Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bears Open Camp

Today is officially the first day of the 2012-13 hockey season for the Hershey Bears.  The opening of training camp today marks the beginning of Hershey's 75th AHL season. 

There are some changes that the 75th year will bring.  The new logos are the most immediately noticeable changes.  A new roster is the second biggest change.  The roster is again talented and deep which will help considering some of the NHL caliber talent on AHL rosters due to the NHL lockout.  Hershey has a couple of guys that fit that label, Dmitry Orlov and Braden Holtby, but that is minor compared to some of the teams rosters. 

The final change for the upcoming season could have the most impact but may not be noticed by many people at all.  With a new coaching staff in Washington there are going to be subtle differences in the way the Bears play.  For most of us, this means nothing.  The main thing we care about are goals for, goals against, and wins and losses.  But for the players this could create opportunities for players or take away some.  Guys that fit certain roles in the past couple of seasons may find that those roles are expanded, diminished, or eliminated completely.  While other guys will fill new roles that are created by the system.

Considering the Bears have 3 days of practices before their first exhibition game, the changes are going to be sporadic at first.  In fact, I would imagine that there will still be mental lapses and blown assignments through the first few weeks of the season as players adjust to the slight changes. 

“We talked about it at development camp [in July],” French said. “There will be some changes to the way that we play.  Some things aren't going to change. But there will probably be two or three subtle differences in how we play, but not a change in the overall philosophy of how we want to play.”

Sometimes the subtle differences are the ones that are hardest to implement because things happen so quick on the ice.  It makes it easier for a guy to forget the new way and revert to the old style.

Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your feelings on it), the Bears will feature a bunch of guys that weren't in Hershey last year so they are learning a new system anyways.

43 players are scheduled to attend training camp.  Below are the positional lists for anyone that hasn't seen it.  The players that are shown in bold font are guys that I consider to be locked in to a roster spot in Hershey.  Names shown in italics are the guys with a legitimate shot to make the team.  Players in standard font are long shots to make the Bears and will likely be reporting to Reading.

The new ECHL affiliate Royals are scheduled to open camp tomorrow and the Bears coaching staff intends to make their first cuts on Thursday (after the first exhibition game on Wednesday night).  Expect to see a bunch of the long shots in the game Wednesday night.

Now to the roster:

  • Brandon Anderson
  • Philipp Grubauer
  • Braden Holtby
  • Sergey Kostenko
  • Dany Sabourin
If the lockout were not ongoing, Braden would likely be in Washington and Grubauer would be starting off in Hershey.  I fully expect the NHL to play this season so this is likely a temporary situation but it isn't a bad one for the Bears.  Grubauer WILL see time in Hershey this season and likely won't be cut until the end of camp, but I don't see why the Bears would carry 3 goaltenders on the opening night roster.  Dany's spot is not in any danger in my opinion.  Even if Grubauer outplays Sabs I still think the Bears send the youngster to Reading to keep him in game action.

Anderson and Kostenko are raw and unknown prospects that may or may not pan out for the organization.  The theory for the Capitals in recent years is to take a goalie in every draft as you never know.  So far it has worked out.  It may again with these guys...but barring injuries I doubt either guy sees a minute on Giant Center ice this season.

  • Julien Brouillette
  • Adam Comrie
  • Brett Flemming
  • Tomas Kundratek
  • Kevin Marshall
  • Patrick McNeill
  • Steven Oleksy
  • Dmitry Orlov
  • Cameron Schilling
  • Garrett Stafford
  • Dustin Stevenson
  • Brad Walch
  • Patrick Wellar
  • Scott Wietecha
14 defensemen are in camp.  I expect the Bears to start the season with 8 on the roster.  Kundratek, Marshall, McNeill, Orlov, Schilling, and Stafford are locks to be in Hershey.  That leaves only 2 spots open.  Let's start this discussion with the players unlikely to make the team.

Walch will be in his first professional season and playing time in Reading is most important for him.  Stevenson has been in the ECHL for a couple of seasons and might get a game or two in Hershey as an injury fill in but I don't see him playing in Hershey much.  Wietecha has some offensive game, 14 goals and 13 assists in 55 ECHL games last season, but he has yet to make his AHL debut.    Comrie is under contract with Reading and is probably the unlikeliest to make the Bears.

Now for the fringe guys...

Odds are that the final two spots will be Brouillette's and Wellar's to lose since the coaching staff knows them and understands what they bring to the table.  But, with Orlov staying in Hershey for the time being there is one less spot available so their spots are not locked in.  Of the two I think Wellar's spot is safer. 

Flemming is a good young player, but I don't see them rushing him.  Why keep him in Hershey to start the season and sit in the stands when he can get regular playing time in Reading.  He likely has a brighter future than the other 3 fringe guys, but that future will likely wait until later this year or next.

