After covering the junior, college and European prospects, this article will cover the pro prospects in Hamilton of the AHL and Long Beach of the ECHL. This season the Canadiens will enter the fourth year of a five year deal (plus the Habs have an additional five year option) and in the previous three season the Hamilton Bulldogs have made the playoffs each year and even came with one game of winning the Calder Cup Championships. Last season the Canadiens entered into a new affiliation in the ECHL when they signed a one year contract with Long Beach, a team coming off a brutal season as one of the worst in the league. In their first season with the Habs, Long Beach was able to turn things around and became of the top teams in the league and at one point were first overall. Recently the Canadiens resigned with Long Beach in the hopes to continue the successful development of prospects. Here’s a look at how the farm teams could shape up this season.
Andrei Kostitsyn– RW/LW. Kostitsyn will have the eyes and ears of most Hab fans this season, after a somewhat disappointing rookie year although he did show a good deal of improvement in his defensive game and play without the puck. The bulk of Hamilton’s success this season can be placed on Kostitsyn’s shoulders, as he will need to pick up the offensive production by a large margin, due to the loss of the teams top scorer the past two seasons in Tomas Plekanec and the likely loss of Chris Higgins. The 20 year old Kostitsyn will hopefully be more effective at using his teammates and a better command of the English language to boot.
Yann Danis– G. While it appears Danis will start the year in the NHL, it’s very unlikely he will end the season there. With Huet due back sometime in November, Danis should be returned to the Bulldogs and they will be very glad to get him back. In his rookie year Danis was considered one of the top rookie netminders in the league and many would consider him the teams MVP. Not surprising considering his excellent career in the NCAA, as one of the top three players in the country during his senior year, a record setting season for him while at Brown University. Danis should see a lot of starts this season, and will no doubt need to be at his best with the young and inexperienced team in front of him.
Corey Locke– C. Locke enjoyed a very successful rookie year which saw him in the top ten in league scoring for rookies at seventh overall. After a truly outstanding career in the OHL that included be named the CHL Player of the Year as well as two time OHL Player of the Year. Locke is scary with the puck in the offensive zone, and will need to be this year with the loss of so many key players. If Locke can show that he can be effective during the more physical games, he should see a great deal of ice time on the top lines with more skilled wingers, which will be a treat for fans to see. Hopefully he’s worked hard this summer on his physical training, it would help his game if he can get stronger and not get as tired as the long season wears on.
Andrew Archer– RD. Archer struggled to get ice time during his rookie year and even spent a few games in the ECHL, but this past season he slowly improved as the season went on to become a very solid defensemen. Coach Jarvis and assistant coach Ron Wilson must have been more confident in Archer’s game, as his ice time increased as the season wore on. This year will be a big one for Archer, who will likely see a lot of ice time. Could help him if he learns to use his size even more, with his big frame and long reach he can make it tough on forwards, especially when he takes the body.
Duncan Milroy– RW. Milroy showed some improvement over a disappointing rookie year, but still has not come close to the offensive success he had during his junior career which helped him and his team win the WHL championship where Milroy was unstoppable. This year Milroy will need to get more involved in the game physically and offensively. With the loss of many players, Milroy should see a increase in time, as he could end up on the top line. He’ll need to step it up a few levels to show he’s willing to compete every night and be a player that can create things for himself.
Jonathan Ferland– RW. Ferland has struggled to stay healthy, after a freak injury cost him a chunk of the season, but this year he hopefully will be 100% and ready to pick up some of the offensive slack. A hard working player, does some of his best work along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net. A breakout year from Ferland would be great to see and much needed for the Bulldogs.
J-P Cote– LD. Cote once again led the team in plus minus for the second year in a row, and currently sits at the top of the Bulldogs all time plus minus leaders. Not bad for a guy who was signed by Hamilton after trying out for the Canadiens at their rookie camp. Cote played so well he earned himself a contract from the Canadiens, after being let go by the Leafs who drafted him in the last round of the 2000 entry draft. This year Hamilton will need a big season from Cote, who is usually one of the hardest working players on the ice.
Michael Lambert– LW. Lambert did not have much success in his rookie year this past season, and even spent the end of the year in the ECHL where did find his offensive touch during the playoffs with Long Beach. This should be a big year for Lambert who needs to show why the Canadiens drafted and signed him and Hamilton will surely need him to step up the offensive efforts. Lambert has an impressive mix of size, skating, speed and a rocket of a shot but needs to get more involved physically as well as learning to use his teammates better as well as a more consistent efforts on the ice.
