Since their rebirth in 2002-03, the Binghamton Senators have alternated between seasons of great success (winning their division) and mediocrity (scrapping to get over .500). The 2006-07 season marked the end of that trend. With a healthy mix of returning players and new faces, the outlook was optimistic heading into the season. Unfortunately, things just never clicked and the B-Sens sputtered to a dismal 23-48-9 record, dead last in the AHL. The major black mark on the dreadful year was the league-worst 323 goals against, 52 goals more than the next worst team.
As the B-Sens gear up to embark on their sixth season in the AHL, they will have a completely revamped look, literally as even their uniforms have changed. During the off-season, GM Bryan Murray hired his nephew Tim Murray to be the assistant GM and oversee operations in Binghamton. He also brought in former Kootenay Ice bench boss Cory Clouston to replace Dave Cameron as the head coach. The two-time WHL coach of the year boasts a sparkling .637 winning percentage in his five-year WHL career. Finally, the turnover rate among the players on the roster was well over 80 percent. Not counting the late-season additions to the team, Binghamton will have just three returning members from 2006-07. This is probably for the best, as a team that produces just 55 points in an 80-game schedule probably shouldn’t stick together for long. The club will be powered by an injection of high-profile Ottawa Senators prospects, potentially including first-round picks Nick Foligno, and Brian Lee, as well as a couple of talented ex-Russian Super League forwards Alexander Nikulin and Ilya Zubov.
Binghamton has not seen consistent goaltending since Ray Emery left the club in 2004-05. Since then, they have seen four different netminders patrol the crease. In 2006-07, Kelly Guard and Jeff Glass were supposed to provide stability between the pipes. Unfortunately, neither were able to hold the fort or make up for the abysmal defense. Both sported sub .900 save percentages and the team’s GAA was a nasty 4.04.
With Guard moving on, an opportunity is opened up to University of Wisconsin product Brian Elliott, Ottawa’s top goaltending prospect. Selected 291st overall, second to last in the 2003 draft, Elliott gives reason for optimism. His NCAA numbers were fantastic and he played well in 2007 NHL pre-season action. He also played in eight games at the end of 2006-07 after his Badgers were eliminated from post-season contention. Elliott is a big butterfly-style goalie who covers a lot of net. He will most likely be the starting goaltender, while Glass, one of the few returning Senators, will provide backup support. A former CHL Goaltender of the Year, Glass has struggled in his pro career thus far and will look to bounce back and return to the form that saw him backstop Canada to a gold medal at the 2005 WJCs. He is entering the final year of his contract.
With an improved defense, the Elliott-Glass tandem, though unproven, should provide adequate goaltending for Binghamton. In the event that either is called up for duty in Ottawa, one of the goalies currently trying out for the team could be called into action. Ryan Nie, a former Plymouth Whaler, has been playing in the UHL with Kalamazoo. Twenty-five-year-old Joel Martin has limited AHL experience and spent last season in the ECHL.
Inconsistency between the pipes was a significant reason for Binghamton’s struggles in 2006-07, but the netminders received very little support from the defense in front of them. The Baby Sens allowed an average of 35 per game against and there was not a single defender on the squad who had a positive plus/minus rating. Defense is definitely something that needs improvement and the 2007-08 team will have a completely new corps. Most notably, former captain Neil Komadoski, and regulars Charlie Cook and Neil Petruic have moved on.
In the mix for blueline action with the Baby Sens are Greg Amadio, Matt Carkner, Mattias Karlsson, Matt Kinch, Tomas Kudelka, Brian Lee, Lawrence Nycholat, Derek Smith, and Geoff Waugh. The group is loaded with offensive-minded, two-way defensemen, but there is no shortage of physical, veteran presence as well.
It is expected that Brian Lee will be one of the top rearguards, likely to see time as a pointman on the power play. He was one of the final cuts from Ottawa training camp and is considered a bluechip prospect. Drafted ninth overall in 2005, Lee represents Ottawa’s only top 10 pick since 2002. He brings a smooth, puck-moving, two-way game to the blue line.
