We’re back, baby!
On Saturday, October 15th, the boys are back.
Saturday, October 15, 2022. We'll be back.#ForTheB pic.twitter.com/HpsDm9aoIH— Belleville Senators (@BellevilleSens) May 9, 2022
As excitement builds in the nations capital, Head Coach Troy Mann and his Belleville Senators are preparing to get to work down the 401 in the Bay of Quinte. On Monday, Belleville released a reduced training camp roster featuring 14 forwards, 9 defensemen and 3 goaltenders.
ROSTER UPDATE: The #BellevilleSens have released the following players from training camp:— Belleville Senators (@BellevilleSens) October 10, 2022
Mathew Santos#ForTheB pic.twitter.com/11G0Qa14SG
As we await further roster cuts, we already have a good look at what this team will look like out of the gate. With the AHL, the rosters change so much more frequently than the NHL with injuries and callups but here’s what we can expect to see out of this group.
Up front, this team will be highlighted by a combination of experienced AHL players like Jake Lucchini, Rourke Chartier and Jayce Hawrlyuk while being backed up by a very strong cast of Sens prospects in Egor Sokolov, Roby Järventie, Viktor Lodin, Angus Crookshank and, of course, Ridly Greig. The good news is there are a number of ways Mann can line this team up so giving you a preview of what those lines could look like feels a bit silly, as it’ll change a million times between now and Christmas.
Down the middle, the BSens will have a balance of experience and skill. As it stands today, there are five centres on the roster. Veterans Lucchini and Chartier will be joined by Greig and Philippe Daoust, with Cedric Paré in there as well. The interesting development to watch will be where Greig slots in. There is a strong case to be made that you should develop your players at their position of strength and, as a natural centre, Greig slotting in as one of the top six pivots makes a ton of sense. That being said, looking at his future in the NHL, there’s another argument to be made for Greig to get used to playing down the left wing. Would he benefit from flanking a veteran like Lucchini so, when he’s inevitably recalled and placed on the wing in Ottawa, he’s ready to go? Maybe! But I think Mann will opt for the former, playing Greig as the 2C behind Lucchini.
On the left side is where I think Belleville is deepest. At his disposable, Mann has arguably three different wingers who could be featured on the top line. Between Angus Crookshank, Viktor Lodin and Cole Reinhardt, you really could feature any of them alongside a top six centre and be happy. For me, I’d love to see Lodin beside Lucchini with Crookshank lining up with Greig - a combination that would certainly get under the skin of every opponent.
On the opposite wing, there is, of course, some skill but I’d argue there’s a lack of speed. You can expect Sokolov and Järventie to round out the top six while Hawryluk likely lines up as your third line option.
One of Belleville’s greater strengths returns again this year with the news that both Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson have been returned to the AHL. How long that lasts remains to be seen but, as of now, Belleville has a fantastic top four on the right side - arguably one of the best in the league. Outside of the obvious, there’s a great spread of talent and skill for Mann to tap into with Dillon Heatherington and Jonathan Aspirot returning - and the additions of Jacob Larsson and Kristians Rubins. I genuinely don’t recall a blueline I was more intrigued by in the six seasons I’ve spent writing for Belleville for this site. Now, the bar has been set pretty low with some of the rosters... but still.
I’d anticipate Thomson and Heatherington to be paired together while Bernard-Docker and Aspirot make up the other duo. This would be the ideal balance as each pair has a puck moving, offensive minded defender and someone to stabilize them. The bottom pairing has a similar predicament we’re going to see in Ottawa; it will depend on what Mann needs that night. In Larsson and Rubins, you get experience, size and stability. While both are left handed, they’d likely be leaned on as a duo against tougher teams where Mann might want to do more matching. But that would leave Maxence Guénette in the press box and that feels wrong. He has made such strides in the past 12 months and was a pleasant surprise during his time in Ottawa’s camp last month. I’d expect, for most nights, for Guénette to be the mainstay while Rubins and Larsson cycle through.
That being said, we can expect plenty of roster movement with Bernard-Docker and Thomson up and down to Ottawa so the most common six we’ll see will be Heatherington, Aspirot, Larsson, Rubins, Guénette and whichever of Bernard-Docker or Thomson isn’t in the NHL that week.
