Belleville Senators Roster Speculation/Analysis

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It’s still early, but I wanted to take a look at the Belleville roster and speculate on the lineup–feel free to suggest alternatives or point out where I may have gone wrong in my analysis/assumptions.

We’ll start with veteran players on the team, as a block of three were recently signed/re-signed (following earlier signings: Agozzino, Aberg, and Sherwood and Heatherington). This group joins Shaw, who enters the final year of a two-year deal, and Bishop, who signed an early extension. Let’s take a look at what they bring to the team, keeping in mind I’m calling them ‘veterans’ loosely, not the specific sense of AHL rules (so those players who are no longer prospects); those who qualify as AHL veterans are in blue, with the Sens having filled all their available slots; I have their age/s throughout the season noted.

Veterans

Forwards

Andrew Agozzino LW/C, 30-31, San Diego 31-13-14-27 0.77 (AHL career 0.77)
The undrafted OHLer has played over 500 AHL games and his career average is exactly what he posted this past season. He’s only had cups of coffee in the NHL and, barring a rash of injuries, should be with the BSens all season. I think he’s an excellent addition–you need proven scorers on your team to take the pressure off prospects.

Pontus Aberg RW/LW, 28, KHL Traktor 49-10-13-23 0.68 (AHL career 0.68)
The former 2nd-round pick played a full NHL season in 18-19, but wasn’t able to hold a roster spot with Toronto and departed to the KHL. His prior AHL season was more productive than his average (0.80) and, like Agozzino above, he’s someone the BSens can rely on for scoring.

Logan Shaw RW/C, 29, 24-6-9-15 0.62 (AHL career 0.49)
Returning to the BSens for the final year of his contract, the former 3rd-rounder had roughly three full NHL seasons (15-16 to 17-18) before getting transitioned out of the league by Winnipeg. The last two years he’s struggled to stay healthy; at this level he provides second line levels of offense and is unlikely to be recalled to Ottawa.

Kole Sherwood RW, 24-25, Cleveland 9-3-1-4 0.38 (AHL career 0.38)
The undrafted former OHLer failed out of the Columbus system and I’m not sure what he adds to the BSens other than ‘truculence’. His best offensive season in the AHL was his first (18-19) and he’s struggled to stay healthy. This is a bottom-six forward that, besides sandpaper, doesn’t add much (he’s one of three head-scratching yet typical signings by the org).

Clark Bishop CL, 25-26, 8-2-3-5 0.62 (AHL career 0.31)
The former 5th-rounder has had an unremarkable minor league career, but the Sens clearly like him. I assume the appeal is his defensive play, since nothing else stands out. I expect him to center the bottom six.

Scott Sabourin RW, 29, Toronto 6-2-0-2 0.33 (AHL career 0.25)
A player who needs no introduction, the Sens signed him to a two-way deal and we know exactly what his role is.

Tyrell Goulbourne LW/RW, 27-28, Henderson 18-1-1-2 0.11 (AHL career 0.20)
The former 3rd-rounder’s career has been declining the last two seasons and he’s survived by being ‘truculent’ (yes, I will beat that word to death). Assuming he can stay healthy, he’ll plug away on the fourth line as an agitator. [I was doing some research after I posted this and found a video of Goulbourne getting destroyed fighting former Sens prospect Michael Sdao–clearly he’s game to fight, but that’s not his forte]

Defense

Colby Williams DR, 26-27, 27-3-7-10 0.37 (AHL career 0.26)
The former 6th-rounder enjoyed a career year with the BSens (in terms of points-per-game)–I think his career average serves as a better idea of what he’s capable of. His prior minor league seasons were all very similar, except that he’s been injury-prone the last three.

Zac Leslie DL, 27-28, Stockton 30-3-7-10 0.33 (AHL career 0.35)
The former 6th-rounder has settled in as a career AHLer (no cups of coffee in the NHL), putting up solid if unspectacular numbers. He’s someone who can play the powerplay, but you wouldn’t want him to run it.

