A Look at the Belleville Senators

belleville sens

I’ve written a few pieces about the upcoming season for the Belleville Senators (from a pre-draft look at its potential roster, to Ottawa’s history of AHL veteran signings, and finally assessing this year’s free agents). Providing content for the AHL-franchise doesn’t mean that people use it and unfortunately Trevor Shackles’ piece shows no knowledge of my content or anything else in-depth about the AHL. On the positive side of things it gives me an excuse to re-visit where the affiliate sits at the moment.

Let’s start with the most sensible thing Trevor says:

But those players [free agents] aren’t going to be the real difference makers in 2017-18. Instead it will be Ottawa’s prospects who still have a legitimate chance to become NHLers.

This is true. The AHL is dominated by veterans (high-end prospects typically get moved to the NHL), but in order for Belleville to have a good season it needs prospects to do most of the work. This pressure exists because as per usual Randy Lee has provided them with a smorgasbord of middling to poor veterans (with the possible exception of their goaltender). I will note Lee can still sign a veteran, so the final verdict on the roster awaits. Here’s the team sorted by position and roughly by expectations (veteran signings are noted):

Goaltenders (3)
Danny Taylor (1986, 7-221/04 LA, 6’0, L) FA/veteran 1 year
KHL (Sibir Novosibirsk/Medvescak) 1.93 .931
Taylor is a true journeyman, never spending more than two seasons with any particular organisation since he was drafted. His numbers from his mid-20s have been solid, having the 14th best save percentage in the KHL last year (among ‘tenders who played at least 10 games–for reference the KHL had 29 teams this past season). The last time he was in the AHL (12-13 season) his .922 placed him 8th in the league. His playoff history is unimpressive, but that’s hardly a concern at this point. If he plays up to his potential he could fill in during the inevitable injury to Craig Anderson or if Mike Condon implodes.
Chris Driedger (1994, 3-76/12, 6’4, L) RFA/1-year
AHL (Binghamton) 3.22 .900
A forgotten man in Ottawa’s system, he survived getting buried in the ECHL his rookie year and then he outplayed highly touted NCAA FA Matt O’Connor, pushing him out of the org; in the two years he’s spent in Binghamton the team has played better in front of him than whatever other prospect he was paired with, but in both those years he’s collapsed late in the season (after Binghamton was eliminated from any contention), impacting his final numbers significantly. Apparently he’s supposed to be competing against Hogberg for the backup position, but the Sens typically just say that with their minds already made up so he’ll likely be sent to the ECHL to start and from there it will depend on how the Swedish rookie performs (you can read old draft reports on him here–FC’s comment about consistency seems prescient).
Marcus Hogberg (1994, 3-78/13, 6’5, L) ELC/2-year
SHL (Linkoping) 1.89 .932
The second best young goaltender out of Sweden (behind Islander pick Linus Soderstrom), he played a few games in Binghamton at the end of the season where he got crushed. There’s a lot to like about Hogberg (big and athletic), so the question will be how long it takes him to adjust to the AHL and just what his ceiling is when he makes that adjustment. Fans need to remember that of all positions goaltenders tend to take the longest to develop, so patience is a virtue with him (you can reading scouting reports on him when he was drafted here).

