Senators AHL prospects update

By Sean Keogh

Heading into the 2005-06 season, the Binghamton Senators knew that their roster would be radically different because of several players heading to Ottawa. The team’s place in the standings illustrates this fact, with a 15-19-2-2 record coming up on the midway point of the season. Although the offensive production has been adequate, only one team has given up more goals than Binghamton.

After three-year starter Ray Emery graduated, the starting job was handed to his backup of two years, Billy Thompson. Goaltending was expected to be solid with Thompson shouldering the loud, but that has not been the case. The Saskatoon native has had a disastrous season since the beginning, with only four wins in 18 games played, and a 4.21 goals against average. Thompson has struggled with nagging injuries and his confidence, and has undeniably lost the starting position.

The starting position has now been taken over by Kelly Guard. Signed by the Senators after a record-setting junior career with the Kelowna Rockets, Guard spent all of his first professional season with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL. After winning the backup job outright over rookie Jeff Glass this fall, Guard thrived as Thompson floundered. In 21 games thus far, he has a 10-8-1 record, including three shutouts. His .913 save percentage ranks 13th in the league. Guard’s strength is in his ability to play a strong technical game and utilize his wide frame to cut down the angles. Continuing his strong play would certainly help him work into Ottawa’s future plans.

It is hard to imagine where Binghamton would be without blueliner Filip Novak. Acquired by Ottawa for a sixth round pick from Florida just before the season, the 23-year-old has been a revelation. Drafted by the Rangers and dealt to the Panthers in the Pavel Bure deal, Novak struggled mightily last year with San Antonio. A talented puckmover with outstanding puck skills, Novak has blossomed in Binghamton. He has registered 27 points in 33 games, tied for third on the team and fifth among defensemen league-wide. Although he is undersized, he has suddenly emerged as a contender for a blue line spot in Ottawa next year.

The other prospects on the blue line have been less impressive. Tomas Malec, another 23-year-old acquired over the summer by Ottawa, has notched 14 points in 38 games. A one-game call-up to the big club suggests the organization has some plans for the Slovakian blueliner, but unlike Novak he has yet to truly find his niche.

One defenseman who had probably hoped for a call-up this year was Jan Platil, but inconsistency continues to plague the Barrie Colts product. Although he has improved, he has also played some forward. In 29 games he has only five points, but 97 penalty minutes.

The other prospect on the Binghamton blue line is Neil Komadoski. After being used sparingly as a seventh defenseman last year, Komadoski’s role on the club has only increased marginally. He has played in 26 contests, collecting four assists in them, but still struggles with the speed of the game.

Although two high-profile prospects have skated up front for Binghamton this year, both have spent about as much time in Ottawa as with the club. Brandon Bochenski broke camp in Ottawa, on the strength of an outstanding preseason on the team’s first line. After a couple of weeks he was returned to Binghamton, where he notched 17 points in 14 games. At times dominant yet sometimes appearing disinterested, Bochenski was recalled before sustaining a shoulder injury.

The other top prospect who has split time between the NHL and AHL this year is rookie Patrick Eaves. In training camp with Ottawa, Eaves struggled to adjust to the professional game, but since then has proven to be a quick study. The Boston College alumnus demonstrated energy and skill in his time with Binghamton, notching 13 points in 18 games. Based on play alone he could stay in Ottawa the rest of the year, but should he return to Binghamton he would provide a major boost offensively.

Without a lot of skilled players on the roster, more unheralded prospects have had to step up. Perhaps the most impressive has been Grant Potulny. A natural leader and former captain at the University of Minnesota, Potulny had only ten points last year, his first as a professional. Although he started slowly, he had a pair of four point games in December and has seven points in three games in the New Year. Blessed with good size and tremendous heart, Potulny has blossomed with increased responsibility.

Playing center with Potulny has been Gregg Johnson, a determined pivot who has seven goals thus far despite never scoring more than five in four years of college. Quick and crafty, Johnson has 20 points overall and also thrived in December.

The other member of the line is Danny Bois, a former Colorado third round pick who signed with Ottawa after four years frustrating opponents in the OHL. As a rookie last year, Bois had 287 penalty minutes but only two goals and six points. Through 37 games, the pest has eight goals and 16 points, all the while continuing to play his game with 129 penalty minutes. This line has provided a major boost with their hard work and now offensive production.

Another forward who had begun to turn the corner with increased ice time was Greg Watson. The third-year forward had 12 points in his first 28 games, but has not played in over a month because of a back injury.

Overall the Binghamton Senators will continue to have to earn every win. Not only is Jason Spezza no longer around, but Eaves and Bochenski can not be counted on to return this year. Hard work and veteran scoring will continue to keep the offense going, as well as the contributions of Novak from the blue line. Guard has been a revelation between the pipes, and any club short on skill needs a strong goaltender to be competitive. A playoff spot is not unattainable.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.