Minor-league reinforcements on the way for Montreal Canadiens

By David Thicke
Photo: Forward Joonas Nattinen is in his first season of North American professional hockey. Though he hasn’t yet put up great totals offensively, Nattinen has gradually seen more ice time and an expanded role. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

After losing in game seven of the AHL Western Conference Finals to end their season, the Hamilton Bulldogs have been struggling with injuries, call-ups, and a lack of team offense to start the year. The Bulldogs seem beset by the same struggles as their parent club, the Montreal Canadiens and Hamilton finds themselves with a terrible record of 11 wins, 13 losses, one OT loss and three shoot-out losses in 28 AHL games. Hamilton are currently sitting in 13th place of the Western Conference and will be looking for some help from the returning injured players and re-assigned call-ups from Montreal to make a push for the playoffs.

AHL

Alexander Avstin, RW, 20

Avstin has struggled with consistency in his overall play and at times, has found himself with limited ice time on the team’s fourth line. The young 20-year-old is about halfway to last year’s offensive numbers in just 32 AHL games but still has to develop the defensive side to his game.

The big Russian-born winger has a tendency to disappear in hockey games and does not use his large frame to his advantage enough but he can show flashes of brilliance. Avstin is a quick skating, offensively skilled forward but will need to play on the first line with better players to help his overall development while continuing to adjust to the North American game and lifestyle.

Alain Berger, RW, 21

Berger has only played in 17 AHL games and has struggled to stay in the Bulldogs lineup while seeing spot duty on the fourth line. The young Swiss-born winger has worked hard with the coaches to improve his overall play and to correct his skating deficiencies. He needs to use his size to drive hard to the net while he continues to develop his overall game. Berger suffered a lower -body injury (groin) on November 25, and remains out of the lineup indefinitely.

Hunter Bishop, C, 24

Bishop suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury (shoulder) in an NHL pre-season game with the Canadiens and has been on the long-term Injury reserve list since October 5th. The centerman has not yet played in any AHL games this season.


Andrew Conboy, LW, 23

Conboy has struggled to stay healthy this season only to go down again on December 3rd, with a lower-body injury. The tough, physical forward has only one goal in just ten AHL games for Hamilton this season. He will need to improve his offensive numbers and stay healthy the rest of the season in hopes to receive a new contract.

Gabriel Dumont, C, 21

Dumont has been one of the more consistent Bulldogs this season and although he doesn’t produce a lot of points the young centerman brings his work ethic to every game. The small sized forward plays a physical, high tempo game but was sidelined with a shoulder injury for nine games. Dumont will need to continue developing his offensive skills while working on his defensive positioning and add more muscle mass to play his style effectively.


Andreas Engqvist, C, 24

Engqvist started this season on the fourth line of the Canadiens as an injury replacement but was re-assigned to the Bulldogs on October 23rd. The big centerman was called-up to Montreal on November 14th, only to suffer a shoulder injury in an NHL game and was sidelined until December 5th when the Canadiens returned him to the Bulldogs.

Engqvist has played eight NHL games and 18 AHL games while scoring six goals for the Bulldogs. He has been the best Bulldog player and the defensively sound forward has shown his overall game playing both the power play and penalty killing units while in Hamilton. Engqvist’s return to the Bulldogs lineup has sparked the team’s current jump from the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Olivier Fortier, C, 22

Fortier started his second season in the AHL on the injured reserve list with a shoulder injury. The often-injured forward finally returned to the Bulldogs’ lineup on October 27th and seemed to be showing signs of his offensive game. He has struggled in some games offensively but was playing a solid defensive game while receiving time on both the power play and penalty killing units.

Fortier was again out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury and has scored three goals along with three assists while playing only 20 games this season. The young forward needs to stay healthy and improve on his offensive game this year.


Louis Leblanc, C, 20

Leblanc finally played his first professional game on October 27th, after starting the season on the injured reserve list while recovering from shoulder surgery over the summer. The young rookie forward scored four goals along with six assists in 14 AHL games before being recalled by the Canadiens to replace a suspended Max Pacioretty.