The other Ottawa draft picks are also expected to be significant components of the Baby Sens blue line. Tomas Kudelka is the only defender to see time with Binghamton in 2006-07, to the tune of 11 games at the end of the season when his Lethbridge Hurricanes were eliminated from WHL playoff contention. Another bright puck-moving, two-way type of rearguard, Kudelka is another power-play option and will likely be in the top four. Mattias Karlsson, currently sidelined with an injury, brings an offensive style game and possesses the ability to quarterback a power play. He may be a little more raw than Lee and Kudelka, perhaps making him more suitable as a third pair depth defenseman at even strength.
During the off-season, the Senators signed Belleville, Ontario native Derek Smith. Smith was never drafted and it wasn’t until his graduate year (2006-07) at Lake Superior State that he started to get noticed. He anchored the Lakers blueline all the way to the CCHA semi-finals, was named Best Offensive Defenseman, and was selected to the All-CCHA Second All-Star team. Turning pro, Smith is expected to step right in and be a solid offensive style defenseman for Binghamton.
Filling the role of veteran presence and expected to help stabilize the blueline are veterans Greg Amadio, Matt Carkner, and Matt Kinch. Never drafted, Amadio has played with Manitoba, Grand Rapids, Iowa, and Portland. He is a tough customer and reliable in his own zone. Carkner was originally drafted by Montreal in 1999, but has developed in the San Jose Sharks system. He has 390 games of AHL experience and over 1,100 career penalty minutes. His veteran presence and physical style will be a welcome addition to the young and inexperienced Binghamton blue line. An offensive-minded defenseman in junior, Kinch has since settled in as a stable two-way defender. He spent the last two seasons playing in Germany. The former Buffalo Sabres draft pick (1999) also spent time with Hartford in the AHL, totaling 173 games. He returns to North America and could be an important member of the blueline corps.
Others who could see duty on defense are Geoff Waugh and Lawrence Nycholat. Waugh is currently on a try-out contract. He was a Dallas Stars 2002 draft pick, but was not signed after graduation. He spent the last season in the ECHL. Nycholat is most likely to be riding the bus back and forth from Ottawa. Nycholat would be a top defenseman for Binghamton when he does suit up.
Offense was not the biggest concern for Binghamton in 2006-07, but there was certainly plenty of room for improvement. The team scored a total of 225 goals, tying them for 20th in the league. The leading scorers were Jeff Heerema, Andrew Ebbett, and Josh Hennessy. Of the three, only Hennessy is still in the Ottawa system. Danny Bois is another returning forward and Bobby Robbins is currently on a try-out contract and could crack the lineup as well. After that, it will be all new players, although they will have one other familiar face back in the fold.
Binghamton will have no shortage of Ottawa prospects with NHL potential. These young players will be watched very closely and are should provide the bulk of the scoring. Most recently added were Alexander Nikulin and Ilya Zubov. The former Russian Super League regulars have decided to give the AHL a shot rather than jumping ship like their predecessor Alexei Kaigorodov. Both had tremendous training camps with Ottawa and were among the final cuts. With plenty of skill and talent, they will likely be the catalysts for offensive production. It’s possible that one or both will not spend the full season in the AHL as they will be top candidates to receive calls when injuries occur.
Shawn Weller was one of the first rookies to be cut from camp and is expected to spend a full season with the B-Sens. Ottawa’s third round pick in 2004 spent the past three seasons at Clarkson University and has developed into a solid prospect. As a rookie, expectations are not too high, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the 6’1, 190-pound winger becomes a regular contributor to the offense.
Other Ottawa prospects include Cody Bass, who figures to be a checking line forward and top penalty killer, and Jim McKenzie, a product of Michigan State University likely to be used as a depth forward.
To add scoring depth to the organization, the Senators signed Tyler Donati to an AHL contract. Donati was never drafted and played out his junior eligibility with the Belleville Bulls, his third OHL team. He was a prolific scorer at the junior level, scoring 131 goals in 252 games, and has already demonstrated those skills can translate to the pro-level. He will likely be a top line forward and power-play specialist.
In an effort to vastly improve the team’s depth up front, Ottawa signed several veteran forwards with AHL experience. One of the signings was former Senator Denis Hamel, who returns to Binghamton after a one-year hiatus. After spending most of the 2006-07 season in the NHL with Ottawa, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, the 30-year-old will be expected to provide scoring, as well as veteran leadership especially for the young prospects with NHL potential. He figures to be a top line go-to forward.