James Sanford– RD. It’s unclear at this time what will happen with Sanford who enjoyed a successful rookie year in the ECHL and AHL this past season. Sanford was named to the ECHL All Star team but never got to play due to a call up to the AHL where he never looked back and proved to be a secret weapon during shootouts with a perfect record. Sanford was signed in October of ‘04, so he will need to be resigned, but after a solid rookie year and a major lack of depth on defense in Hamilton, one would think he will be back again this season. The smallish defensemen showed he can score at the AHL but will need to improve his defensive game, which will likely come with experience, but should see him paired with someone who plays more of a safer, steady game.
With the remaining pro prospects, it remains to be seen where they will play this season in either Hamilton or Long Beach, as a strong camp could go a long ways in helping them secure a spot. In addition with the arrival of up to seven players from the Oilers organization, it makes it even more difficult to say who will be able to earn a roster spot.
Jaroslav Halak– G. It appears as though there will be a tough battle at camp for who will take one of the roster spots in Hamilton, assuming Yann Danis is in the NHL to start the season. With the Oilers likely sending one goalie, Halak could show he deserves a shot at playing for the Bulldogs. Halak has an unorthodox style of netminding, but it works for him on most nights, which could put him in Hamilton this year, at least to start the season.
Cory Urquhart– C/W. Urquhart will be looking to make the Bulldogs roster again this year, after playing one game for them last season during his rookie year. After a disappointing season with Long Beach of the ECHL, Urquhart will need to come to camp ready to get his nose dirty and play a much more intense overall game as well as improving his physical tools such as body strength, mobility and physical play. After sitting the bench during the ECHL playoffs and not recording a single point in six playoff games, hopefully Urquhart has worked hard this summer to earn a spot with Hamilton full time. The Dogs will need his offensive skills, as Urquhart has a very good wrist shot, plus good on ice vision and offensive instincts. The problem for him has been a total lack of any sort of physical game as well as lacking both upper and lower body strength. If he can improve upon his weaknesses he could surprise fans with his offensive abilities.
Maxim Lapierre– C/W. Lapierre stands a good chance of making the Bulldogs, as he plays the kind of game coaches love to see from their players. He gives it his all every shift, plays a high intensity game, is a team player willing to do whatever it takes to win. Will take the body, skates well with good speed, will drop the gloves if needed and can contribute on offense. Should see some 4th line duty and PK, assuming all goes well at camp.
Olivier Michaud– G. Michaud is at an important place in his career as he has had his ups and downs over the years and needs to show he can play at a top level consistently. This past season Michaud faired much better in the ECHL then he did during his rookie season, but playing on a much better team helped for sure. What was disappointing to see was the fact that he could not hold onto the starting job that was given to him when the leagues top goalie, Chris Madden was loaned to the AHL. After the team fell out of first place and dropped to the fourth position, in fears of not making the playoffs, the team went out and acquired Sebastien Centomo, which all but spelled the end of Michaud’s season. But the injury to Huet could be a break for Michaud if he can step in and show he should get a spot in Hamilton as he has played in fourteen games for the Bulldogs already.
Jimmy Bonneau– LW. Bonneau has made great strides during his career in the QMJHL, going from a feared tough guy to actually becoming a hockey player that could help his team win games. Under the coaching of ex Habs bench boss Alain Vigneault, Bonneau has learned to put the team in front of himself, learning when not to drop the gloves and concern himself with winning the game instead of settling a personal score. It will be very tough for Bonneau to make the Bulldogs if Ivanans is on the team, but if not a season in the ECHL would be good for him and scary for teams that play the Ice Dogs when they have to face a tandem of Bonneau and the QMJHL’s pim leader in Sheldon Wentzel who will be a rookie this year for Long Beach.
Also to correct an error from the first prospect preview, somehow I missed Mikhail Grabovsky.
Mikhail Grabovsky– LW/C. Grabovsky has changed teams this year joining Andrei Markov’s former team Dynamo one of the top clubs in the RSL. The loss of star player Alex Ovechkin forced the team to try and replace some of offensive production they lost so the team went out and signed Grabovsky after a very strong sophomore season in the RSL. Grabovsky will likely see more ice time and have better linemates this year, so hopefully we can expect him to enjoy another very solid season. Grabovsky is already one of the fastest Hab prospects, with speed to burn and a very good set of hands. Fans will jump out of there seat when he’s on the ice, as he knows how to make things happen in the offensive zone.