Binghamton Senators 2006-07 season preview

By Sean Keogh

In the four years since their rebirth in 2002-03, the Binghamton Senators have alternated between winning the division and hovering around the .500 mark. History, short as it may be, would suggest the “Baby Sens” will have a strong 2006-07 season.

The 2005-06 version of the Senators was the least successful thus far, finishing with a 35-37-4 record for 78 points and fifth in the East division. Despite losing almost all of its firepower from the previous season, the club provided enough offense to be competitive, but had major problems stopping its opponents. The club gave up 295 goals, third most in the entire league.

Heading into the 2006-07 season, the club has a nice mix of returning players and new faces.

Goaltending

Last season, after three years of strong and sometimes spectacular play from Ray Emery, the club went into the season with a new starting netminder. Billy Thompson was supposed to be a capable starter after pushing Emery the year before. Instead he imploded, registering a GAA of 4.14.

The beneficiary of that was Kelly Guard, who enters this season as the likely starter after being thrust into that role for most of last year. Signed as a free agent after two spectacular junior seasons in Kelowna, Guard may not be the flashiest prospect in the organization, but he can be a solid starting goaltender in the AHL.

Pushing Guard for the starting spot will be Jeff Glass, arguably the organization’s top goaltending prospect at the moment. The 2004-05 CHL Goaltender of the Year played in six AHL games last year on call-ups from the ECHL. Although he is likely slated for the back-up role to begin the season, he is talented enough to push for more playing time as the season progresses.

Defensemen

Although the inconsistent play between the pipes, especially early in the season, contributed to the defensive struggles, the blue line provided little support at the same time. The club’s five top blueliners from 2004-05 did not return, and no top prospects were assigned to Binghamton to replace them. Filip Novak inherited the top job last year and had a breakthrough season as a result, but was not retained by the Senators organization over the summer. The good news is that this year, one of those five defensemen from 2004-05 has returned.

Perhaps the top defenseman guaranteed to play in Binghamton is Andy Hedlund. After a one-year sojourn with Krefeld of the German Elite League, the 6’3 215lbs Minnesota native returned to the Senators organization hoping for a better chance at a call-up to the big club this year.

Another valuable veteran that could suit up for Binghamton is the rugged Jamie Allison. With nearly 400 NHL games under his belt, the 31-year-old who hasn’t played in the AHL since 1998-99, will likely see at least some time this year. Injuries aside, he sits eighth on the depth chart among blueliners in Ottawa.

The other major addition to the blue line is prospect Michal Barinka, who is both young, but also experienced at the professional level, having played three seasons with the Norfolk Admirals. Acquired from Chicago in a trade over the summer, he is easily the top defensive prospect in Binghamton.

A physical specimen at 6’3 and 221lbs, Barinka skated in 25 NHL games last year, but likely won’t see that much time in Ottawa this year. He has to improve his decision-making and mobility, but with his potential and legitimate professional experience, he might play on a top pairing with Hedlund.

Three blueliners return from last year’s club, Tomas Malec, Neil Komadoski, and Neil Petruic, although only Malec saw regular ice time last year. Malec, who will once again play top four minutes, was once a top prospect, but has been plagued by inconsistency.

Komadoski and Petruic enter the 2006-07 season just hoping for regular duty. One of the two will likely be in the line-up each night, so they could be competing against each other for playing time.

Komadoski enters his third year in Binghamton, although he has yet to dress in more than 41 games in a single season because of a lack of mobility. Petruic actually dressed in 51 games last year, and improved as the year went along. Neither player is likely to see big minutes this year.

The club’s other blueliner is newcomer Charlie Cook, not to be confused with the club’s fifth round pick in 2003 Tim Cook. Charlie played last year with the Philadelphia Phantoms, putting up 15 points in 66 games, and will compete for top four minutes this year.

Forwards

The high point of the 2005-06 year for Binghamton was the tremendous season that Denis Hamel had, notching 56 goals to tie for the league lead. As a result of that career year, Hamel is looking at potentially starting the season in Ottawa if he’s not claimed on waivers. There is a legitimate chance that this year Binghamton will begin life after Hamel.

On the other hand, up until the last couple of weeks, the thought of Alexei Kaigorodov playing in the AHL was relevant only to the specifics of his release from his Russian Super League team and contract with the Senators organization. After his difficulty adjusting to the North American game in training camp and pre-season, it is possible that the gifted Kaigorodov could suit up in Binghamton. This would likely be a tremendous boost for the club, but considering the complexity of his situation, it remains unlikely.

The top prospect in Binghamton, if not its offensive leader, will be Josh Hennessy. Acquired along with Barinka in a trade earlier in the year, Hennessy led the Cleveland Barons in all three major offensive categories last year as a rookie. He notched 63 points after four good years with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL.

A natural center with outstanding speed and good offensive ability, he should build on his rookie campaign in 2006-07. He will be the team’s top center, giving him better linemates than last year, and allowing him to further develop his playmaking ability.

The other notable prospect in Binghamton will be Arttu Luttinen. The stocky Finn signed an entry-level contract this summer after a breakout campaign with HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League. He scored 18 goals and 44 points in 56 games, and thrived by playing a North American style of game.

Although he failed to make a splash in training camp with Ottawa, he should be able to contribute at the AHL level considering his success as a professional in Finland. Luttinen should be a winger on one of the top two lines, and could be perfect for the front of the net on the power play.

Danny Bois, Grant Potulny and Bobby Robins are all players who will suit up for Binghamton just as they did last year. Bois and Potulny are valuable as checking line players who can chip in offensively as well. Robins played 16 games last year after graduating from UMass-Lowell, and intrigued the organization enough to earn a contract.

Also added from college was Andrew Ebbett. The Vernon, B.C. native had a productive four-year career at the University of Michigan including 42 points last year as a senior. He was a consistent all-round producer in college and should bring a similar game to Binghamton.

The club is bolstered by some solid veterans including returnees Jeff Heerema and Cory Pecker, as well as newcomers Serge Payer, Ryan Vesce and Brian Maloney.

Payer played for the club in 2003-04 and spent the entire 2005-06 season in the NHL with the Florida Panthers. He will be in tough to stick in Ottawa however and will likely provide his usual strong two-way game and leadership for most of the year in Binghamton.

The organization signed Vesce over the summer after he put up 67 points as a rookie for the Springfield Falcons last year. Undersized but talented, he has received little fanfare heading into the season, but could be a significant contributor offensively.

Outlook

There is reason for optimism heading into the 2006-07 season in Binghamton. Although the potential loss of Hamel would hurt, the club is strong up front, with both skill and good depth. They should be able to ice a team capable of putting up goals. The question will once again be ability to stop them.

On the blue line, almost all of the seven projected blueliners including Allison have good size, but mobility and offensive ability may be a concern. There is no one with the pure offensive ability of the departed Novak. A good quarterback for the power play may have to be found among the forwards.

Finally, in between the pipes Guard still has a lot to prove, but healthy competition from Glass should help him build on his starting experience last year. It is unlikely though that either will be able to play at a level that would be able to compensate for sub-par defensive play.

Overall, the club should once again be competitive, particularly with Dave Cameron as head coach. The organization has done a good job of signing good AHL players in the absence of any true top prospects aside from Hennessy and perhaps Kaigorodov, but it’s unlikely the club will have a season like the 2002-03 or 2004-05 Binghamton teams.


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