Wednesday, October 5, 2011

2011-12 Bears Preview: Forwards

Injuries during the 2010-11 season really limited the Bears.  Andrew Gordon, Keith Aucoin, Lawrence Nycholat, and many more suffered injuries that derailed the offensive portion of the Bears team last season.  I honestly believed, and still do, that last years team was deep enough and talented enough to win the Calder Cup.  Unfortunately the injuries took their toll and a first round exit was all that came of the season. 

This offseason saw an influx of good scoring depth that should help the team weather the injuries or recalls that are inevitable during a long season.

But they also saw plenty of good players leave as well.  Gone are Brian Willsie (30 goals last year), Gordon (24 goals in only 50 games), and Steve Pinizzotto (17 goals).  Also gone are puck moving defensemen Brian Fahey and Nycholat (28 points in only 32 games).

In their place come a return of some ex-Bears Chris Bourque (played in Europe last season) and Graham Mink (scored 24 goals for Peoria last year).  And a host of talented forwards...Christian Hanson, Matthew Ford, Jacob Micflikier, Ryan Potulny, Cody Eakin and Mattias Sjogren.

They join a solid core of players including Aucoin, Francois Bouchard, Kyle Greentree, Boyd Kane, and Andrew Carroll. 

As I discussed previously, there is a multitude of possible 20 goal scorers on this team.  But I still don't see a go to scorer on the roster and while that isn't necessarily a critical element towards success it definitely bares watching.

But I don't want to discuss the scoring depth that's on this team.  I have already done that.

Let's take a brief look at the forwards that will likely make up this years Hershey Bears roster.

We already know what we get in Aucoin, Bourque, Greentree, Bouch, Kaner, and Mink.  So who are the new guys and what can they offer? 

Christian Hanson

The son of Slap Shot star Dave Hanson, Christian brings a physical presence to the ice.  He is listed at 6'4" 228 lbs (Mink is 6'3" 220) which is quite large and at this level he should be able to impose his will on many of his opponents.  Last season he split time between the Marlies and Maple Leafs totaling 13 goals and 21 assists (all in the AHL) in 64 total games.

Having him and the 6'3" 220 lb Mink on the same team will be tough for other teams to stop.  

Matthew Ford

Last season Ford scored 26 goals and added 16 assists in his first full AHL season.  He played in 76 regular season games for the Lake Erie Monsters and also played in 7 playoff games scoring 3 goals and adding one assist.

Ford is considered a pure goal scorer who is not what you would consider fleet of foot.  Sound familiar?  If he can find some timing with Aucoin and he gets power play minutes he could be the guy on this team to score 30+ goals...many coming on one timers from the slot.

Jacob Micflikier

Here is a kid that I wouldn't bet against.  He has been successful at every stop on his quest to play in the NHL and appears destined to get a shot sometime soon.  He is small (5'8" 180) which has undoubtedly impacted the way teams have seen him but he hasn't let that stop him.

In the USHL he scored 55 goals over 2 seasons.  Then he went to college at New Hampshire and proceeded to register almost a point per game over a 4 year career that saw him suit up for 154 games and tally 150 points (58 goals).  Then it was on to the ECHL and AHL where he has played in 275 games over the last 4 seasons and has totaled 215 points in that span.

Last year was his first full season in the AHL and he totaled 29 goals and 32 in 78 games for the Charlotte Checkers.

Ryan Potulny

He was an important member of the Calder Cup winning Binghamton Senators last year, leading the team in goals (14) and points (26).  During the regular season he totaled 21 goals and 28 assists in 71 AHL games while also dressing for 10 NHL games but recording no points.

He is only a year removed from scoring 15 goals and adding 17 assists for the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-10.  He played in 64 games for them that year which results in a .5 points per game average.  Definitely pretty good.

His best AHL season was 2008-09 when he scored 38 goals and added 24 assists for the Springfield Falcons.

Cody Eakin

As the Caps made their final cuts yesterday the red headed rookie found himself packing his bags for Hershey.  He played in some regular season games and some playoff games in the 2008-09 season so he is familiar with the surroundings. 