Defense (10)
A note to start: Binghamton has had an atrocious blueline for years, much impeded by horrific coaching (Luke Richardson) and poor management decisions (Lee)
Thomas Chabot (1997, 1-18/15, 6’2, R) ELC/3 years
QMJHL (Saint John) 34-10-35-45
Given Ottawa’s habit of rushing prospects I don’t think he’ll suit up in the AHL, but if he does he’s a huge boon to the team and takes a lot of pressure off what otherwise is a mediocre group. While the Sens inflate expectations for prospects, he is a good one and for fans in Belleville I can only hope they get to see him. I can’t emphasize enough how he’s the only excellent puckmover on this blueline. You can read scouting reports when he was drafted here–the sainted Pronman didn’t like his defensive play.
Ben Harpur (1995, 4-108/13, 6’6, L) ELC/final year
AHL (Binghamton) 63-2-25-27
You’d be forgiven if, reading org comments, you thought Harpur was the reincarnation of Larry Robinson, Bobby Orr, etc. The big man did show improvement under Kurt Kleinendorst’s coaching (Richardson had made things worse, as you’d imagine), which was a surprise to everyone who watched him play the previous season. Can that production continue? Does he have the ability to push the offense at this level? Belleville is going to have to count on it (scouting reports–link above–saw him topping out as a 5-6 D who kills penalties)
Christian Jaros (1996, 5-139/15, 6’3, R) ELC/3 years
SHL (Lulea) 36-5-8-13
The big Slovak has spent much of his junior and all of his pro career in Sweden; the org keeps comparing him to Mark Borowiecki due to his physical play, but how truly apt that is remains to be seen. My concern with Jaros is his ability to move the puck, but at least against his peers in the SHL he showed improvement this last season (scouting reports, link above, also compared him to the Boroflop, although not universally).
Erik Burgoerfer (1988, undrafted, 6’1, R) FA/1 year
AHL (Rochester) 52-1-16-17
Every year the Sens sign someone for reasons that no one can understand and this is one of them. An NCAA grad who worked his way through the ECHL (Edmonton’s system) to the AHL. There’s nothing remarkable about his numbers at any stage of his career–he’s not a scorer, he’s not a fighter–he could trademark his career under “generic” pretty safely. The only reason I can see him being signed is that he’s a right-hand shot, otherwise this is just crickets crickets crickets
Patrick Sieloff (1994, 2-42/12 Cal, 6’1, L) RFA/qualified (ergo, 1 year)
AHL (Binghamton) 52-2-10-12
Acquired via the Chiasson deal, the former USDP player’s production flatlined in junior; that said, he’s fairly safe defensively and a “tough” player; the Sens didn’t have to qualify him (although it’s something I thought was likely), but they did, so he adds some unremarkable depth
Andreas Englund (1996, 2-40/14, 6’3, L) ELC/2 years remaining
AHL (Binghamton) 69-3-7-10
Classic Sens defensive defenseman–big, “tough”, etc. He had an adequate rookie year given those parameters, but he’s basically just a cog in the wheel–decent support if his partner is going to take care of the puck, but not much else (scouting reports largely put him in the same category of Harpur).
Macoy Erkamps (1995, undrafted, 6’0, R) ELC/2 years remaining
ECHL (Wichita) 58-6-19-25
The org has a lousy trackrecord signing FA’s out of the CHL, but got excited by Erkamps’ inflated production in his final junior year. He was among the better defensemen on Wichita’s (ECHL) abysmal blueline, but couldn’t crack Binghamton’s equally awful defensecorps, so can he be a regular in Belleville? It’s an open question.
Maxime Lajoie* (1997, 5-133/16, 6’0, L) ELC/3 years
WHL (Swift Current) 68-7-35-42
Ottawa signed him with alacrity after they drafted him (the urgency remains inexplicable); I believe they could return him to junior, but because of his DOB he’s eligible to play in Belleville. As a prospect there’s nothing inherently exciting about him, nor are there red flags, so it’s hard to guess what he’ll bring to the table as a pro (scouts‘ praise and criticism was muted when he was drafted).
Cody Donaghey (1996, FA Tor, 6’1, R) ELC/2 years remaining
QMJHL (Charlottetown/Sherbrooke) 52-11-29-40
A CHL FA that Toronto signed and then included as part of the Phaneuf trade, the Sens burned a year of his ELC to send him back to junior and as he’s not someone brought up by them he remains on the fringes of the roster–right now I’d peg him as the most likely blueliner to be sent to the ECHL; I do like that he’s primarily a puckmover.
Jordan Murray (1992, undrafted, 6’1, L) AHL deal (2 years)
CIS (U New Bruswick) 30-14-26-40
The CIS grad had a short (five game) stint with Binghamton and apparently that was enough for the org to lock him in for two years. I have no idea what the need for the longer deal was and they are free to bury him in the ECHL if they want, but it’s an odd decision. I do like that he’s an offensively minded defenseman.