Dillon Heatherington DL, 26, KHL Barys 41-2-5-7 0.17 (AHL career 0.28)
Like Aberg above, the former 2nd-rounder dipped his toes in the KHL before returning to the minors. Always billed as a safe, stay-at-home blueliner, his limitations have meant that he’s only played 5 NHL games (despite his pedigree and size). He’s a good fit for a partner on the right side who wants to gamble.

Veteran Summary

The forwards add offensive depth and sandpaper, but the blueline is seemingly focused on defensive reliability and veteran savvy. While I think several of these signings are in line with typical Pierre Dorion flailings (cf), a few also make sense, which is a marked improvement. With that out of the way, let’s look at younger players.

Prospects

Forwards

Angus Crookshank LW, 22, 19-5-11-16 0.84 (NCAA career 0.70)
The 5th-round pick left the NCAA early and had an excellent, albeit short, rookie season. He will be leaned on to continue that production, but with Agozzino there to take some of the pressure off.

Yegor Sokolov RW/LW, 21, 35-15-10-25 0.71 (QMJHL career 1.04)
A good rookie season for the 2nd-round pick, who will looked at to improve on his offensive pruduction (with Aberg being his support in that respect); I think he’s more likely to be called-up than Crookshank (due to size/experience).

Logan Brown CL, 23-24, 13-2-7-9 0.69 (AHL career 0.84)
The former 1st-round pick is an unsigned RFA and it’s unclear whether the Sens wish to keep him or not. As a 6’6 playmaking center, I think it’s crazy for Ottawa to give up on him, but as someone picked by Bob Lowes instead of Trent Mann, I’m not sure they feel attached to him. It’s also not clear that they’d put him back in Belleville if they kept him–I think it unlikely (what does he really have to prove at this level?), but I’m including him since it remains a possibility.

Shane Pinto CR, 20-21, NHL Ottawa 12-1-6-7 0.58 (NCAA career 0.98)
The 2nd-rounder turned pro after his sophomore season and despite good production in his short debut, I think it’s possible he’ll play significant time in the AHL–the Sens could opt to take the pressure off and let him develop in Belleville (ala Josh Norris). If so he’ll get top minutes as the first or second-line center.

Parker Kelly CL/RW, 22, 33-10-8-18 0.54 (WHL career 0.69)
The WHL FA signee had a much better sophomore season after an underwhelming rookie year. Given the lineup, he looks like a third line winger who will do some penalty killing and perhaps second unit powerplay time.

Cole Reinhardt LW, 21-22, 33-6-6-12 0.36 (WHL career 0.56)
I’m not sure what to make of the 6th-rounder, but scoring does not seem like it’s on the menu, so I’d expect him to circulate on the bottom lines.

Mark Kastelic CR/RW, 22, 31-4-6-10 0.32 (WHL career 0.73)
The 5th-rounder, an imagined Zack Smith clone, had a middling rookie year (Smith’s rookie year was 0.61). Like the previous two prospects, I expect him to eat up minutes on the bottom lines.

Roby Jarventie LW, 19, Liiga Ilves 48-14-11-25 0.52 (U20 career 0.73)
The 2nd-round Finnish forward played briefly with Belleville at the end of the season and, while his contract can slide, it seems like he’ll return to the BSens (he’s not on Ilves’ roster for the upcoming season). It’s difficult to project his production, but he showed skill in his limited window.

Defense

Jonathan Aspirot DL, 22, 27-7-6-13 0.41 (QMJHL career 0.39)
An undrafted blueliner whose signing I was not a fan of, but he’s somehow maintained his junior production at the AHL level (in an admittedly small sample size). The pressure to produce will be abated by the addition of Leslie and Bernard-Docker.

