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Belleville Training Camp Preview

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While we await the opening of AHL training camps, let’s dive in to the returnees, newcomers and story lines to watch as the AHL season gets under way in a few short weeks.

AHL: FEB 29 Belleville Senators at Cleveland Monsters Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In just a few short weeks, the AHL season is set to begin. While there hasn’t been much talk of when camp will open up, where Belleville will play or even if the AHL season is actually going to start on time, let’s dive in to what we can expect to see at the BSens training camp.

Returnees

Vitaly Abramov, LW/RW

Last Year: If you follow my work semi-closely, you know how I feel about Vitaly Abramov. Last season, his offensive contributions to the BSens were up there with the prospects we talk so much about. His even strength production was right there with Rudolfs Balcers and ahead of Logan Brown while his even strength goals for percentage was ahead of all of Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Brown. Another unfortunately timed injury means Abramov missed yet another chance to participate in a full Sens training camp, two years running.

Expectations: Abramov will serve as Bellevilles other top winger, alongside Alex Formenton. He’ll play primarily at even strength and on the powerplay and will look at build upon a successful sophomore season.

JC Beaudin, C

Last Year: Beaudin played more games for Ottawa than Belleville last season, primarily as a bottom line centre which saw him post a single point through 22 games in the NHL. In Belleville, he amassed six points through 13 games but was strong defensively.

Expectations: Beaudin is likely pencilled in as Belleville’s second line centre behind Brown with Norris’ promotion to the big club. While he’s not an offensive force, he’s an incredibly responsible pivot and, if given the right wingers, could find success distributing the puck down the middle.

Erik Brännström, LD

Last Year: After kicking off the season with the Ottawa Senators for 31 games, Brännström was sent back to Belleville to rediscover his game. Through 27 games with the BSens, the Swedish rearguard posted 23 points and was the main factor in the transition game every day of the week.

Expectations: Brännström is Belleville’s de facto top defender and will see an abundance of ice time for as long as he’s in the AHL. After spending some time playing for the SCL Tigers in Switzerland during the NHL’s offseason, Brännstrom experienced a few bumps in the road which prevented him from being a full participant in Ottawa’s camp. I don’t expect him to be a Belleville Senator all season.

Logan Brown, C

Last Year: As one of the players many expected to have a crack at the Ottawa lineup this season, it’s a bit of a surprise to write about Brown in this post. The 6’6” powerplay specialist spent 25 games in Belleville last year, posting 28 points along the way before getting the call to spend 23 games in the NHL.

Expectations: Brown is easily the top centre on the club and will get the minutes that go along with it. Alongside Formenton, Abramov and Brannstrom, expect Brown to lead the charge offensively while he awaits his next call to the NHL.

Cole Cassels, C/LW

Last Year: Cassels joined the Belleville organization halfway through last season, contribute eight points through 24 games. This was a large drop in production as his 0.35 points per game with Belleville pales in comparison to his 0.67 points per game he put up with Wilkes-Barre to start the season.

Expectations: Cassels is a player with the opportunity to jump into the top six if he starts the season strong. His production with the Penguins AHL affiliate tells me he may have dropped off in production in Belleville due to a lack of playing time, since Belleville’s top six was too good to mess with down the stretch.

Jonathan Davidsson, LW/RW

Last Year: Davidsson was arguably one of Ottawa’s most polarizing prospects last season. While he missed plenty of time due to injury, he was relatively unimpressive at the AHL level while he was playing but still made his way into six NHL games. Davidsson was a healthy scratch for Belleville multiple times early on, as well.

Expectations: With an abundance of space up front, Davidsson should get a good look in this team’s top six during training camp. His speed is evident and, prior to coming to North America, he was a player who put up points in the SHL at a young age. I’m calling a bounce back year. Book it.

Jack Dougherty, RD

Last Year: Dougherty didn’t pop off the page offensively last year but he was a reliable, strong option on the right side for Mann’s defensive corps. Dougherty led all BSens in ice time last year.

Expectations: oDougherty will be a fixture in Belleville’s top four this upcoming season, pairing up with either Brännstöm or Olle Alsing, depending on how Christian Jaros fares to kick off the year.

Alex Formenton, LW

Last Year: Formenton is the latest Senators prospect in what appears to be a long line of pleasant surprises. After posting mediocre offensive numbers as one of the older players in the OHL with the London Knights, Formenton came to Belleville and took off. His 53 points in 61 games was good for 7th in overall league scoring, second behind Josh Norris amongst rookies.

Expectations: Barring a surprising demotion of players like Norris or Drake Batherson from the big club, this is Formenton’s team now. He’s the top winger on the roster, will see plenty of special teams time and should eclipse the point per game mark he came close to hitting last season.