Forwards (14)
Colin White (1997, 1-21/15, 6’1, R) ELC/2 years remaining
NCAA (Boston College) 35-16-17-33
The Sens quite foolishly burned off a year of his ELC; much like Chabot above there’s a good chance he never suits up in Belleville, but if he does he’s a top-six forward who adds a great deal to Belleville’s chances (scouts, link above, questioned his ability to score at the NHL-level, otherwise seeing him as a good two-way forward)
Chris DiDomenico (1989, 6-164/07 Tor, 5’11, R) FA/veteran 1 year remaining*
NLA (SCL Tigers) 48-10-28-38
The Sens signed him to a phantom 2-year deal, the first of which burned away while he played with the black aces during the playoffs; he’s an interesting player in that he failed out of the AHL and has rebuilt his career in Europe; on-faith the Sens are assuming his production in Switzerland will translate at a level he’s never experienced success in (74-2-15-17), so for the org and Belleville’s sake let’s hope they’re right as he’s being depended on for top-line production
Nick Paul (1995, 4-101/13 Dal, 6’2, L) ELC/2 years remaining
AHL (Binghamton) 72-15-22-37
A lot of people are down on Paul, including the org and people who don’t watch him play (for those who don’t watch the AHL, org comments and reality are often very different things), but he was much improved this past season (better than org-darling McCormick) and given the veteran detritus sprinkled onto the roster he’ll need to continue to grow offensively to help the team.
Max McCormick (1992, 6-171/11, 5’11, L) RFA/1 year
AHL (Binghamton) 66-21-15-36
The Sens have loved him for quite some time–a physical, grinding player–and I think in an AHL-context he’s very useful (albeit, generally misplaced on the powerplay); while I don’t see an upside (his production has flatlined), I’d expect him to get calls to Ottawa throughout the year
Ben Sexton (1991, 7-206/09 Bos, 5’11, R) FA/2 years
AHL (Albany) 54-19-12-31
Son of former Sen exec Randy, he failed out of the Boston org and was forced to sign an AHL-deal with Albany where he played a top-nine role. Somehow this translated into a two-year deal for big (in AHL terms) money–this is a huge risk as there’s every reason to fear he’ll regress to the mean.
Max Reinhart (1992, 3-64/10 Cal, 6’1, L) FA/veteran 1 year
DEL (Kolner Haie) 52-6-17-23
While a fairly pedestrian AHL player, Reinhart is someone you’d expect to fill a top-nine or top-six role, albeit bombing out in the German league is cause for alarm–at least the Sens only gave him a one-year deal.
Mike Blunden (1986, 2-43/05 Chi, 6’4, R) FA/veteran 1 year remaining
AHL (Binghamton) 67-14-15-29
A bust last year (reminded me a lot of Mark Parrish‘s year with Binghamton), but as a “tough character player” he doesn’t need to produce to get Randy Lee excited. I’d expect similar production from him this year, hopefully in the bottom-six role he’s suited too.
Francis Perron (1996, 7-190/14, 6’0, L) ELC/2 years remaining
AHL (Binghamton) 68-6-20-26
It was a quiet season for the QMJHL star, but a fairly consistent one where we can hope for growth this coming season (assuming he doesn’t get buried behind free agents). He has a lot of skill and the question is simply whether those tools can translate at this level and beyond (scouting reports, link above, decried his size & nothing else).
Kyle Flanagan (1988, undrafted, 5’9, L) AHL deal/1 year remaining
AHL (Binghamton) 68-9-20-29
I’m not sure what it is the org likes about Flanagan–I don’t think he’s a bad player, but he’s not someone they needed to commit too. That said, he can play on either the third or fourth line in a useful way at this level, so having him doesn’t hurt the team.
Filip Chlapik (1997, 2-48/15, 6’1, L) ELC/3 years
QMJHL (Charlottetown) 57-34-57-91
Was able to prove he can produce without Pittsburgh pick Daniel Sprong, although not nearly as much. His upside as a pro is up in the air and as a rookie I wouldn’t expect too much this year, but I like his presence simply because he’s a player who brings offensive creativity to the table; scouts (link above) were most concerned about his skating.
Gabriel Gagne (1996, 2-36/15, 6’5, R) ELC/2 years remaining
AHL (Binghamton) 41-2-4-6
The Sens rushed him into turning pro thinking it would help, but that was not evident at all. Even at the ECHL level he struggled to produce (19-6-5-11) meaning it’s quite difficult to know what to expect out of him this season–he was drafted as a scorer but that hasn’t manifested yet (when drafted, link above, there were red flags about him virtually everywhere).
Tyler Randell (1991, 6-176/09 Bos, 6’1, R) FA/1 year
AHL (Providence) 59-1-9-10
Coming off one of his worst AHL-seasons the Sens are paying him a hefty AHL salary (200k!) to…punch people (he’s among the most active fighters in the league). I can’t tell you how much I hate this signing–it’s so very Randy Lee and so completely pointless. The only positive is, unlike when they signed Stortini, we won’t see Randell on the powerplay and it’s just a one-year deal, but this is a guy who finishes the year as a regular healthy scratch, mark my words.
Jack Rodewald (1994, FA Tor, 6’2, R) AHL contract/2 years
AHL (Binghamton) 66-18-9-27
Signed by Toronto as a CHL FA (much like Donaghey above), an early recall from the ECHL and a two-month hot streak were enough for a two-year deal; why the Sens felt the urgency (even at the AHL-level) for such a commitment I have no idea, as his second half production (37-6-2-8) seems like what’s reasonable to expect from him (I can pat myself on the back for predicting his stay I suppose).
Vincent Dunn (1995, 5-138/13, 6’0, L) ELC/1 year remaining
ECHL (Wichita) 47-4-8-12
The Sens rushed to sign the QMJHL pest and have regretted it ever since. He’s shown no ability to play at the AHL-level and he got worse in his second ECHL season. He has a history for not getting along with teammates and coaches and it’s possible the Sens simply can’t get rid of him, but I’d loan him elsewhere before the season starts–elsewhere in the minors or Europe (scouts, link above, had all sorts of issues with him–suspension for racial epitaphs among them).