The Sens organization brought Antoine Bibeau into the mix this summer and, I have to say, this is a move I really like. At 28 years old, he has over 200 AHL games under his belt with a 0.908 SV% and 104-65-23 record. With two young goaltenders in Mads Søgaard and Kevin Mandolese in the fold, having this kind of experience and steady goaltending will not only aid in their development, it also gives the team even greater chances of a deep playoff run.
Søgaard will undoubtedly be the other goaltender in the crease while Mandolese will have to get familiar with Allen, Texas for a bit. Not a bad place to spend the winter months for Kevin. This decision is pretty easy and doesn’t require much explanation. Søgaard has been the better goaltender and certainly has the higher ceiling. Having The Great Dane™ in the AHL is far more important for his development.
Players to Watch
Before we dive in, there are a lot of players to watch in Belleville this year. I’m going to skip over the devil’s we know. We will all be keeping a close eye on the battle between Thomson and Bernard-Docker again and we know that Sokolov has been a bubble player for the NHL club before. Let’s focus on a few new(er) faces.
A number of fans joined me on the Crooktrain over the past month. I recall a number of negative comments about his play from readers here when he joined Belleville two seasons ago. Those folks just weren’t watching - and that’s cool! - but believe me when I say Angus Crookshank is going to have a very big season for the Belleville Senators here. He’s going to have one of Lucchini or Greig as his centre and one of Sokolov or Järventie on the opposite wing. There’s going to be speed, there’s going to be skill, there’s going to be goal scoring.
Greig spent a few games with Belleville during the first COVID-impacted season when the CHL was still sorting our their season. Through seven games, he scored a goal and had a pair of assists but what was most impressive was his utilization. The same thing happened when he played for Team Canada at the World Juniors last month. Greig quickly became highly relied upon for important situations and it’s going to happen again. Don’t be surprised when he’s the centre logging the most minutes by American Thanksgiving. From an overall points production perspective, I’m expecting a Josh Norris level season out of Greig. In his rookie year, Norris compiled 61 points in 56 games, although 31 of them were goals. I don’t know that Greig cracks 30 goals but over a point per game honestly feels reasonable. He scored in bunches in the WHL this past year and, just as importantly, his style of play will lend itself well to the AHL. He’s not someone who skated circles around his junior level opponents, he ran straight through them. If he plays the whole season in Belleville, I’d look for him to be in serious consideration for the Red Garrett Award (Rookie of the Year).
Lodin is a bit of an enigma. He was drafted as an overager and quickly dismissed by a large group of fans. He didn’t do a whole lot after that, making those fans feel even more certain in their decisions. Then he became a key fixture for his Allsvensken team Timra IK and their promotion to the SHL. He then came to Belleville and put up eight goals in ten games before having his season ended early by injury, creating a cult following on Twitter. Lodin is a player to watch not because I think he’s going to have a breakout season but because I want to see him do it, again, for a full season. I believe he has the tools to do that but I need a far larger data sample before I hop on this train.
For me, Mads Søgaard is one of the most pivotal prospects left in Ottawa’s system. With a small amount of inconsistency thus far in his young professional career, it would do wonders for Ottawa’s future if Søgaard appeared as a true, bonafide future NHLer with a strong showing in Belleville this year. He’s big, he moves well, but he can let in some flubs more often than you’d like to see for an otherwise great prospect.
Guénette is your classic case of young puck moving defender. When he has the puck, you’re all good. When he doesn’t, there are some questions. He often reminds me of Erik Brännström, with a little more size to his frame (and his game). What we saw from Guénette in the rookie tournament and preseason action that I hadn’t seen before was how he took over some shifts. Last year, he was often good but never eye popping while he appeared to be at a new level coming into this season. If who we saw at the rookie tournament is who we’re going to see all year, I don’t know that Mann will be overly sad when Thomson or Bernard-Docker gets the call because he’s going to have a great option to substitute higher in the lineup.
