Binghamton Senators 2011-12 season preview

By John Henkelman
Photo: Having recently turned 20 years of age, Robin Lehner will be starting his second full professional season in the AHL. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)


What do they do for a repeat? The Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup after an incredible playoff run that saw the seventh seed in the AHL‘s Eastern Conference turn a 42-30-3-5 regular season into the league championship. Senators also collected a considerable amount of the AHL individual hardware with Corey Locke taking home the Les Cunningham Award as league MVP, winning the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the AHL leading scorer, and being named to the First All-Star Team. Rookie goaltender Robin Lehner captured the Jack A. Butterfield as playoff MVP, unsung Cody Bass received the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award for man of the year for service to his local community and wily veteran defenseman Andre Benoit was named to the Second All-Star Team.

The baby Sens will have many new faces this season to blend in with their returning players under the tutelage of second-year coach Kurt Kleinendorst. Among the departed are Bobby Butler, Erik Condra, Zack Smith, and Colin Greening who all turned their success from last season into one-way contracts and positions on the Ottawa roster. Key contributors Ryan Potulny, captain Ryan Kellar, and alternate captains Cody Bass and Derek Smith signed on with other NHL organizations. Others veterans who made significant contributions such as Andre Benoit, Roman Wick, Geoff Kinrade and Barry Brust have gone overseas for new opportunities this season.

Corey Locke, Jim O’Brien, and Robin Lehner will be looked upon to provide the leadership on the ice with other players expected to emerge and share the responsibilities. The baby Sens will have considerable skill, size, and talent so there is every reason to expect a return trip to the AHL playoffs and an opportunity to defend their league title.

Forwards

The baby Sens will rely on Corey Locke to be their offensive catalyst again this season and the plan will be for him to center one of their scoring lines. Other potential candidates to fill the other three center ice slots are returnees Jim O’Brien, who improved immensely last season, and second year pros Mike Hoffman and David Dzuirzynski, who are expected to add significantly to their offensive numbers over the previous campaign. Adding to the mix is MSU alumni Derek Grant who was signed a contract after his sophomore season and joined Binghamton for the tail end of the last season, performing capably, and earned the trust of the coach. Free agent signees Pat Cannone from the U of Miami (Ohio) and Wacey Hamilton from the Medicine Hat Tigers along with the speedy UM grad Louie Caporusso will be targeting center ice positions as well so the numbers dictate a few centers will need to contribute from the wing. Highly touted college free-agent signee Stéphane Da Costa from Merrimack College has had a good training camp and may or may not be made available to the baby Sens; it will depend on how the big club’s roster shapes up. Overall there is considerable offensive ability and character which should make forward a position of team strength.

Dynamic André Petersson will be counted on for offense in his first AHL season and should provide some highlight reel plays. NHL veteran Mark Parrish should get a position on one of the scoring lines. Second-year pro Corey Cowick, who had a solid Rookie Tournament in Oshawa, tough-guy Francis Lessard, former KHL and QMJHL winger Maxime Gratchev, and University of Vermont free agent signee Jack Downing will need to find their spots in the depth chart and fight for ice time with the converted centers. Kaspars Daugavins, re-signed in the summer, will also bring additional scoring.


Defensemen

The baby Sens blueline returns Binghamton rookie-of-the-year Eric Gryba who provides toughness and leadership. Former second round pick Patrick Wiercioch will likely be given an opportunity this season to play an expanded role from the back-end and is expected to man the power-play point and provide more-poised play once he’s returned from Ottawa. Mark Borowiecki, signed out of Clarkson U late last season, has made a favorable impression with the organization in a short period of time and offers the squad a strong presence on the ice. Third year pro Craig Schira had a decent season and should be improved as well. AHL veteran Tim Conboy will fill another defensive role and minor pros Josh Godfrey and Bobby Raymond will push for playing time and look to fill in should any injuries hit the organization.

Both Jared Cowen and David Rundblad are still with the big club and could very well stick. Cowen has played like a veteran and appears ready to start his NHL career. On the other hand Rundblad has been uneven; impressing with his crisp passing and puck movement but at times looking like a liability with his defensive zone play. One of them will likely be sent down to the AHL before the start of he regular season.

Goalies

Returning is the talented Robin Lehner, fresh off his first professional season where he spent a majority of the year playing as an AHL backup before leading his team to playoff glory. The mobile Swedish goalie turned 20 this summer and will work on fine-tuning his game in preparation for a full-time NHL gig. Moving over to the Senators organization after spending the last two seasons with the Devils’ AHL club, veteran Mike McKenna should be the backup. Brian Stewart was signed to a minor-league contract and will likely play a majority of the season in Elmira, filling in with the baby Sens as required.

Coaching

Binghamton will be led again by second-year head coach Kurt Kleinendorst, who experienced good results getting the most out of many players by creating a positive atmosphere and putting them in positions to succeed. Assistant coach Steve Stirling is also finally back behind the bench after having emergency quadruple bypass surgery during the Calder Cup Finals. Tim Murray doubles as the Binghamton GM in addition to his duties as assistant GM with Ottawa.


Prospects

Jared Cowen had an outstanding training camp and pre-season with Ottawa and made his presence felt on both ends of the ice. Showing poise beyond his years, he was a physical figure in the defensive end, made good decisions with the puck and scored a pair of goals while playing over 22 minutes a game. Stéphane Da Costa has been impressive and may stick with the big club as both Peter Regin and Jesse Winchester are injured. The same could be said for David Rundblad. Mika Zibanejad has also been nothing short of impressive. In training camp and the preseason the 18-year-old Swede displayed strong skating and hockey sense. He would likely benefit from some time in the AHL but could nonetheless find himself on the NHL opening night roster. Defensemen Mark Borowiecki continued to leave his mark playing solidly against NHL level competition. Derek Grant and Mike Hoffman both had good rookie tournaments, receiving playing in many situations, and got some additional ice time in the NHL pre-season. Young Patrick Wiercioch received valuable experience with his time spent with the Ottawa veterans and had challenges playing against better competition.