After changing divisions last season and being ousted from the first round of the playoffs last spring, the Sound Tigers are looking for a better result during the 2010-11 campaign. With only four rookies on the team this season, and 16 returning players, this team is mostly veterans who will need very little time adjusting to each other. The additions will be key, however, as much of the offensive punch and the goaltending will be new. Each will be a big part of Bridgeport’s push toward the 2010-11 post-season.
Jesse Joensuu, David Ullstrom and Matt Martin, who was one of the last cuts from the NHL team, will form the base of Bridgeport’s offense. Ullstrom, the rookie who played last season in the Swedish Elite League, is expected to contribute his puck distributing skills to this line of large, tough, offensively talented players.
Rhett Rakhshani, a smaller finesse winger, will be scoring catalyst for the second line. The undersized forward is coming from college and will need more development before taking the step to the NHL. He’ll need to be productive off the start too in order for the team to be competitive.
In addition to Martin, who will provide toughness for the Sound Tigers this season, Michael Haley returns to the team. Although not big in stature, Haley never backs down from protecting his teammates and loves to fight. Look for him to rack up more than 150 penalty minutes once again this season.
Bridgeport has a solid defense, with several veterans with a bit of NHL experience on the blue line. Veteran Mark Wotten returns to the Sound Tigers for his fifth season as captain of the team. Expected to provide quite a bit of offensive punch from the blue line, he will be paired with prospect Dustin Kohn, who spent part of last season with the Islanders.
Dylan Reese, who is an alternate captain, also was on the NHL roster during the 2009-10 season. He will figure into the top four.
Travis Hamonic is the top rookie coming onto the team this season and should be expected to start in the third pairing and move up as the season goes along.
The Sound Tigers are carrying three netminders to begin the 2010-11 season.
Mikko Koskinen played in two regular season games during the 2009-10 season before suffering a hip injury that kept him out until the playoffs. He is expected to be the number one goalie this season and the Sound Tigers hope to ride him into the post-season.
Joel Martin, who was given a professional try-out by the Islanders, was released last week, and he is officially on the Sound Tigers roster.
Jack Capuano returns for his fourth season as the head coach of the Sound Tigers. In the 2009-2010 regular season, he led Bridgeport to their second straight playoff appearance, before falling to the Hershey Bears in the first round of post-season play.
Capuano is joined by assistant coaches Matt Bertani and Pat Bingham. Bertani has been with the Sound Tigers since the Fall of 2008; Bingham has been with Bridgeport since 2007.
One of the issues that Bridgeport has had for the last several years is that many of the top Islanders prospects jump right into the NHL, without any AHL development. However, there are a total of 15 Islanders’ prospects on the Sound Tigers’ roster and four of the prospects are rookies.
Players to watch include rookies Hamonic, a defenseman who was a star in last year’s WHL playoffs, Rakhshani, the rookie winger out of University of Denver, and netminder Koskinen, who played in just two AHL games last season, but should be the number one during 2010-11. Also, Joensuu, who was second in total points for the Sound Tigers during the 2009-10 regular season, will look to have a breakout season.
The Islanders often bring up players during the season and expect this year to be no different. It would not be out of the ordinary to see four or five of the Sound Tigers’ opening night roster players to see time in the NHL during the 2010-11 regular season.