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Belleville Poised to be Much Improved for Their Inaugural Season

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The last few seasons in Binghamton were extremely underwhelming for the Baby Sens, but fans in Belleville should be excited for a much improved roster in 2017-18

Ottawa Senators v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you even paid a small amount of attention to how the Binghamton Senators were doing over the past few seasons, you’d know it wasn’t very pretty.

They missed the playoffs in each of their final three seasons as Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, and last year was somehow the worst as they finished with a record of 28-44-2-2. It really is too bad that they had to end their affiliation with some horrible seasons, as they were one of the few farm teams that had actually stayed in the same city for a while.

While it wasn’t a happy ending in Binghamton, things in Belleville could change quite quickly. The new B-Sens probably won’t be amazing, but they have a number of new faces coming in that will at least make the team competitive.

On July 1st, Pierre Dorion didn’t do much for the NHL team, but he did make a few AHL signings. He signed 31 year old goalie Danny Taylor from the KHL, winger Ty Randell, centres Ben Sexton and Max Reinhart, and defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer. No, those players probably won’t be NHL contributors, but they will help with the atrocious depth that previous Binghamton teams had.

But those players 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.

Starting in net, Belleville should be miles better. Taylor is of course 31, but over the last three seasons in the KHL he has a .931 SV%. I doubt he will be as bad as Matt O’Connor and his .895 SV%. Then Marcus Hogberg and Chris Driedger provide some solid backup.

Hogberg posted a .931 SV% in the SHL last year, and while Driedger struggled, he is essentially the organization’s ECHL starter so it’s nothing to worry about. Hogberg may take some time to adjust to the North American game, but I can’t imagine Belleville’s goaltending be anywhere near as bad as it was recently.

On defense, they don’t have any stars, but they look to be decent group with some depth. Assuming Thomas Chabot makes the NHL roster, Belleville currently has seven defensemen under contract with one RFA. Andreas Englund, Christian Jaros, Cody Donaghey, Macoy Erkamps, Erik Burgdoerfer, Patrick Sieloff (RFA), Ben Harpur, and Max Lajoie make up those eight.

This is just pure estimation, but the pairings could then look something like this:

Harpur-Donaghey

Englund-Jaros

Lajoie-Burgdoerfer

Sieloff

Erkamps

Injuries and call-ups will make this look thinner as the season progresses, but it’s nice to see that names like Chris Carlisle, Chris Rumble, and Guillaume Lepine aren’t in the mix (as they are also free agents). The top five names listed are all some level of prospect instead of veteran AHLers who may not be very good.

Compare the eight names up top to the eight defensemen who played the most games for Binghamton last year:

Chris Rumble, Ben Harpur, Chris Carlisle, Patrick Sieloff, Mike Kostka, Andreas Englund, Brandon Gormley, and Guillaume Lepine. In essence, they swapped Rumble, Carlisle, Kostka, Gormley, and Lepine for Donaghey, Jaros, Lajoie, Burgdoerfer, and Erkamps. I’ll certainly take that trade for younger and better players.

At forward, Belleville still might struggle to score goals. They lost their top two scorers in Jason Akeson and Phil Varone, but they do have some reinforcements coming. There’s a good chance that Colin White begins the year in the AHL, giving the team a number one centre. Then there are two other newcomers in Filip Chlapik and Chris DiDomenico.

It’s unclear how much of an impact DiDomenico will have, but he might be able to replace the production of Phil Varone who had 51 points in 65 games.

After that, there are still some decent AHL players in Nick Paul, Francis Perron, Max McCormick, Gabriel Gagne, and Mike Blunden to go along with the three forwards that were signed on July 1st.

The opening night roster could look like this:

Perron-White-DiDomenico

Chlapik-Paul-Blunden

McCormick-Reinhart-Gagne

Flanagan-Sexton-Randell

Dunn

That top-six actually doesn’t look too bad, although they would be banking on Perron improving on last season and Chlapik performing well as a rookie. The bottom six doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but that seems to be their only weak spot on the roster.

All in all, I don’t think any of us should be expecting Belleville to be one of the best teams in the league. The roster that I have constructed is the best that it will look, as AHL rosters end up getting depleted as the season goes along. However, I am excited to see how well this team can do.

As I mentioned, losing Varone and Akeson is tough, but their defense and goaltending should be vastly improved. It’s odd to see the organization have some depth in those two departments, but they are actually positioned quite well (at least in the minors).

The B-Sens will be pinning a lot of their hopes on rookies like Marcus Hogberg, Colin White, Christian Jaros, and Filip Chlapik, but it has the potential to work out quite well.

I know I said this last year as well, but the 2017-18 season should be better for their first season in Belleville, and there are plenty of interesting players to follow. It would be great to see this team succeed for the first time in a long time.