There’s room for a veteran forward on the roster, so while the goaltending and defense are set we can hope to see an offensive star (at this level) added. Here’s what we know is lost from the previous roster: Phil Varone signed with Philadelphia, Matt O’Connor signed with Nashville, Chad Nehring left for the DEL, neither Casey Bailey nor Ryan Rupert were qualified; Jason Akeson and Chris Rumble remain FAs, while I think Kleinendorst’s refusal to play Guillaume Lepine means we’re finally free of the bumbling blueliner; it’s also clear from the number of contracts above that Chris Carlisle isn’t in the picture. I’m not sure if long-time ECHL goaltender Scott Greenham will be back in that role for them, although he’s surely available. Speaking of the ECHL, we still have no word on who will be the Sens affiliate (if anyone), but presumably if they want control of their third goaltender it would have to be through an affiliation (since they’d want them to start as much as possible)–if I were to guess, I’d pick Adirondack due to its proximity and the fact that it currently has no affiliation.

Looking at the team as-is what’s notable is the lack of offense–most of that punch will have to come from prospects and it remains to be seen which can translate their production and who remains with the team.  In terms of slotting players, goaltending is pretty obvious, with Taylor starting, Hogberg backing up, and Driedger in the ECHL. Here’s how the blueline shakes out (assuming top prospects are in the AHL):
Harper-Chabot
Englund-Burgoerfer
Sieloff-Jaros
Lajoie-Erkamps
Murray-Donaghey
There’s room for quibbling here–I imagine that these pairings will be in major flux to start the season as Kleinendorst finds out what works–ensuring there’s a puckmover on each is going to be extremely difficult. I’ll emphasize that on paper this is not a good blueline–better than last year’s, certainly, but still not good.

Forwards is harder equation to figure out, since generally speaking veterans are given preference (at least to start the season). Here’s an early guess:
Paul-DiDomenico-White
McCormick-Reinhart-Sexton
Chlapik-Perron-Blunden
Flanagan-Gagne-Rodewald
Randell
While the combinations could easily be different (including which centers play wing), this is pretty close to the divide between top-six forwards and the bottom six (I’m sure the org thinks Blunden is a top-six player and that he’ll slide up if White is in Ottawa). On the positive side, Kleinendorst showed little hesitation in benching org favourites (to the benefit of the team), so while it might take a month or two he’ll get to the best possible lineup given the tools he has. To my mind this group lacks offense–arguably as much as last year’s punchless outfit–but it’s definitely a much more talented group of prospects so there’s more reason for fans to watch.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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  1. […] A Look at the Belleville Senators […]


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