With one week to go until the entry draft, and now with a much clearer vision of the Ottawa Senators' future , the storm of conjecture and hearsay only continues to amplify around the Sensphere. We have no idea what to expect from Alex DeBrincat's camp over next next weeks or even days and thus no idea what kind of draft capital then Sens might accrue if any before next Wednesday (and therefore if we'll have much to get worked up about). So in the absence of inside information, and with no interest in contributing to the speculation, I had hoped to do a bit more of a case study instead of shooting in the dark.
As Spencer summarized last week, Michael Andlauer, the new principle owner of the Senators, has a pronounced history in the Canadian hockey market – most notably owning the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL (after having purchased the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL). Along with Steve Staios (currently working with the Oilers but rumours link him to the Sens now, obviously) Andlauer turned the Bulldogs into one of the most consistent teams in Canadian hockey in recent years. It seems like a worthwhile exercise to take a look under the hood in Hamilton, so to speak.
Andlauer and company inherited the foundation of a Belleville Bulls team in 2015 and of course a lot more goes into team construction (coaches, scouts, and trainers) but if we wanted to optimistically extrapolate from Hamilton's success what we could possibly expect from Andlauer's Senators then I figured, why the hell not?
After buying and moving the team in 2015, Andlauer hired Staios as general manager for the 2016 season where he served in that capacity (and briefly as coach) until 2022 when his former NHL team in Edmonton picked him up. Hamilton's first head coach in the Andlauer era also ascended from the OHL to the NHL owing in part to his success with the Bulldogs. Former Senator John Gruden helped Hamilton reach the Memorial Cup in 2018 and has since worked with the Islanders and Bruins. So far it seems good that Andlauer has this kind of eye for talent, extremely small sample size noted. As Spencer mentioned last week, Andlauer's Bulldogs also garnered praise from those of us with a more statistically-inclined mind to hockey for their investment and commitment to data-driven decision making.
Obviously a lot of things need to click in order to build a memorial cup-calibre team in just three years and some luck definitely factors in but like I said I still wanted to see what went on behind the success because I absolutely have never cared about the 2018 Hamilton Bulldogs until I started writing this article. Of note, the Bulldogs selected Marian Studenic in the 2016 CHL import draft. The Slovakian winger didn't put up huge regular season numbers with a decent 20 goals in the 2017-18 season but had a solid 15 points in 21 games for that championship team. The Devils drafted Studenic in the fifth round in 2017 and he has played parts of three seasons in New Jersey and Dallas.
More importantly the Bulldogs drafted Arthur Kaliyev in 2017 and he became an impact player in the OHL (although he only had three goals in that postseason after putting up 31 in the regular season). The Kings selected Kaliyev in the second round in 2019 (remember, the Sens should have drafted him instead of Lassi Thomson and Shane Pinto? (let's not revisit that debate)) and he has become a solid NHLer. The Bulldogs also drafted Connor McMichael in 2017, and he would go on to become a 2019 NHL first-round draftee (although now he looks more like a fringe NHLer) and while he didn't figure into the 2018 Memorial Cup appearance, Staios shrewdly included McMichael in a blockbuster trade package that landed Hamilton Robert Thomas who had 12 goals and 20 assists for the champion Bulldogs. Robert Thomas still plays hockey very well now in the NHL with the Blues.
After going all-in for that 2018 push, it took a couple of seasons to re-stock the system and losing a couple of years to the pandemic certainly didn't help but as we know the Bulldogs did pull it off again in 2022. The second quest started by drafting Logan Morrison in 2018 who helped contribute to that 2022 team in Hamilton. Morrison didn't get picked in the NHL draft but Seattle signed him as an over-ager. the 2018 import draft, the Bulldogs selected Philip Broberg and while he didn't ever come over to North America, it seems good that the Bulldogs identified the potential of a player who would go eighth overall in the NHL entry draft the next summer.
In the 2019 draft, the Bulldogs added two more players who would contribute to their 2022 playoff run. Ryan Winterton has since become a third round NHL-draftee in 2021 while Gavin White went in the fourth round of the 2022 NHL draft. Both players still look like fringe cuts for the NHL but even just making it from the CHL to the NHL amounts to something of a victory as we've learned. The Bulldogs added a couple more big pieces at the 2020 draft in Artem Grushnikov (who has since signed in Dallas) and the Sens' very own Jorian Donovan whose recent success you should very well know about by now. The last major coup of the Staios era in Hamilton occurred in the winter of 2022 as the Bulldogs acquired Mason MacTavish (also with a Senators connection, coincidentally) who naturally played a key role in the team's success that spring with 16 goals and 13 assists en route to the Memorial Cup.
So there you have my crash course in Hamilton Bulldogs roster construction. By no means do I think any of these trends translate to guaranteed success for the Senators now under Andlauer's ownership (and with Staios rumoured as waiting in the wings) but I appreciate the efficacy with which said parties built a winning team in such a short period of time. They drafted well, established a winning culture, and knew when to make the big traded needed to put them over the top. We only have so much information to work with but given the resources available this seems like a pretty well-oiled machine. I have no idea what will happen between now and the beginning of the regular season, let alone the draft next week, but as Spencer already expressed, we can have some cautious optimism with the new regime in Ottawa and the success of the Hamilton Bulldogs exemplifies that pretty well.
Thanks to capfriendly and the CHL for the info contained herein.
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