Scoring goals was one of several significant problems the Hamilton Bulldogs
had in 2012-13. The few incumbents with some minor league experience up
front largely regressed while the rookies had up-and-down seasons. That
said, there were at least some positives for some of the forwards in terms of
their development which are highlighted in the second half of our season-ending
Rather than assess all of the players on AHL deals, I’m going to focus on the
ones that actually are under contract with the Canadiens. Skaters must
have played in 30 games (40%) during the season to receive a grade with the
exception of the prospects that joined late in the year; I’ll briefly touch on a
couple of those at the end of this article.
Michael Blunden – C: For anyone who has seen Blunden play with
Montreal, think for a moment about how he struggled offensively. While
you’re thinking about that, consider that Blunden was relied on as a top six
forward and had one of the better scoring touches on the Bulldogs.
Overall, he didn’t have a poor season…if his role was as a third or fourth
liner. Given that he was a go-to guy though, his year has to be classified
as a disappointment.
Michael Bournival – B-: As was the case for a lot of the rookies,
Bournival’s rookie pro campaign was a tale of two seasons. The first half
of the year his defensive game was decent but he was lost in the offensive zone.
As players got hurt or recalled though, he got placed into a scoring role and
was a lot more comfortable as the year went on. With Joey Tenute not
returning next season (he’s off to Sweden), there’s a good chance Bournival may
find himself on the top line with a prime opportunity to impress.
Gabriel Dumont – B: Before the year, I had some concerns about his
ability to play a scoring role at the AHL level. Although he wound up
leading the team in points (with 31, by far the lowest total for a team leader
in franchise history), those concerns still exist. Fortunately, he still
was the tirelessly working player despite playing in a different role which
deserves some praise; he was a reliable two-way player all season long. I
don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that he starts with Montreal next season
despite playing in the postseason but he has earned a look.
Speaking of the postseason, since Dumont didn’t play enough with Montreal
during the year to be evaluated in the NHL grades, I’ll quickly assess his
playoff performance. In Dumont’s first game, he was effectively useless
and was deservedly benched in a hurry. When he got back in the lineup
though for Games 4 and 5, he was much better and was his typical energetic self
while also contributing at the faceoff dot. Playoff Grade: C+
Brendan Gallagher – A: He was the lone junior player who didn’t need
any sort of adjustment period to play at the professional level. He was
quickly inserted into the top six and remained there the whole time he was with
the Bulldogs while playing the exact same way he did with Montreal. There
weren’t many bright spots for Hamilton this past year but Gallagher was
certainly one of them.
Patrick Holland – C+: In terms of the rookies up front, the start to
his season was the biggest disappointment for me. He just couldn’t find a
rhythm (part of the reason being he was shuffled on quite a few lines) at the
offensive end; he scored just once in the first two months of the year.
Down the stretch though, he became a much more dangerous player at both the
offensive and defensive end and was playing well enough to be called up after
the year had he not been hurt. He could be primed for a strong 2013-14
Louis Leblanc – D-: There’s no sugar coating this one, he had a
horrible sophomore season. An early ankle injury derailed any possible
momentum from spending a lot of time with Montreal at the end of 2011-12 and he
never really got going even when he was healthy. He was counted on to be
an important scorer but spent a lot of time in a defensive role and even
struggled there. There’s too much talent for him to be declared a bust but
next year will be crucial for Leblanc to say the least.
Steve Quailer – D-: After being nearly a point-per-game player in his
final NCAA year, I was hoping Quailer would be able to handle an offensive role
with the Bulldogs. Instead, despite being one of the older forwards on the
team, he toiled in the bottom six and provided very little. Despite his
larger stature, he didn’t play a particularly physical style either. Next
year is make or break for him – he either takes some major strides forward or he
likely won’t be getting a qualifying offer.
Many prospects were given a look down the stretch and for the most part, they
played relatively well. A handful of youngsters got into at least nine
games, here are some thoughts on those players.
Olivier Archambault – C: His ten game stint was a microcosm of his
junior career. There were times where his skill level stood out in a
positive manner, and there were times where he was more or less invisible out
there. I would imagine the Habs were somewhat on the fence about signing
him by June 1st and I’m not sure his performance made the decision any easier.
I expect Montreal to push for him to take a minor league deal (and at least
temporarily relinquishing his NHL rights – if he plays well, sign him at this
time next year) but if he balks at that, I’m not sure he’ll get his entry-level
Charles Hudon – A-: He followed up a very good junior season with a
strong few weeks in Hamilton. He quickly earned the trust of the coaching
staff and was used in a top line role plus powerplay and penalty kill time.
There were moments where he was a bit overmatched but that was to be expected;
he was the youngest player in the league. That said, it was a positive
ending to a very impressive year for the 5th rounder.
Danny Kristo – C+: After a great finish to his NCAA career, everyone
was hopeful he’d step in and light it up with Hamilton. That didn’t happen
although Kristo didn’t play too poorly by any stretch. His offensive
skills were above average and he managed to get some quality chances while his
skating obviously was another asset. He does, however, need to bulk up to
better deal with the bigger and stronger defenders. I wouldn’t be
penciling him into a spot with Montreal for next October yet but he should spend
some time with the big club next year.
Brady Vail – B: He was primarily used as a fourth line centre which
gave him next to no chance of doing anything offensively (call it the
Hagel-Stortini curse). He was, however, strong on the defensive side of
the puck and regularly played shorthanded. He was critiqued at times for
bailing on plays too easily but all in all, he played his role well.