Lassi Thomson DR, 21, 35-1-12-13 0.37 (Liiga career 0.26)
The first-rounder had a solid season for someone considered unspectacular offensively; while the pressure will be on to take his game to another level, the addition of Bernard-Docker adds depth on his side.

Jacob Bernard-Docker DR, 21, NCAA North Dakota 27-3-15-18 0.66 (NCAA career 0.63)
The first-rounder left college early at the end of last year, but given the logjam on the blueline in the NHL, I think he’s going to spend part or all of his rookie season in Belleville. He projects out like Thomson, although it’s unclear who has the better skill set.

Maxence Guenette DR, 20, QMJHL Val d’Or 36-5-17-22 0.61 (QMJHL career 0.47)
I’m not sure if the 7th-rounder can go back to the Q (cf), but given how crowded the BSens are on the right side, sending him back seems like the better choice. His numbers remind me of Max Lajoie’s, who I liked, although Guenette’s ceiling is probably not as high. Barring injuries or a roster move, it’s difficult to envision him as anything other than a depth defenseman.

Goaltenders

Filip Gustavsson GL, 23, .933/.910 (AHL career .894)
The former 2nd-round pick had his best pro season to date, but with two goalies ahead of him in Ottawa, it seems likely that he’ll return to Belleville (presumably as the starter).

Mads Sogaard GL, 20-21, .917 (WHL career .915)
The huge 2nd-round Dane did well in limited action and will either back-up Gustavsson or take the role of starter.

Kevin Mandolese GL, 20, .888 (QMJHL career .900)
The rookie struggled at the pro level and could see time in ECHL Atlanta to avoid sitting in the pressbox behind the other two. Because the Sens have three signed goaltending prospects, it’s unlikely they’ll add an AHL goaltender.

Prospect Summary

At the NHL level, Pinto, Formenton, and Brannstrom can hypothetically come down (as can Norris and Stutzle, but I consider that impossible). Barring a roster change, only Pinto seems possible (thus his inclusion above). The blueline is so clogged at the NHL-level everyone in the minors is locked in. Otherwise there’s a fairly even mix of skill and grind in the forward group, with the blueliners slightly more generally skilled (albeit with lower offensive ceilings).

Hypothetical Lineup

Centers: Pinto, Shaw, Kastelic, Bishop
Leftwing: Agozzino, Crookshank, Jarventie, Reinhardt, Goulbourne
Rightwing: Aberg, Sokolov, Kelly, Sherwood, Sabourin
Left-D: Aspirot, Leslie, Heatherington
Right-D: Thomsom, Bernard-Docker, Williams, Guenette

Agozzino-Pinto-Aberg
Crookshank-Shaw-Sokolov
Jarventie-Bishop-Kelly
Reinhardt-Kastelic-Sherwood
Extras: Sabourin, Goulbourne

Aspirot-Thomson
Leslie-Bernard-Docker
Heatherington-Williams
Extra: Guenette

There are only three natural centers in the group (Pinto, Kastelic, and Bishop), so looking at the various wingers who play center I’m guessing Shaw is moved to make room for the rightwing prospects who need the ice time. I’m guessing Aberg will play the right side given that he’s righthanded and wasn’t brought in to sit on the third line. If Pinto isn’t here than either Agozzino shifts to center or Bishop slides up (despite his lack of talent) and Kelly moves over. Otherwise I think there will be at least one veteran player on each of the top-three lines. The blueline combos are much less certain, but are placed roughly in terms of assumed talent–it’s likely there will be juggling to see who works best with whom (cf).

