The Binghamton Senators roster has been completely overhauled after a 106-point season, followed up by a disappointing first round playoff loss. Veteran Denis Hamel and the inconsistent Charlie Stephens are the only players who scored more than 10 points last year that return to the club in 2005-06. The list of players now in Ottawa begins with Jason Spezza, includes the club’s three top defensemen from last year, and the only starting goaltender the organization has ever known. Head Coach Dave Cameron has his work cut out for him heading into this season.
With Ray Emery in Ottawa after three generally successful seasons as the starter in Binghamton, the starting reins fall to his understudy in the last two, Billy Thompson. A hard worker with great size in between the pipes, this is a big opportunity for the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native. Although Thompson has not been a starting goaltender since his junior days, there were stretches last year where he played more than Emery, who battled inconsistency. This experience should help the 23-year-old netminder make the adjustment.
In the event that Thompson struggles, he will have two understudies pushing him for time, even if only one is with the team. Kelly Guard and Jeff Glass, perhaps the two most statistically impressive goalies in the WHL history, are behind him on the depth chart. Guard, who is nearly two and a half years older and has already played a year of professional hockey, has the inside track on the backup job. Glass will begin the season in the ECHL with the Charlotte Checkers.
To say the return of the NHL had a significant impact on the Binghamton blue line would be an understatement. Not only did the club lose Brian Pothier, Anton Volchenkov and Christoph Schubert to the Senators, but Senators top prospect Andrej Meszaros also stuck in Ottawa out of training camp, and as of now, appears set to stay there all season.
Only two blueliners return from last year, Jan Platil and Neil Komadoski. Platil could play an important role, after thriving at times last year, particularly in the first half. Mean, nasty and a tremendous shot blocker, Platil is at the same crossroads Schubert faced at this time last year. Komadoski was used sparingly last year, and needs a strong year to maintain any place in the club’s plans.
There is talent among the blueliners starting in Binghamton this year. Lance Ward could be the leader of the blue line. The former first round pick has NHL experience and at 27 years old, is the third oldest player on the team. Brennan Evans, Tomas Malec and the recently acquired Filip Novak are three 23-year-old blueliners added to the Ottawa organization since last season. Evans plays a tough, stay-at-home game suited up in the playoffs for the Calgary Flames in 2003-04. Malec and Novak are both talented puck movers who were once highly regarded prospects, but their careers have gone downhill of late.
Denis Hamel is coming off a sensational campaign in the AHL, and was the last cut at Senators camp a week ago. Named the captain of the team for this season, he is tremendously accomplished at this level and possesses an unparalleled work ethic. Another late cut from Senators camp was Patrick Eaves, easily the top prospect in Binghamton this year. Eaves left Boston College a year early after a stellar junior campaign that earned him multiple awards and a contract with Ottawa.
These two players should play on the first line, perhaps with 33-year-old Steve Martins in the middle. Martins was the captain in Binghamton in 2002-03, and has played over 250 games in the NHL. The oldest player on the team, Martins will also be expected to help Hamel shoulder the load in terms of leadership.
Filling out the club’s core of forwards will be Jeff Heerema and Charlie Stephens, two players whose careers have thus far been major disappointments. Heerema was the 11th overall pick in the 1998 draft, but has only four NHL goals to his credit thus far, and is in his fourth organization. While Stephens was not a first round pick in the NHL, he was once upon a time the first player selected in the OHL draft. Both have good size and outstanding natural offensive talent, but have had their desire questioned.
Ottawa has a handful of other forward prospects in the AHL, and Binghamton hopes one will emerge. Greg Watson was once a highly regarded prospect, but has shown almost no offensive ability in two seasons with the team so far. Grant Potulny had a stellar college career, but was inconsistent in his first professional season. Watson and Potulny have the potential to form a good checking line, perhaps with former Edmonton prospect Joe Cullen as the center. Tough guy Danny Bois and Boston University graduate Gregg Johnson are also in Binghamton hoping for more ice time than last year. Bois will battle share the enforcer duties with Ottawa native Brett Clouthier and perhaps Dominic Soucy.
Comparing this club to last year’s lockout version is obviously unfair. Thompson should be solid in goal, and there is depth in case he falters. The blue line needs somebody to emerge as a leader, but it is a capable unit, with a good mix of styles. Offensively, the club should be in decent shape, particularly if Heerema and Stephens show some consistency, if not chemistry. The East division should once again be strong, with the Calder Cup champion Philadelphia Phantoms among the clubs returning strong rosters heading into the year.
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