The Canadiens will be assessing their farm system at their scouting meetings next month. It is is alive and well. For the second straight year, Hamilton reached the AHL’s final four and again were a seventh game win away from making the league finals. Last year the key figures were Desharnais, Pacioretty, Weber and Subban. This year the names to watch are Palushaj, Engqvist, Nash, St. Denis and Klubertanz.
Over the next month, Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier will be considering a total of nine Hamilton free agents six of them restricted. The three unrestricted are goaltenders Curtis Sanford and playoff hero Drew MacIntyre plus forward J.T. Wyman.
When the hockey department puts together it’s post season assessment, playoff performance will be given strong consideration. There were some notables in that department starting with the Nigel Dawes-Dustin Boyd-Aaron Palushaj line. The group scored 26 goals in 20 playoff games led by Dawes’ 14.
I have no idea what the Canadiens have in store for Nigel Dawes, who Gauthier acquired from Hamilton as part of the Brent Sopel deal, mainly to help Hamilton after the team’s two top scorers, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais were promoted. It appears Dawes is destined to be one of those great American Hockey League producers who can never quite cut it in the NHL. Despite his smallish size, in the AHL he is a dominant player with skating ability and very good puckhandling skills. That has never translated to the top level. There’s constant chatter about his conditioning, or lack thereof. Whatever the reason, he seems destined to be an afterthought in any Canadiens future planning. Dawes is one of the restricted free agents.
Aaron Palushaj is a different matter. He had a good playoff (19games 7-12=19 pts.) That followed a second professional season in which he almost tripled his goal scoring total from his rookie year, going from eight goals to twenty-two. He was also plus-22 this past season. He’s smallish but he’s going to be a Canadiens asset.
Dustin Boyd, who centered Dawes and Palushaj in the playoffs, started the season with the Canadiens before being sent to Hamilton in December. In his first 20 Hamilton games, playing mostly as a winger on David Dehsarnais’ line, he had 14 goals and 0 assists. The next 20 games without Desharnais and battling an injury and long scoring droughts, he scored only six times before moving to centre between Dawes and Palushaj. In the end he totalled 20 goals. Boyd was a 48 goal scorer his final year of junior hockey. Some think, given opportunity, he’ll eventually be a consistent scorer in the pros. Colour any optimism as “cautious”. He’s also a restricted free agent..
Andreas Engqvist has to be considered close to the NHL. He’s a mature 6’4” centre who produced 10 goals and 15 assists with the Bulldogs while fulfilling the team’s number one checking and penalty killing role. The Canadiens thought enough of him to give Engqvist a three-game look during the season. At plus-11 in 20 playoff games, he was the best Bulldogs forward.
Ryan White, we know about. Competitive. Tough. Still looking for scoring touch but capable as a fourth liner right now. Two goals, eight points in thirteen playoff games after being returned by the Canadiens.
J.T. Wyman is now 25 and an unrestricted free agent. I liked what I saw of him this season. He’s got size and speed, but his production has been static over the last three seasons, which would make one believe that what you see is what you’ll get. 18 goals and 18 assists during the regular season. Only Wyman and defenseman Alex Henry played all eighty games this season. He might look to another organization as others pass him by on the depth chart.
Alexander Avtsin probably, at the age of 19, should have played with the Montreal Juniors this season but the Canadiens probably wouldn’t have been able to get him to come to North America if they couldn’t guarantee a pro contract. As it was, he was one of the youngest players in the American Hockey League; a boy playing against men. He was hurt at times. Benched in others. He’s got all the skills and the size. We’ll just have to wait. He’ll be better at 20 than he was at 19.
Ryan Russell scored shorthanded goals in back to back games during the playoffs. He’s always been sound defensively a the AHL level, but has shown no signs of making a breakthrough. Another one of the restricted’s.
On defense, the first name that comes to mind is Brendon Nash. Nash was ignored in the NHL draft, signed by the Canadiens after graduation from Cornell University. He’s 6’3”. Can skate and handle the puck well. He didn’t have a great playoff, but was plus-22 during the regular season, which was best on the Bulldogs defense. He may need to put on some muscle this summer.
Frederic St. Denis will also be a restricted free agent. His size, or lack of it, has always been the first thing mentioned in scouting reports. He’s like a defensive version of David Desharnais, having to prove himself on every level from Drummonville to the University of Quebec at Trois Rivieres, to Cincinnati to Hamilton. He’s not that small however at 5’11” and 200 pounds and he knows how to move the puck.
Kyle Klubertanz had a coming out party this season which he carried right into the playoffs. A perfect example of why you should never give up on defensemen too early. Anaheim drafted him then dropped him. He spent a year in Finland, another in Sweden, before he was signed last summer as a free agent. Knows how to move the puck. He was the top scoring Bulldogs defenseman in both the regular season and second on the team in the playoffs. He’s another restricted free agent.
Mathieu Carle for the first time in three years managed to play more than sixty games. Even so, he missed twelve games. Injuries have hurt his development and, fairly or not, he’s getting a reputation for being brittle. He had 12 points in 20 playoff games, best among the Bulldogs defense. As the Canadiens keep bringing along defensemen he’s beginning to slide down the depth chart from what was a promising beginning.
In their entire system the Canadiens have only two goaltenders under contract, Carey Price and Robert Mayer. Including playoffs, Mayer rode the bench the final 41 games of the Bulldogs season as Drew MacIntyle took over the goaltending load. The Canadiens won’t be keeping both MacIntyre and Curtis Sanford, both of whom are unrestricted free agents. Sanford underwent shoulder surgery in February which was the reason MacIntyre was acquired. If I were to bet, considering his glittering 41 game record with the Bulldogs, I would think MacIntyre’s first on Gauthier’s list. It’s an important decision because whoever becomes number one in Hamilton, also is the Canadiens’ third goaltender.
(The Individual Regular Season and Playoff Statistics Are Below)
Don’t expect the Canadiens to start the season with a crop of rookies in their lineup. They probably won’t have any. But the way injuries pile up in today’s NHL, the kids are going to get their chance. Closest to the top of the list are Palushaj, Engqvist and of course Ryan White up front and on defense, Nash, St. Denis and Klubertanz. All will be getting a look next season at some point or the other.
BULLDOGS FINAL PLAYOFF AND REGULAR SEASON STATISTICS
INDIVIDUAL PLAYOFF SCORING STATISTICS
|32||Frederic St. Denis||20||1||9||10||11||12||1||0||40||2.5|
Bulldogs 2010-11 Regular Season Statistics
|19||Nigel Dawes (total)||66||41||31||72||15||24||9||1||211||19.4|
|51||David Desharnais (X)||35||10||35||45||14||24||1||3||70||14.3|
|19||Ben Maxwell (X)||47||11||29||40||-2||32||7||0||146||7.5|
|23||Max Pacioretty (X)||27||17||15||32||4||20||7||0||132||12.9|
|32||Frederic St. Denis||76||5||18||23||16||34||3||0||108||4.6|
|7||Yannick Weber (X)||15||8||4||12||-5||10||4||0||51||15.7|
|31||Drew MacIntyre (total)||41||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0.0|
|31||Drew MacIntyre (total)||41||2376||24||11||3||1||94||2.37||1117||0.922|