Senators AHL prospects season review

By Sean Keogh

Perhaps no team benefited more from last season’s NHL lockout than Binghamton Senators, who assembled a talented squad that led the league with 276 goals before a playoff run naturally ending in disappointment. No less than ten players from the 2004-05 team played their entire 2005-06 season in the NHL.

The result was a drastically different team skating on the ice at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in 2005-06. Only two of the club’s top ten scorers returned, Denis Hamel and Brandon Bochenski (CHI). Although the veteran Hamel had a banner year, Bochenski, now in the Blackhawks organization, saw plenty of time in the NHL and only dressed for 33 games. The blue line was completely overhauled as well.

The club still managed to score 258 goals, although scoring was up throughout the league. Five clubs had more than the 276 the 2004-05 Binghamton club scored. Most disappointing were the 295 goals given up by the club, third most in the league. Overall, the club finished with a record of 35-37-4-4, finishing only a few points out of a playoff spot.

Goaltenders

The turnover was perhaps most evident in goal, where three-year starter Ray Emery graduated, leaving the reins to his backup of two years, Billy Thompson. Although not a top prospect like his predecessor, Thompson was expected to be solid in goal. Unfortunately, he was anything but solid in a season that was nothing short of a disaster for the netminder. Thompson’s numbers were simply dreadful, with his GAA a whopping 4.14 and a save percentage of .882. He won only nine of the 34 games he appeared in.

Worst of all, Thompson was consistently poor over the course of the season. The Saskatchewan native had a GAA under 4.00 in only two months of the season, the lowest being 3.34 in February. A free agent this summer, Thompson is likely finished with the organization. After once looking like a potential NHL backup, he will be lucky to find a job in the AHL next season.

The benefactor of Thompson’s struggles was Kelly Guard, who had spent his rookie professional season in the ECHL. A technical netminder that relies heavily on positioning, Guard was impressive in relief of Thompson. He played in 51 games, finishing with a record of 25-19-1. Although his GAA was average at 3.08, his .908 save percentage is more indicative of his level of play.

Perhaps most importantly, Guard gave the club a chance to win. A stellar month of March in which he went 8-3 and had a save percentage of .925, gave the club a shot at a playoff spot. Heading into training camp in September, the starting position is his to lose.

The challenge for the starting position will come from Jeff Glass, the 2005 CHL Goalie of the Year. Glass played the majority of the 2005-06 season in the ECHL with the Charlotte Checkers. He was a respectable 19-15-1-3 in 39 games, with a .322 GAA and .907 save percentage. He also saw action in six games with Binghamton. Glass will no doubt be in Binghamton next season, and should push Guard for playing time.

Defensemen

With the 2004-05 top three of Anton Volchenkov, Brian Pothier and Christoph Schubert all in Ottawa, and two othershaving moved to Europe, the Binghamton blue line was completely overhauled in 2005-06. Andrej Meszaros, the club’s 2004 first round selection, was expected to play big minutes in Binghamton, but instead forced his way onto the big club. Furthermore, almost all of the club’s other top defense prospects remain in Europe or college.

There is one exception though, that being Filip Novak, a prospect only acquired in October. A former New York Rangers second round pick later dealt to Florida in a deal for Pavel Bure, Novak was once a highly-touted prospect. He had a true breakout season with Binghamton, scoring 52 points in 64 games. He ranked seventh among blueliners in league scoring, and his point totals would have been higher if not for a well-deserved 11 game call-up to the NHL.

Novak was a consistent workhorse for the club, playing significant minutes in all situations. Extremely quick and talented offensively, Novak’s emergence could land him a job in the NHL next season, either with Ottawa or elsewhere.

Another former top prospect was brought in to help the blue line during the summer, that being Tomas Malec. After playing 41 games with the Carolina Hurricanes as a 20-year-old, the former Rimouski Oceanic’s development has stagnated. Tall and possessing some offensive skills, Malec put up a career-best 28 points in his fourth AHL season, but was also a team-worst -24. He had a brief call-up because of injury, but otherwise had a mediocre and inconsistent season.

There were two returning prospects, 23-year-old Jan Platil and 24-year-old Neil Komadoski. Unfortunately, neither were key players the previous season, and both entered the 2005-06 season looking not only for minutes but a place within the organization.

Platil showed reasonable improvement. He displayed more confidence, illustrated by 19 points after scoring only four each of his first two seasons. Once again, the imposing Czech played his reckless brand of hockey, with 212 penalty minutes. Unfortunately, Platil also saw time at forward, and was not able to emerge as a top pairing blueliner for the club. A free agent this summer, his underwhelming development over the past three years suggests he may move to another organization.

More disappointing has been Komadoski, a former third round pick and Notre Dame alumnus. He once again struggled to even make the starting line-up, only dressing in 41 games. The problem for Komadoski continued to be the pace of the AHL game. Known as a stay-at-home blueliner, his upside seems very limited.

The only other blue line prospect to play for the club was junior-aged Tomas Kudelka. After a solid rookie campaign in the WHL, the 2005 pick suited up in five games for Binghamton.

Forwards

There was significant turnover up front with the 2005-06 version of the Binghamton Senators as well. A list of all the graduates starts with Jason Spezza, but there seemed to be reason for optimism nonetheless. Along with a couple of veterans, top prospects Bochenski and Patrick Eaves were expected to join the team.

Bochenski was a training camp surprise in Ottawa, starting the year on the first line. Overall he split the season between the NHL and AHL, but also finished the year with the Chicago Blackhawks. Unlike his fellow top prospect, Eaves actually started the year in Binghamton. The former first round pick ended up playing only 18 games though, recording 13 points in the process. After a December call-up, he never returned, and actually scored 20 goals as an NHL rookie.

Left to pick up the slack were veterans and lesser-known prospects. Most notable among them was Danny Bois. Once upon a time a Colorado Avalanche third round pick, and a former captain of the London Knights, Bois went from scoring two goals and six points to 18 goals and 35 points. An agitator with a chippy side to his game and a willingness to drop the gloves, Bois’ second year in the AHL was a great success. He displayed an all-round game and was significantly more comfortable with the pace of the game.

Part of Bois success can be attributed to spending part of the year on a checking line with former Senators picks and Binghamton signings Grant Potulny and Gregg Johnson. Both vying for NHL contracts, they also had breakout years. Potulny, a former captain at the University of Minnesota, notched 23 goals and 46 points, after scoring only ten points as a rookie the previous year. Johnson also made a significant jump. After playing all but four games in the ECHL in 2004-05, he put up 29 points and provided plenty of energy every night.

Hoping for a similar breakout season was Greg Watson, a former second round pick of the Florida Panthers. In 28 games, he put up 12 points, already a career high. Unfortunately, the aggressive third-year pro suffered a back injury and did not play a game after December.

Like on the blue line with Kudelka, Binghamton added a junior-aged forward late in the year, in the form of Cody Bass. A fiery defensive specialist with a limited offensive ability but plenty of intangibles, Bass played in nine games, scoring his first and only goal in his seventh game.


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