Tough-guy Danny Bois returns to Binghamton for a fourth consecutive season. He is among several other candidates to see time in Ottawa if injuries occur, specifically to either of Chris Neil or Brian McGrattan. Bois has contributed 34 goals and 666 penalty minutes in 216 games for the B-Sens. Originally a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, Bois is now the longest standing B-Senator and will be looked upon to provide physical play and leadership.
Another forward Ottawa signed to provide depth for the organization is journeyman Niko Dimitrakos. The 28-year-old former San Jose Shark has 158 games of NHL experience and 124 games of AHL experience. Dimitrakos remains on the Ottawa roster for the time being as he recovers from injury, but once healthy, it is expected he will be assigned to Binghamton. Since he is waiver eligible, it is unlikely he would get recalled as Ottawa would be billed half his annual salary were he to be claimed.
More veteran experience arrived when Justin Mapletoft cleared waivers and joined Binghamton. The 26-year-old former NY Islander spent the past two seasons in Europe, playing in the Swedish Elite League, the Finnish Elite League, and most recently, the German elite league. Pre-lockout, he was a regular traveler between New York and Bridgeport, suiting up for 38 NHL games, and 240 AHL games. He registered 130 points and 217 penalty minutes in his AHL career.
Rounding out the forwards is MMA-trained Jeremy Yablonski. Tough as nails and weighing in at 6’1, 235 lbs, Yablonski is a beast who packs a very mean punch. He has spent his hockey career moving mostly between the AHL (99 games) and the ECHL (81 games).
There are two other forwards that could potentially see some time with Binghamton. Both would add a very substantial offensive element to the team if they suited up. Josh Hennessy was the third leading scorer on the 2006-07 B-Sens and would instantly be a top line forward relied upon for offense. He currently remains with Ottawa recovering from a shoulder injury. Nick Foligno was expected to be a top forward for Binghamton but instead has earned himself a roster spot with Ottawa out of camp. The injuries to Dean McAmmond and Mike Fisher opened up extra space for him to stay with the team for now. He has been one of the most impressive young forwards in the NHL through pre-season.
In sum, the Binghamton Senators should be much better this season. Easy to say after a dismal 2006-07 campaign that saw 323 goals against and just 23 victories, but they have improved in all areas, bringing in a good mix of veteran and young skilled players that should make them more competitive, tough to play against, and fun to watch. Everything is changed, from the head coach, to the starting goaltender, to the sixth defenseman, and the club bears little resemblance to the previous squad.
The season kicks off in Binghamton on Saturday, Oct. 6, when they will host the Albany River Rats.
Key: player, position, age, height, weight
Greg Amadio, D, 26, 6’2, 225
Cody Bass, C, 20, 6’0, 203
Danny Bois, RW, 24, 6’0, 200
Matt Carkner*, D, 27, 6’4, 230
Niko Dimitrakos*, R, 28, 5’10, 193
Tyler Donati, RW, 21, 5’10, 180
Brian Elliott*, G, 22, 6’2, 202
Nick Foligno*, LW, 19, 6’0, 201
Jeff Glass, G, 22, 6’3, 206
Denis Hamel, LW, 30, 6’1, 204
Josh Hennessy*, C, 22, 6’0, 192
Chaz Johnson, RW, 23, 6’1, 215
Mattias Karlsson*, D, 22, 6’2, 191
Matt Kinch, D, 27, 5’10, 185
Tomas Kudelka, D, 20, 6’3, 195
Brian Lee, D, 20, 6’2, 205
Justin Mapletoft, C, 26, 6’1, 180
Joel Martin**, G, 25, 6’1, 185
Greg Mauldin, LW, 25, 5’11, 180
Jim McKenzie, RW, 23, 6’2, 210
Ryan Nie**, G, 6’1, 165
Alexander Nikulin, C, 22, 6’1, 192
Lawrence Nycholat, D, 28, 6’0, 200
Bobby Robbins**, C, 26, 6’1, 220
Derek Smith, D, 23, 6’2, 185
Geoff Waugh**, D, 24, 6’4, 215
Jeremy Yablonski, RW, 27, 6’1, 235
Ilya Zubov, C, 20, 6’0, 199
* denotes player currently injured or on Ottawa Senators roster
** denotes player currently on try-out basis
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