Oleksy has 67 games of AHL experience and was a plus 16 in 50 games for Bridgeport last season.  In a normal season I would give him excellent odds of starting in Hershey.  In this lockout season...I think he is the first or second call up option.

It's a solid group of players with or without Orlov.  I can't imagine a defensive unit in the league any better then this one.  Schilling is a rising star in the organization.  Kundratek got time in the NHL last season and is highly regarded as well.  This might be McNeill's last chance in the organization but I think Hershey fans feel pretty good about him on the blueline.  Same can be said for Marshall to be honest although he was limited to 31 games last year due to injuries.  Stafford is the veteran presence that should help the young guys continue to progress.  

  • Barry Almeida
  • Matt Beaudoin
  • Alex Berry
  • Mike Carman
  • Joel Champagne
  • David Civitarese
  • Matt Clackson
  • Jon DiSalvatore
  • Stanislav Galiev
  • Tyler Gron
  • Zach Hamill
  • Jon Kalinski
  • Boyd Kane
  • David Marshall
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Danick Paquette
  • Matt Pope
  • Ryan Potulny
  • Mattias Sjogren
  • Ryan Stoa
  • T.J. Syner
  • Jeff Taffe
  • Jesse Todd
  • David Vallorani
24 forwards in camp with I suspect 15 positions open for the start of the season.  13 are locks in my opinion. 

Let's talk first of the players that likely have little chance to open the season in Hershey.  And these are some names to keep in mind as some good players (Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto to name a couple recent guys) have come through the ECHL to AHL.

Tyler Gron and Jesse Todd both finished their college careers last year and got a sniff of the AHL.  Gron played 3 games with Bridgeport and picked up an assist while Todd played 5 games in Hamilton and picked up 3 helpers.  Both guys packed some offensive punch in college so keep their names handy going forward.

Vallorani is also a recent college graduate but he didn't get a shot in the AHL last season.  He was at development camp in July and impressed the staff enough to give him a shot.  He is a diminutive player, standing only 5'8" (just like Almeida and Syner actually) so the odds are against him.  He is a solid offensive player though.  Just a question of many players under 5'9" do the Bears want to roster this season.

Champagne is a year removed from a very successful junior career in the QMJHL.  He was a 5th round pick of the Maple Leafs and played 55 games with Milwaukee last year, picking up 6 goals and 6 assists.  Definitely a good player headed to Reading, but he won't make a huge impact in Hershey this season I don't think.

Civitarese played 10 games for the Bears last season after his college season ended and he will likely get another look this year but there are too many bodies in Hershey for him to start the season here.

Marshall is the journeyman of the group, having spent parts of the last 4 seasons playing for 8 different franchises in the ECHL and AHL including the Baby Pens 2 years ago.  Another depth piece like Champagne but unlikely to make an impact in Hershey.

Paquette is a feisty player who doesn't bring much offense at this point in his career.  Too small for a heavy weight (6'0" 210 lbs) and not quite offensive enough for a 3rd line role, he is likely headed to another season in the ECHL.  Could see a sniff of Hershey this year if the cards fall right for him.

Now let's look at the fringe guys. 

Syner and Almeida might as well be discussed together.  The cousins both finished their college careers and signed contracts with the Bears immediately afterwards.  Neither is truly average height for an adult male, but both can skate and make plays.  Personally, I love seeing guys like this on the ice.  They are quick, have incredible vision to make plays, and are tough as anyone.  They have been counted out for years due to their size and have made it this far.  Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque understand what they are going through.  As do guys like Martin St. Louis.  Are Syner or Almeida in that class....unlikely, but still a little early to tell.  I suspect that at least one of them starts the season in Reading, if not both.  When everyone is healthy the Bears are likely looking for guys that can kill penalties and play 4th line, physical minutes.  Not saying these guys can't do it...but I suspect other guys get the chance first.

Pope is that type of player.  He is never going to log power play minutes and won't see time with the first liners, barring injury, but he will kill penalties and play a physical, high energy game with his linemates.  A veteran player who isn't going to disappoint in his role.

Mitchell.  The Bears depth is good again this year.  That explains his appearance on the fringe list.  But, to his advantage, he is the same as Pope...with a bit more offensive upside I think.  I said last year that Mitchell reminded me a lot of Gordon in the way he skated and is built.  I don't think Mitchell has that kind of offensive upside but I think he could have Jay Beagle kind of upside...15-20 goals and assists, given the necessary minutes.  I think he makes the roster but could see them sending him to Reading for more playing time to see if he can develop further offensively. 

The roster saw a lot of turnover from last season to this one...more than in other years it felt like.  It is likely to take some time for guys to adjust to each other.  And it will take some time for the coaching staff to figure out line combinations and which guys are right for certain situations. 

Overall I think this is a good team with loads of depth.  The Reading Royals are going to be contenders in the ECHL as they will also load up on talent that doesn't immediately make a spot in Hershey. 

The season is only two weeks away.  I will have plenty more over the coming weeks. 


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