Bulldogs: Year-End Report Card

By Jim Harnock

    It was the kind of season coaches, general managers
and players alike dream about.
    The Bulldogs led the American Hockey League with 110
points.  Michael Ryder and Jason Ward both made the top 20 scoring leader
board.  Marc-André Bergeron and Mike Komisarek were in the league’s
top 5 for plus/minus rating.  Mathieu Garon led the league with save
percentage of 0.937.  The team faced a barrage of injuries, but was not
slowed down.  The team faced a rash of call-ups, including top talent
like Marcel Hossa and Alexei Semenov, but still the Bulldogs rolled on.
    And now come the important games — the playoffs.

    But first, a regular season report card.
    Grades on this report card are much the same as you’d
find on any school report card — an A means very good and an F means there’s
something seriously wrong.  The first grade listed is the player’s final,
year-end grade, while the letter in brackets is the grade they were given
when I published my mid-season report card.  Players who were not with
the team at mid-season will have an “N/A” (not applicable) for the mid-season
grade.  There is also one player listed as “INC.” as he did not play
enough games as a Bulldog to evaluate his performance.
    Some players are listed as having graduated.  This
simply means they have been recalled to their respective NHL teams and I do
not expect them to be back in the AHL (the exception being Hossa, who is
with the Bulldogs for the playoffs, but was called up to Montreal early enough
in the season to consider him a graduate).

    And now, the report card…

    The Goaltenders

NAME
RIGHTS
W
L
T
GAA
GRADE
NOTES
CONKLIN, Ty
EDM
19
13
3
2.55
B (B)
Prior to the trading of Jeff Hackett
by MTL, Conklin sat on the bench for many games as Garon’s back-up.  An
injury mid-season slowed him down a bit, but he once again bounced back to
be one of the league’s better goaltenders.
GARON, Mathieu
MTL
15
2
2
1.77
N/A
Graduated
FICHAUD, Eric
MTL
14
7
3
2.28
B (C)
Fichaud has shown more consistency with
HAM than in any of his NHL stints.  Could be an NHL back-up, but will
most likely end up being a mentor of sorts to Olivier Michaud with HAM next
season.

    The Forwards

NAME
RIGHTS
G
A
TP
+/-
GRADE
NOTES
WARD, Jason
MTL
31
41
72
+20
A (A)
Still a rather weak skater, he managed
to become a very good all-around player, working both PP and PK for HAM.  Ward
was given another shot in NHL at the end of MTL’s season, but it’s debatable
whether he’ll be part of their plans next season.
RYDER, Michael
MTL
34
33
67
+15
A+ (A-)
How did this guy end up in the ECHL once,
let alone twice?  He’s fast, tenacious and skilled, and should get serious
consideration at MTL’s training camp next season.  Probably HAM’s most
dangerous offensive player.
GRATTON, Benoit
MTL
21
39
60
+22
B+ (A+)
Seriously hampered by injury, what
started as a career year for Gratton didn’t even really have a second half
— he only played in 43 games.
STOLL, Jarret
EDM
21
33
54
+15
A (A-)
Already a solid two-way player, Stoll
continued to improve as the season wore on.  A top PK man for HAM as
well as a PP guy, he’s very close to being NHL-ready, but another season with
plenty of ice-time can only see him improve that much more.
RITA, Jani
EDM
21
27
48
+12
B+ (A)
Offensively, the young Finn took a step
backward in the second half, partly because he spent less time on the PP.
 His defense, however, began to improve.  This was almost certainly
a move dictated by EDM brass in order to prepare Rita for an NHL role next
season.
PLEKANEC, Tomas
MTL
19
27
46
+5
B (B-)
Very close to reaching 20 goals in his
rookie year, this excellent stick handler still needs to work on his two-way
play, having dropped from a +11 at the halfway point of the season to a +5
at the end.  Will probably be HAM’s top centre next season.
TORRES, Raffi
EDM
1
7
8
-3
INC.
Acquired by EDM from NYI on March 11th,
2003, Torres only played 11 games for HAM (only HAM stats listed here).
SALMELAINEN, Tony
EDM
14
19
33
+17
B (C+)
When HAM was depleted by injuries and
call-ups, Salmelainen was one of the players to step up become more of a contributor.
 Starting off the season splitting his time between the 4th line and
the press box, he more than doubled his first half production in the last
half of the season.  He has begun to address his main weakness (strength
on the puck) but will most likely not be ready for the NHL for another season
or two.
HOSSA, Marcel
MTL
19
13
32
+22
N/A
Graduated
PISANI, Fernando
EDM
17
15
32
+14
N/A
Graduated
HINZ, Chad
EDM
12
12
24
+11
C+ (C-)
As a checking forward, Hinz is a decent
and useful contributor.  When injuries and call-ups took their toll on
HAM, he was put into a scoring role — a role in which he had little success,
scoring only 10 points in the second half.
BALEJ, Jozef
MTL
5
15
20
Even
D (C-)
In a rookie season plagued with injury,
poor defensive play and rookie mistakes, Balej failed to produce on the scoresheet
they way he was expected to.  Next season will be an interesting one
— you can see that Balej has skill, he just needs to learn how to use it
at a professional level.
DiCASMIRRO, Nate
EDM
5
12
17
+4
B- (B-)
One of the surprises in HAM this year.
 After playing in only 1 regular season AHL game last season, DiCasmirro
has become a reliable checking forward.  Good speed, solid forechecker.