This will his first pro season so using his stats to tell us too much would be a mistake.  So let's see what Hockeys Future has to say:
Eakin isn’t a big guy and relies on his terrific speed and agility as his two greatest assets for success. He’s a solid two-way player that is very useful as a penalty killer, but is sometimes inconsistent in his defensive play. He’s an aggressive forechecker and will play the body although he’s not known as a punishing hitter. He’s creative and will attack defenders one-on-one but can also distribute the puck and uses his teammates well. Eakin doesn’t panic with the puck and rarely forces passes when under pressure. He is an above shooter and passer and is thus a constant offensive threat. Eakin is a natural centerman but is able to play winger, too. His competitiveness makes him popular with coaches, fans and teammates.
Sounds like a player Hershey fans will love.

Mattias Sjogren

This will be the first season playing in North America for the undrafted 23 year old.  Expectations were that he would begin the season with the Capitals, but the organization (and Mathieu Perreault) decided that he would be better served beginning the season in Hershey.  Adjusting to the smaller ice has caused other players from Europe (including Marcus Johansson last year) to struggle in their first N.A. season.  Getting started in the AHL will help him adjust at an easier pace.

He is thought of as primarily a defensive forward but has shown some offensive ability.  In 51 games last season he totaled 7 goals and 17 assists, which while not huge numbers in N.A. it is a solid offensive season in the lower scoring Swedish Elite League.

Balance is key in hockey.  You can have as many goal scorers as you want, but if you don't have players willing to muck it up in the corners and kill penalties then you won't get very far.  

On paper this team is as deep as any team we have seen in Hershey over the recent years.  I don't think there is as much offensive ability as in the recent Alexandre Giroux years, but sit down and try to come up with line's hard.  

There are a multitude of players that fit the "offense first" mold...Greentree, Aucoin, Mink, Potulny, and Ford.  Admittedly I don't know a ton about Potulny and Ford so maybe I am misjudging them a bit but their stats and profiles indicate they are more offensively focused than others.

And there are 2-way forwards as well - Bourque, Sjogren, Micflikier, Eakin, Kane, and Hanson come to mind right away. 

But are their any Quintin Laing's, Jay Beagle's, or Andrew Joudrey's on this roster?

Who will step into those roles?  The hardworking, energy line guys who are asked to shut down opposing scoring lines and dig the pucks out of the corners.  The guys who will step up for a teammate when a questionable hit is laid.  The type of player that can be counted on in his own zone no matter the situation. 

Kane would be one to think of, but every year that goes by is one year slower for the veteran left winger.  Carroll will likely be one of the guys, a Joudrey like player.  Garrett Mitchell, the young rookie, could also fill a Laing or Beagle like role, if he were to make the roster.  Joel Rechlicz will fill the same role as he did last year which is good but when you only play in 28 games you truly don't have much of an impact.

These are questions this team will have to answer with their play.  Guys will surely step into the necessary roles...or else.

There are also questions in regard to the number of veterans.  Aucoin, Kane, Potulny, Bourque, Mink, and Danny Richmond are all veterans.  Greentree is too but he fits into a different definition of the term and won't have to sit at all.  But one of the first 6 is going to have to be a healthy scratch every single game as long as all are healthy.

How much will that hurt team chemistry?  If Potulny (or someone else) is on a good role, scoring in multiple games, and it is their turn to sit and coach Mark French decides to sit someone else (say...Mink) instead...will that sit okay with everyone?

These guys are all competitors and they all want to play.  Sitting good players when healthy CAN create locker room discord.  Hopefully the Bears can manage it efficiently.

In the end this is the one unit of the team that is somewhat an unknown.  The goalies...we know them.  The defense...for the most part we know them.  But the forwards?  There are so many new pieces (and returning pieces with Bourque and Mink) that we can not be certain how it will all work out.

But I am looking forward to seeing it come together.  And it begins soon enough.

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