemen on the 2nd powerplay unit and will hopefully replace Gorges/Emelin. If Beaulieu is sent down to Hamilton it is likely to add some more prowess to his defensive game before he cracks the Canadiens line up permanently. Also of interest could be free agent Guillaume Gelinas who is coming off an incredible season in Val-d'Or, I created a profile of the high scoring defencemen before which you read here.
Even if both Tinordi and Beaulieu remain in the NHL(Which I believe is highly likely) the Bulldogs still have a wealth of talent at their disposal. If properly deployed head coach Sylvain Lefebvre Hamilton can once again boast one of the deepest defence cores in the AHL which could help to ease the burden on potential goalies Dustin Tokarski and Michael Condon. If Thrower,Dietz and Pateryn can maintain a solid scoring clip the Bulldogs could also potentially have the best scoring group on the blue line as well which is an area they have lacked in for the past few seasons. All in all the future is looking pretty good along the blue line in Hamilton even after a few lackluster seasons.