Friday, October 4, 2013

Examining Different Roles

Opening night is just around the corner and we are all excited to get a look at the 2013-14 version of our Hershey Bears!!!

One of the best ways to get acclimated with the new roster is to try and come up with line combinations that we could see.  I have done this in years past.

But the activity is futile, especially when you have 31 guys on the current roster!

So instead of trying to figure out lines, I went with a different approach this year.  I try to define the roles of each line and which players that would fit that role instead.  Sound good?  Good.

First and Second Lines

These lines are combined as one group and are always (unless a team isn't very good) scoring lines.  The major role is to score goals and make plays.  Playing defense is good too, but your hope with the top 2 lines is that they spend a majority of their time in the offensive zone.

So, which players from this years Bears roster should we look for on these lines?  Glad you asked.

I think there are 9 guys that could make a pretty big case for being on one of the top 2 lines each night they play.  They are:
  • Jamie Johnson
  • Derek Whitmore
  • Jeff Taffe
  • Casey Wellman
  • Stanislav Galiev
  • Peter LeBlanc
  • Ryan Stoa
  • Brandon Segal
  • Nathan Walker
I hesitate to add Walker to this list, but he has spent time in that role in practice so maybe he gets a chance.  Otherwise I think all the other guys speak for themselves.  Galiev was very good in Reading last year and was impressive in limited opportunities in Washington's preseason.  He struggled in the AHL last year and any struggles this year will move him to Reading.

One mistake teams make, at both the AHL and NHL level, is they misuse guys they call up.  You see it all the time in the NHL.  A team calls up a guy who is scoring at alarming rates in the minors and then they put him on the 4th line in the NHL and everyone wonders why he can't produce up there.  Same thing happens with guys like Galiev.  He isn't a 3rd or 4th line grinder and, unless he worked on it a lot this offseason, isn't going to help your team in that capacity.  So I will be curious to see how they use him.

Stoa struggled mightily last year in Hershey.  He was expected to be a top offensive weapon when he signed, but failed to live up to those levels.  He finished with 11 goals in 48 games.  We will see if he has cured whatever ailed him last season.

A couple other names to watch for this list would be Michael Latta, Nicolas Deschamps, and Garrett Mitchell.  I think each has the skills necessary to be a top 6 forward in the AHL, but the numbers game and their other skills will likely keep them out of it to start the year. 

3rd Line

Your 3rd line is a typically middle ground between scoring lines and pure energy/grinder lines.  You want guys that can score if given the opportunity, but can also shut down the oppositions top line.  Jay Beagle was one of the best of recent memory in Washington to do this.  He could score if needed, but was great in his own end.

There are a few guys I really like for this line in Hershey this year:
  • Michael Latta
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Matt Watkins
  • Nicolas Deschamps
  • Dane Byers
Some of the names from the 1/2 lines will trickle down here too, but if you gave me a line of Latta - Mitchell - Deschamps...I would be ecstatic. 

Latta might not be in Hershey long as he was only sent down because the Caps added a defenseman through waivers.  With Jack Hillen getting hurt last night in Washington and expected to miss "months" than I suspect Latta might be headed back to Washington sooner rather than later.  When he moves up you can just plug Watkins into his spot as he is another center and this line probably won't miss a beat.

Byers can fill a role on the top lines as well, but based on how he was used at the end of last season I think he is more destined for 3/4 line work.  

4th Line

This is your energy line.  Typically, these guys are mainly out there to play a physical game, make the other team work hard, and not give up a goal.  If anything comes from them on offense than its a bonus as it isn't usually expected.  Andrew Joudrey and Mike Carman were your prototypical 4th line guys in recent years.

Hershey is in a unique situation this year, as they were a few years ago.  They have enough guys to roll with 4 scoring type lines and no energy line.  It is hard to tell until you see certain players and see how Coach Haviland likes to roll his forward lines out there, but this line could be more like a second 3rd line for 2013-14.

This is probably the toughest line to project until you get to know the guys as you don't know what their skill is based on stats.  But I will take a crack at it.  (That doesn't count the first guy on this list...he is a no brainer.)
  • Joel Rechicz
  • Tyler Ruegsegger
  • Josh Brittain
  • John Mitchell
When Joel plays, which I don't expect to be too often, the 4th line will take on a more traditional role.  They will be a high energy, agitator type line instead of a 4th scoring line.  

Depending on other guys I could see Dane Byers mainly on this list this year as well.  Some of these guys I think are destined for Reading and I think most of the other players on the roster fit the top 3 lines so, as I said before, you will probably see 4 'scoring' lines in Hershey this year instead. 

But that depends on coach preference and injuries a bit too, obviously.


Trying to figure out the defensive pairs is even harder than the lines.  Coach Adam Oates likes to use lefties with righties at all times so his pairings are a bit easier to project.  Not sure if Haviland will take the same approach or not...he does have the bodies to do so if he chooses.

The Bears have 4 players that played at least a game in the NHL last season.

Cameron Schilling
Dmitry Orlov
Tyson Strachan
Tomas Kundratek

In addition, another player, Nate Schmidt, was recalled after Hershey's season ended and spent the postseason practicing with the Caps.  He didn't get in any games, but he was right there if needed. 

Assuming Haviland goes with the leftie/rightie approach to keep it similar within the organization I would imagine you will see something like this:


Am I right?  Who the hell knows.  I think the top 5 is pretty clear though.  Srachan, Orlov, Schilling, Schmidt, and Kundratek.  After that it is probably a free for all.  I don't know much about Kolomatis, but he seems to have more upside than some of the other guys.

Because of their depth I think both Wey and Cajkovsky end up in Reading so that they get continuous work.  They can probably both handle the AHL, but with the rest of the guys they won't be every night starters and they will play more in the ECHL.

I think Weller and Brouillette, turn mainstays the past couple years, are also playing for the roster lives right now.  But what do I know.


Goaltending is easy.  Grubauer is #1, Leggio is #2.  It will probably end up being a 1a, 1b like situation, but my guess is Grubauer will start 2 games more often in 3 in 3 weekends.

See that what easy.

At the end of the day...I know very little about most of these guys beyond their stats.  And stats can lie.  Some of the guys (Wellman and Taffe) have pretty unquestioned roles.  Others I feel pretty good about too.  But what the heck do I know.

The only thing I know for sure is that I am excited to see this team on the ice.  There is ample amounts of potential on this roster.  Assuming a relatively healthy season and a good coaching job...the sky is the limit.

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