Filip Gustavsson, G

Last Year: Gustavsson spent much of last season battling with Joey Daccord for starts in Belleville. As highlighted in his appearance in our Top 25 Under 25 rankings, throughout the season, his performance improved. Like Brännström, he kicked off his season early joining Södertälje SK of Sweden’s second tier, posting a 10-5-0 record as their starter.

Expectations: This is Gustavsson’s net to lose. Just as with an AHL season, there will be plenty of back-to-back’s but Head Coach Troy Mann has never shied away from playing his top netminder back-to-back, as was evidenced by Marcus Högberg’s time with the club.

Christian Jaros, RD

Last Year: For the player who was once one of the top right handed defenders in the pipeline, and a fifth year pro (between the SHL, AHL and NHL), last season was not great for Jaros. He managed to make his way into just 13 games with Ottawa while frequently competing for ice time with players who, on paper, shouldn’t have been a threat.

Expectations: Jaros will likely kick off the season as Brännström’s shut down partner - the Marc Methot to Brännström’s Erik Karlsson. With Jack Dougherty coming off a solid defensive season and the introduction of Lassi Thomson to the Belleville blueline, it remains to be seen how long Jaros holds that position - if he gets it at all.

Parker Kelly, C/LW

Last Year: The perennial Hardest Working Senator is coming off a quiet season offensively for a player that is frequently mentioned by the Sens front office as someone to watch. While offense isn’t something you should expect from Kelly, he ranked dead last for the BSens in average ice time per game last season.

Expectations: Similar to Cassels, this is a big year for Kelly to earn minutes up front. I’d expect him to line up as a winger on the third line and we’ll see a slight uptick in his production while he continues to be a player his opponents hate playing against.

Joseph LaBate, LW

Last Year: LaBate is one of just a few veteran BSens the front office opted to bring back this season, which speaks to how the club views one of last year’s alternate captains. His tenacity on the ice paired with a pleasantly surprising offensive effort last season made him an easy extension.

Expectations: LaBate, like Kelly, shouldn’t be expected to explode offensively this season but you can expect him to play plenty of minutes, especially early on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the year in the top six, eventually sliding down to the third line when this year’s offensive catalysts start to show themselves ten games in.

Hubert Labrie, LD

Last Year: Labrie played well last season, being a decent option for the third pairing in Belleville. Ottawa’s shorthanded blueline coupled with Labrie’s experience earned him a two way contract for last year.

Expectations: Labrie is back on an AHL deal, signalling that his two way contract last year was, indeed, about having warm bodies in the AHL. That being said, he’s a strong candidate to kick off the season as Lassi Thomson’s partner on the third pairing.

Newcomers

Olle Alsing, LD

Last Year: Alsing signed an entry level deal with Ottawa following a break out offensive campaign with Djurgårdens of the AHL. The 24 year old compiled 20 points in 36 games, good enough for second in scoring for blueliners on the team.

Expectations: With Brännström back in Belleville, Alsing will play second fiddle on the right side, likely pairing with Dougherty. I’d expect he’ll see time on the second powerplay unit, as well.

Clark Bishop, C

Last Year: Acquired earlier this month in a deal that saw Max Lajoie leave the Sens’ system, Bishop spent last year serving as the Charlotte Checkers alternate captain. He amassed 19 points in 53 games in his third full season in the AHL. He also saw a handful of games with Carolina.

Expectations: Bishop’s offensive production doesn’t scream top six so far in his AHL career. It’s possible that he makes his way up the lineup as Belleville is currently missing some offensive firepower at centre behind Brown but I’d expect he starts the year as a bottom six centre.

Mark Kastelic, C

Last Year: The former captain of the Calgary Hitmen makes his AHL debut this year, coming off two seasons of goal scoring in the WHL. His 38 goals last season ranked him 5th in WHL scoring, tied with Connor Zary and Dylan Cozens.

Expectations: The jump to the AHL isn’t always an easy one and Kastelic’s offensive production at the junior level did come when he was older and larger than his opponents. If he can catch himself up to the speed of the AHL, I don’t see why he’s not the second line centre by the end of the season. He’ll start in the bottom six and work his way up from there.

Zach Magwood, C

Last Year: Magwood’s first professional season saw him spend most of it in the AHL with Milwaukee, putting up 12 points through 44 contests. Last year, however, he spent the majority of his time lighting up the ECHL, compiling 47 points in 51 games.

Expectations: At 22 years old, there’s still room for Magwood to grow into his game but, for now, he’s a depth player who is unlikely to be in Belleville’s opening lineup.

Kevin Mandolese, G

Last Year: In November, Trevor did a write up on Mandolese in our Top 25 Under 25 series that covers everything you need to know about his rise from late round pick to legitimate goaltending prospect.