As I said, there are so many ways you could line this group up. Here’s what I’d do and why:
Viktor Lodin - Jake Lucchini - Roby Järventie
On this line, you get stability in the middle with speed on the left and firepower on the right. They’re a very balanced line with arguably no defensive liabilities.
Angus Crookshank - Ridly Greig - Egor Sokolov
This could prove to be the first line sooner rather than later but Lucchini still holds the 1C status and you have to respect it. I have had literal dreams about this particular trio. It’s tenacious, it’s talented. They’re going to fill the net.
Cole Reinhardt - Rourke Chartier - Jayce Hawryluk
This is your shut down line with a sprinkle of skill. Rhino plays a really big game that has translated nicely to this role in the AHL while Chartier, who isn’t particular big, doesn’t play a small game by any means. Hawryluk, along with Bibeau, was another offseason acquisition I really liked. It gives a depth to this third line that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
Matthew Wedman - Philippe Daoust - Scott Sabourin
This will be a test for Daoust, who really has never been in the role of fourth line centre before. He’ll end up lining up with some, grand scheme of things, lacklustre talent and will likely be playing in his own zone a lot. For his long term development, it’s not a bad idea for him to figure out how to get really good at playing without the puck so he knows what to do if he makes it to the NHL - as his ceiling doesn’t scream top six NHLer.
Extras: Cedric Paré, Kyle McDonald
Cedric Paré is Daoust’s competition for that fourth line centre role, as he’s got a bit more experience as a depth AHL player than Daoust. Kyle McDonald is a fresh face on the scene, coming out of the OHL. He’s a 6’4” right winger who has never really been an offensive dynamo. I’d look for him to try to carve out a Scott Sabourin style career.
Dillon Heatherington - Lassi Thomson
This is listed as my top pair for the same reason as the forwards but this time it’s about Heatherington. He’s your de factor veteran and feels like the logical choice to have a C on his jersey. Thomson is his partner for now. They played together for a good chunk last year and complemented each other well.
Jonathan Aspirot - Jacob Bernard-Docker
The other half of your top four sees the same balance, but on opposite sides. On the left, you’ve got Aspirot who moves the puck well and has proven to be a solid blueliner in the AHL so far. On the right, Bernard-Docker is your steady-Eddie.
Jacob Larsson - Maxence Guénette
Another strong offseason move for your Belleville Senators was bringing in Jacob Larsson on the blueline. The 25 year old actually has more NHL games (165) under his belt than AHL games (136). He’s also been playing professional hockey since his draft season. He’s paired with Guénette, who I’ve outlined as a player to watch as he’s likely to be elevated into the top four during NHL recalls.
Extras: Kristians Rubins, Xavier Bernard
I’d expect we’ll see plenty of Rubins this year while Xavier Bernard sits firmly behind him on the depth chart for me.
Antoine Bibeau, Mads Søgaard
At this point, I’m not ready to name a true starter. I think what we’re about to see is a true 1A/1B situation until somebody takes control. Antoine Bibeau will give steadiness and calm while Mads Søgaard’s ceiling is infinitely higher. One thing that we can say for certain is that a great coach like Troy Mann has spent far too much time in Belleville with not nearly enough playoff action. He’s going to play the goaltender who’s going to help them win, regardless of development concerns. Luckily for him, he’s got two solid options.
This is an interesting one because it’s always tough to tell how the standings will fluctuate year to year in the AHL. I have no doubt that Belleville will grab a playoff spot this year but the North Division is a pretty strong group so it won’t be easy. With the news JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn will be starting the year with Buffalo, there’s a chance that the Rochester Americans take a pretty significant step back, particularly in the goalscoring department. The Toronto Marlies are always a threat as they tend to roster a veteran heavy group which means even more in the AHL than it does in the NHL, in my opinion. Laval has some intriguing new prospects in Filip Mesar and Jan Mysak coming into the league, which could see an extra flash of offense for them. The Comets and Crunch are looking to be strong again while Cleveland will, once again, likely occupy the basement of the North.
In the end, based on very real data and science, Belleville is poised to lock up 3rd place behind Utica and Syracuse and will book a ticket to the postseason again. They have unfinished business to tend to after they experienced a first round sweeping at the hands of the Rochester Americans last season.