Hamilton Bulldogs season preview

By Jason Menard

Although the Hamilton Bulldogs may be losing some key personnel, they’re looking towards some younger pups to add some much-needed bite to their bark.

Facing the loss of their top three scorers from last year, the Bulldogs will be counting on the continued development of the Montreal Canadiens highly touted prospects, along with a fresh infusion of talent from the Edmonton Oilers.

First and foremost, the Baby Habs will be looking to Russian forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Perezhogin to pick up the scoring slack left in the wake of Tomas Plekanec’s anticipated graduation to the Habs, Marcel Hossa’s trade, and Jason Ward’s departure via free agency.

Despite an impressive showing in training camp, Perezhogin appears to be the victim of a numbers game. Able to be sent down without the threat of a waiver claim, Perezhogin will be able to make a return to the AHL club following a one-year suspension for a stick-swinging incident and a successful campaign riding shotgun with Jaromir Jagr in the Russian Elite League. He had 33 points in 43 games in Russia, after 50 points in 77 games with Hamilton in 2003-04.

His scoring prowess will be matched with blossoming winger Kostitsyn. After a year of acclimatizing to the North American game and dealing with all the transitional issues that befall foreign players, Kostitsyn will be looked upon to further refine his prodigious offensive talent and fill opposing nets consistently. He had just 23 points in 66 games last season.

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The Bulldogs may be the Habs’ farm club, but they turned to the Oilers to add a healthy dose of Flying Frenchmen to the roster. As part of a deal signed in the summer, the Bulldogs received four Edmonton prospects to be added to the roster: goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, rearguard Mathieu Roy, and forwards Jean-Francois Jacques and Marc-Antione Pouliot. Edmonton will send prospects to the Iowa Stars as well.

The highly-touted Pouliot will certainly find a spot on one of the top two scoring lines and will be featured on the power play. His combination of size, speed, and skill should make the transition from the QMJHL a smooth one for the Oilers’ 2003 first-round pick. Pouliot had 114 points in 70 games for the high-flying Rimouski Oceanic in 2004-05. The fact that he shifted to the wing last year also means that he will offer head coach Don Lever some much-needed flexibility.

The addition of Drouin-Deslauriers means short-term stability between the pipes for the Bulldogs, but could lead to controversy in the new year. With much-ballyhooed goaltending prospect’s Yann Danis impressive showing in training camp, expectations are that he will make the club as the Habs’ backup goaltender while Cristobal Huet rehabs his injury. But he is also expected to be sent down to the minors when Huet returns, which could make for some headaches when it comes to Lever’s need to balance competitiveness with advancement.

Drouin-Deslauriers was caught in a similar numbers game, playing only 22 games at the AHL level and finding his way to the Oilers’ ECHL affiliate for another 11. Another similar situation may be in the offering, as the Bulldogs will most likely favor their home-grown talent, Danis, over JDD.

Jaroslav Halak is currently with the AHL for training camp, but may be in tough trying to find a place to play. With Drouin-Deslauriers and Danis secure in their AHL roster spots, Olivier Michaud firmly entrenched in the ECHL, Halak may be best served with one more year in junior. However, to make that happen, someone would have to use up an over-age roster spot for the Slovakian netminder. In the interim, Halak will be competing with Michaud for the temporary backup spot in Hamilton, and the starter’s role in Long Beach.

The long-term prospects for Michaud don’t look much better. Barring a trade or an injury, Michaud looks to be the odd man out once Danis returns to the Bulldogs. While he could make the Hamilton squad as a backup, a stint in the ECHL with Long Beach is in Michaud’s foreseeable future. And, long-term, he will have to battle Halak for a starting role somewhere within the organization.

Some familiar faces will be called upon to pick up the offensive slack and take the next step in their development this year. Maxim Lapierre, Jonathan Ferland, Michael Lambert, Corey Locke, Corey Urquhart and Duncan Milroy look to round out the top three lines, and must improve their offensive output. In particular, Locke must build upon an impressive rookie season and display the talents that led him to being a two-time OHL player of the year and capturing the CHL’s MVP prize.

The blue line has been depleted with the graduation of defensemen Mike Komisarek and Ron Hainsey. Roy, the Oilers’ prospect, will be given every opportunity to show that his breakthrough campaign last year wasn’t a fluke, and that he can continue to display that offensive flair.

Recently demoted Jonathan Aitken, Andrew Archer, Jeff Paul, and Jean-Phillipe Cote will join Roy on the blue line, and the unit could benefit from the addition of recently signed Swiss rearguard Mark Streit. The 27-year-old former Swiss captain may be given a year of seasoning to acclimatize to the North American game, and his addition to the Bulldogs’ roster will certain solidify their defensive prowess.

While not officially a rebuilding campaign, the Bulldogs are facing a great deal of change. Losing a number of players through graduation, attrition, and the ending of their roster-sharing agreement with Dallas, the Baby Habs will have to use training camp to mesh their new-look roster.

But with an impressive collection of young offensively inclined talent, goaltending depth, and a solid, if unspectacular, blue line corps, the Bulldogs look to match, if not exceed, last year’s 89-point season.




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