In Context

It’s worth remembering that last season was a bizarre one in the AHL. Belleville played 35-games against just 4 teams because of the pandemic. A reduced travel schedule and repeated opponents impacts numbers, but we don’t know to what extent. Within their division they were the lowest scoring team (102 goals or 2.9 per game, which is a long way down from their 3.71 pace the previous season). The top-scorer in the AHL (Andrew Poturalski) played more games than the other top scorers (the top point-per-game player was veteran T. J. Tynan at 1.30–yes, the same Tynan Columbus drafted via the Nikita Filatov trade), but the leader within Belleville’s division was Manitoba’s Nathan Todd with 32 points; the top ppg was Toronto’s Kale Kossila at 1.04 (passim). For an easier visual snapshot, here’s how the BSens compare to their divisional top scorers (minimum 17 games played–half a season–those on the BSens or signed for this season are in bold):

Forwards
1. Kossila (Tor) 28-7-22-29 1.04
2. Agostino (Tor) 22-9-13-22 1.00
3. Todd (Man) 36-12-20-32 0.89
4. Poehling (Lav) 28-11-14-25 0.89
5. Gustafsson (Man) 22-7-12-19 0.86
6. Crookshank 19-5-11-16 0.84
7. Belzile (Lav) 17-4-10-14 0.82
8. Perfetti (Man) 32-9-17-26 0.81
9. Agozzino (San Diego) 31-13-14-27 0.77
10. Robertson (Tor) 21-5-11-16 0.76
11. Dauphin (Lav) 21-5-11-16 0.76
12. Ruzicka (Sto) 28-11-10-21 0.75
13. Blandisi (Lav) 28-10-11-21 0.75
14. Veilleux (Lav) 26-14-5-19 0.73
15. Sokolov 35-15-10-25 0.71
16. Weal (Lav) 34-7-17-24 0.71
17. Phillips (Sto) 30-8-13-21 0.70
18. Teasdale (Lav) 26-8-10-18 0.69
19. Aberg (KHL) 49-10-13-23 0.68
20. Gaudet (Tor) 34-11-12-23 0.68
21. Shaw 24-6-9-15 0.62
22. Gawdin (Sto) 22-4-9-13 0.59
23. Malott (Man) 34-14-6-20 0.59
24. Ylonen (Lav) 29-9-8-17 0.59

The drop off in offense from Belleville’s forward group is obvious and the acquisitions should help solve that to some degree (although Ottawa did not push for the best of the best in terms of AHL-scorers).

Defense
1. Petrovic-D (Sto) 17-2-10-12 0.70
2. Mackey-D (Sto) 27-3-13-16 0.59
3. Heinola-D (Man) 19-4-7-11 0.58
4. Kivihalme-D (Tor) 20-6-5-11 0.55
5. Lilegren-D (Tor) 21-2-9-11 0.52
6. Leskinen-D (Lav) 33-1-16-17 0.51
7. Olofsson-D (Lav) 24-1-11-12 0.50
8. Duszak-D (Tor) 25-4-8-12 0.48
9. Kovacevic-D (Man) 29-2-12-14 0.48
10. Chisholm-D (Man) 28-2-11-13 0.46
11. Brook-D (Lav) 33-2-13-15 0.45
12. Rosen-D (Tor) 30-5-8-13 0.43
13. Aspirot-D 27-7-6-13 0.41

The offensive weakness of the BSens blueline (a systemic issue that goes back six years–the last elite producer was Chris Wideman in 2014-15) is obvious. The org has made a limited effort to shore up this deficit, but are leaning almost entirely on prospects for additional production.

Final Thoughts

Looking through this, and at the Sens lineup, it seems like a move on the blueline has to be coming soon (I can’t see Ottawa keeping 8 defensemen). If everything lines up in Belleville as I’ve guessed above, success is heavily dependent on the prospects. Scoring should at least slightly improve, although I have concerns over how well the blueline can move the puck (which impacts what forwards can do with it). On paper the goaltending looks solid, but we have very small sample sizes for two of the prospects and Gustavsson has been all over the place in the AHL–it’s probably fine. I think for fans I think there’s reasons to watch and be excited, albeit I don’t know how much that will translate into wins and losses. Anyway, as I said above, please chime in with your own thoughts–I did not watch this past season, so there may be some nuances I’ve missed and I like hearing other opinions regardless.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)