Saturday, October 3, 2009

Quick Look at Bridgeport

Last season's Bridgeport Soundtigers experienced their best season ever. Still, despite 49 regular season wins and 106 points, the team's season fizzled to a halt in a 5 game first round dismissal. As disappointing as that was, it certainly is understandable in light of a differing line-up and a bunch of younger players experience their first AHL playoff hockey, if not simply their first AHL hockey.

The good news is, the 09-10 regular season shouldn't differ all that much from the 08-09 regular season, at least with respect to the regular season standings. Many of the core components such as Nathan Lawson, Andrew MacDonald, Dustin Kohn, Mark Wotton, Trevor Smith and Jesse Joensuu are returning. They played key roles in last year's success and are each expected to carry their share of the load with the mother club expecting another step in development from each and every one of them other than elder statesman Wotton. The loss of several good veterans such as Chris Lee, Joe Callahan, Mike Iggulden, Jeremy Colliton, Ben Walter and Mr. McLean have been compensated for with the signing of other established AHLers such as Scott Munroe, Mark Flood, Brett Westgarth, Jeremy Reich, Greg Moore, Greg Mauldin, Bobby Hughes, and Trevor Gillies. That contingent could be enchanced by Matt Moulson, if and when he's sent down (uhhh, and he will be).

Of course, the best thing about this year's edition is that more of the Islanders' own draft picks than perhaps ever before will be looked to as regulars in the upcoming season. After an initial (and disappointing) year in the Swedish SEL, young trickster Robin Figren will be spending the season on the farm, and hopefully dazzling his way to a cup of coffee on the Island at some point this season. The returning 6'4", 200 lbs. Tomas Marcinko is returning after a rough rookie year and is hoping to take on a totally different role this season, especially with Rob Henningar having been traded. Pleasant OHL surprises Justin DiBenedetto and Matt Martin, both drafted as overagers, are signed and ready to go. They each had a pretty good NHL camp and both looked primed for a strong introduction to the pro ranks. Their Sarnia teammate and former 3rd round pick Mark Katic is expected to spend the season in Bridgeport and hopefully become a regular on the power play. The latest addition was this summer's 31st overall pick, goaltender Mikko Koskinen, who wasn't only drafted surprisingly early, but also an unexpected signing - one that must have been made with some conviction considering there was no rush and he was likely in line for 1st string duties in the SIM Liiga. To show that the surprises just weren't gonna stop coming, the Islanders also signed 2009 5th rounder Anton Klimentiev, likely just to keep him in North America and avoid any possible stress that could come with a signing in Russia. Whether he plays in the AHL, ECHL or even in the OHL (also drafted there this summer), Anton looks destined for a season in North America.

Also returning are regulars Sean Bentivoglio and Tyler Haskins as well as roughian fan favorites Pascal Morency and Michael Haley. Summer signee Jason Dale and Long Island's own Vlad Nikiforov are currently down in Utah while Jon Gleed and Jake Gannon appear to be in the picture for the Soundtigers, with Gleed likely lining up with captain Mark Wotton on opening night.

Topping things off was the addition of Long Island's own Tony Romano who scored 36 goals last season in the OHL. Coming over in a trade for Ben Walter, Romano has been strong this fall and looks ready to pivot one of the top 3 lines.

With a plethora of depth, an above-average goaltending trio, a great balance between AHL rookies & veterans as well as one of the most aspiring coaches in all of pro hockey in Jack Capuano, the only real weakness of note is the lack of experience on the blueline, although this group would have to be considered league average, at worst. All in all, the fans of both the Soundtigers and Islanders should keep a good eye on this team because it is really turning into a top address in the AHL while always keeping its focal point on player development.

Following is a breakdown of the type of pointage you the fans can realistically expect from the players this season.

Munroe 25+ wins
Koskinen 15+ wins
Lawson 5+ wins

MacDonald 30+ points
Katic, Flood each 25+ points
Kohn, Wotton each 15+ points
Westgarth, Gleed, Gannon each 5 points

Smith 65 points
Mauldin, Moore, Joensuu, Moulson each 40+ points
Reich, DiBenedetto each 30+ points
Romano, Bentivoglio, Figren each 25+ points
Haskins, Marcinko, Martin each 20+ points
Morency, Haley, Hughes, Gillies each up to 10 points

Ohhhhh, and one last thing: expect this team to be involved in as many fights as any team in the AHL!

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