    The Defense

NAME
RIGHTS
G
A
TP
+/-
GRADE
NOTES
BERGERON, Marc-André
EDM
8
31
39
+34
B- (C-)
The little engine that could.  After
a horrible season in 01-02, Bergie established himself as an AHL-level player
in the first half of 02-03 and used the second half to prove that he was actually
a pretty good one.  He needs more consistency in his overall game, but
with the big turnaround he’s already made, he may be able to find that consistency
in the coming year.
KOMISAREK, Mike
MTL
5
25
30
+27
B- (B+)
Though he didn’t improve a great
deal from the halfway point to now, Komisarek has begun to improve on his
positional play.  His short stint in the NHL late in the season has helped
him a great deal.
BEAUCHEMIN, Francois
MTL
7
21
28
+25
B+ (B+)
A break-out year offensively (compared
to his previous totals) and a solid year defensively.  HAM’s best defensive
defenseman should get some quality minutes in MTL next season but most likely
won’t, unless MTL unloads guys like Traverse or Dykhuis.
HAINSEY, Ron
MTL
2
11
13
-2
C (NA)
Hainsey’s much-vaunted offensive flair
didn’t fully materialize on the HAM scoresheets in the 33 games he played
in the AHL.  His is an excellent skater who tries to do too much on his
own and focuses too much on offense.  He could be an NHL level player,
but only if he improves his positioning.
BOUILLON, Francis
MTL
1
12
13
+9
C- (C-)
Limited to only 29 games by injuries,
his first-half play and offensive contributions far outweigh those of the
second-half.  He’ll most likely see NHL ice next season, but will also
most likely see more AHL ice.
ALLEN, Bobby
EDM
1
12
13
+14
B (B+)
Injury affected his game in the second
half, but Allen still managed to be one of the team’s steadiest defensemen.
 EDM’s lack of depth on defense could see him in the NHL for parts of
next season.
SEMENOV, Alexei
EDM
4
3
7
+6
N/A
Graduated
CARPENTIER, Benjamin
HAM
3
1
4
-2
D (D)
How can you be a minus player on a team
that scores as often as HAM?  An AHL depth player who may have increased
his value by playing wing off and on this season.
VANCIK, Jay
EDM
0
0
0
-3
C- (N/A)
Playing 21 games as an injury call-up
from the ECHL, Vancik played well with the time he was given.  Nothing
fancy, nothing to write home about, but no glaring mistakes.  Should
have a regular role with the Roadrunners next year.