Expectations: With strong play, Mandolese has the opportunity to take the starting job in Belleville. Expectations should be firmly placed on a bit of a time share between Mando and Gus, but I’d guess Gustavsson ends up starting 60%+ of the season barring any injuries or incredible play from Mandolese early on.

Cole Reindhardt, LW

Last Year: Reindhardt is one of many overager prospects the Senators have taken a flyer on lately, as the Alberta native turns 21 in February. Reindhardt was in the middle of a career year last season before play was cancelled. He scored 31 goals in 56 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Expectations: Reindhardt was signed to an Amateur Tryout so his spot in the lineup is far from guaranteed. That being said, with his age and the ECHL being a questionable option, I’d expect Reindhardt will be a member of the BSens as a regular health scratch.

Logan Shaw, RW

Last Year: Shaw spent the majority of last season in Winnipeg with the Jets where he played a depth role, registering just five points in 35 games and going pointless through three playoff contests.

Expectations: Shaw is a seasoned veteran of the AHL. At 28 years old, he’s competed in 235 games in the AHL to date - registering 111 points in the process. He, like LaBate, will likely start in the top six and hold a place there until a someone else is able to beat him out of it - if they can. I also won’t be surprised to see Shaw get some NHL time, since he has the experience.

Egor Sokolov, RW/LW

Last Year: Drake Batherson’s pal enters his first professional season after his long awaited NHL selection this past fall. The 2020 second rounder was a point producing monster for Cape Breton of the QMJHL last season, posting 46 goals in 52 games.

Expectations: I have my doubts about an overager of Sokolov’s size being able to keep up with the pace of the American Hockey League - at least, at first. While his goal scoring prowess will come in handy, he’ll be another player that gets worked into the lineup as the season progresses.

Lassi Thomson, RD

Last Year: Thomson struggled to be a mainstay in the lineup for Ilves last season, seeing time in the press box on more than one occasion. After playing well enough in the WHL to get drafted in the first round, his return to Finland to play professional hockey is not what many fans had hoped it would be.

Expectations: Thomson will be a regular in Belleville’s lineup, likely as a third pairing option who might see some powerplay time due to his booming shot. After posting just 2 points through 18 games with Ilves to start this year, it’s the hope of many that Thomson will rediscover his game back in North America.

Colby Williams, RD

Last Year: Williams has spent the past four seasons with the Hershey Bears. The 2015 sixth rounder played a depth role on the right side, compiling 6 points through 31 games last year. The BSens signed Williams to a one year, AHL contract earlier this month.

Expectations: Williams’ time to shine in Belleville will likely only come if and when one of the players ahead of him gets the call to Ottawa. Sitting behind Jaros, Dougherty and Thomson on the right side means Williams is unlikely to be a regular part of Mann’s plan.

Stories to Watch

  • Goaltending Battle: With Joey Daccord hanging out on the Taxi Squad, this is Gustavsson’s team to start. That being said, since joining the Sens organization, Gustavsson wasn’t able to win a starting job from Högberg nor was he able to secure that same job when Högberg was recalled to the big club. If Mandolese comes in and plays as well as he has in the QMJHL the last few years, that could be trouble for Gustavsson. My money’s on Gus, but I’m not ruling anything out.
  • Filling Roles Up Front: The high flying BSens of last year are gone. Belleville will be without two thirds of last year’s top six to start the season, as Norris and Batherson have won jobs in Ottawa while Rudolfs Balcers was claimed by San Jose and Abramov is currently injured. While Formenton and Brown are back, the four aforementioned players accounted for 35% of Belleville’s goals last season. Mann will have to hope for newcomers like Sokolov and Shaw to step in to fill some of that void, as players like Beaudin, Davidsson and LaBate shouldn’t be looked to for that kind of production.
  • All Canadian Division: As reported back in December, the plan is for Belleville and their fellow Canadian teams to mirror the NHL’s plan for a Canadian Division. While the rivalries might not be quite as contentious at the AHL level, this plan would mean Belleville would only face off against three (!) other teams all year long.
  • Roster Moves: With every rebuilding team, the AHL roster is forever in flux. This is even more true with a rebuilding team who’s attempting to play a season during a global pandemic. Last season, we saw a ton of movement between the two rosters and this year will be no different.

Projected Belleville Opening Night Roster:

While it’s next to impossible to project how training camp will go - especially given the lack of visibility into Ottawa’s training camp just a few short weeks ago - here is how I see Belleville lining up for opening night, barring any injuries, signings or surprises.

Formenton-Brown-Abramov

LaBate-Beaudin-Shaw

Kelly-Bishop-Davidsson

Cassels-Kastelic-Sokolov

Reinhardt-Magwood

Brännström-Jaros

Alsing-Dougherty

Labrie-Thomson

Williams

Gustavsson

Mandolese