Leblanc started on the fourth line while seeing limited ice time for the first few games before injuries allowed him to see more playing time on the Canadiens’ third line. He has two goals along with three assists in 14 NHL games and if he continues playing this well, it will be difficult for the Canadiens to return him to Hamilton.

Philippe Lefebvre, LW, 20

Lefebvre has played okay for his first professional season but has not yet shown his offensive game. He has managed to stay in the Bulldogs’ lineup for 28 games while scoring one goal along with two assists and a decent minus-seven rating on a struggling Hamilton team.

Lefebvre will need to pick up his offensive play while continuing to develop his overall game or he could find himself in Wheeling when the injured players return to the Bulldogs’ lineup.


Dany Masse, C/LW, 23

Masse has played fairly well to start the season but has not taken advantage of the Bulldogs’ injuries to show his offensive talents. He has scored six goals along with five assists and a respectable minus-three rating in 32 games. There is still hope that Masse will break out offensively like his last season at the junior level and become a solid two-way offensively skilled forward.

Robert Mayer, G, 22

Mayer has struggled at times in his second season with the Bulldogs as the back-up to Nathan Lawson. He continues to allow in bad goals while losing his angles but can flash signs of brilliance and needs to show more consistency in his starts. The young Czech-born goalie has posted a 4-6-1 record with a poor 3.18 goals against average and a .904 save percentage in 13 games.


Mark Mitera, D, 24

Mitera has struggled with his defensive game to start the season with the injury ridden Bulldogs. The big defensive defenseman has not used his physical size well in the defensive zone and has been caught out of position defensively too often from poor decision-making with the puck. He has no offensive upside to his game and needs to improve his minus-11 rating over the rest of the season to stay in Hamilton’s lineup.

Brendon Nash, D, 24

Nash is still sidelined on the Long-Term Injured Reserve List after having shoulder surgery and is out indefinitely. He hopes to return before the end of the regular AHL season but there are no guarantees.

Joonas Nattinen, C, 20

Nattinen has bounced throughout the Bulldogs’ lineup and at times has been a healthy scratch in his rookie AHL season. He has started to adjust to the North American style of play and could see more responsibilities as the season wears on. Nattinen has scored two goals along with five assists and a solid minus-three rating on an offensively challenged Hamilton team.

Aaron Palushaj, RW, 22

Palushaj has played just 16 games this season for Hamilton while being called-up to the Canadiens on multiple occasions and playing 15 NHL games but he has been held pointless. The offensively skilled winger has scored six goals and 10 assists for the Bulldogs. Palushaj needs to play top-six minutes every game to perform and develop his two-way game in the AHL. He receives bottom-six minutes when playing for the Canadiens and has a tendency to lose his goal-scoring confidence with less ice time.


Ian Schultz, RW, 21

Schultz missed 11 games with a knee injury after a knee on knee collision back in early November and has played just 19 AHL games for the Bulldogs so far this season. The big winger has only two goal but continues to bring an aggressive, physical edge to his game while accumulating four fighting majors. The injury has slowed the development of his overall game but he has shown more character standing up for his teammates this season.


Joe Stejskal, D, 23

Stejskal has struggled in his first full professional season with the Bulldogs. He has not played physical enough and has been prone to mistakes in the defensive zone. The big defenseman missed six games after being sent heavily into the board by a dirty hit from behind and is just starting to improve his overall game recently. Stejskal should see more responsibilities as the season progresses if he can play his game and stay healthy.

ECHL

Peter Delmas, G, 21

Delmas has played okay but inconsistent so far this season for the Wheeling Nailers. The young goalie has posted a 6-3 record with an excellent 2.40 goals against average and a .902 save percentage in 11 ECHL games. He was called-up to Hamilton as a back-up for Robert Mayer but saw no game action.

Delmas suffered his second concussion in three months when his head struck the ice after falling back to make a save. He had a headache after the second period but took two Advil and finished the hockey game. The next day, Delmas awoke with forehead pressure, fogginess and bad whiplash so under the league protocol, he may not start practicing until he’s symptom-free. Delmas is now out indefinitely with a concussion.

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