Bulldogs Roster Projections 2017/18: Centre
The Hamilton Bulldogs’ Head Coach John Gruden, along with the coaching staff, with have plenty of decisions to make up the middle this season. Who was effective last year on the dot, who is the most effective with defensive coverage, who gels best with who? All of these questions will effect the outlook of the roster, and we can expect that he will test pairings come training camp next week.
Among the current outlook for the Bulldogs roster, the only bonafide centre who is long term veteran is Brandon Saigeon. Will Bitten is a more than capable of playing centre, but has proven to be more effective as an offensive option on the wing, something Hamilton will be heavily leaning on this season.
There will be several players who the Bulldogs have developed over the last two OHL seasons that will receive long looks at centre.
MacKenzie Entwistle (PHX-3rd, #69) will be given several opportunities over the course of the season to succeed. As he is a swiss-army knife utility forward, he’s going to be fed a large variety of matchups. Expect Entwistle to be given the chance to grow into the offensive units, both even strength and powerplay. Gruden won’t be afraid to play him regardless of which zone the faceoff will be. Entwistle will be a mainstay on the penalty kill, likely seeing the most minutes of any forward on the roster by the end of the year.
The Hamilton Bulldogs selected Connor Roberts 3rd overall in the OHL Priority Selection, creating elevated expectations across the Bulldogs fanbase. The hype that comes from the NHL Lottery draft creates a skewed view on how difficult it can be for an underage OHL player to acclimatize to the highest level of junior hockey in the country. With this in mind, he had a productive yet underwhelming rookie season, and will need to rebound in his draft year.
Roberts spent the majority of last season on the all-rookie fourth line, being occasionally spotted in with the occasional veterans like Trent Fox, Adam Laishram or Luke Kutkevicius. This young man fits the mould for what NHL teams crave up the middle, the combination of size and skating ability to cover all three zones. What Roberts will need to work on is using his linemates effectively as the leader of a unit, while finding opportunities to generate offense.
Kutkevicius’ departure to the Windsor Spitfires opens up a significant opportunity for Roberts to show off his two-way abilities. Roberts will have a huge spike in ice-time from last season, including power play and penalty killing opportunities, essential for him carve out a successful sophomore season.
Zachary Jackson was able to prove two things last season: he is consistent and he’s gritty. He actually only attempted 18 faceoffs last season, although that is likely to change this year. Jackson will be tasked with defensive responsibilities alongside rookie forwards such as McMichael and Kaliyev as they adjust to the speed of the OHL. As is the case with Roberts, Jackson will benefit from an increase in ice-time with the Kutkevicius deletion from the roster. If Roberts falters leading the third line, Jackson will likely be the first choice for Gruden to advance in the lineup.
Hamilton has many players who were drafted out of midget as centres who could possibly see time up the middle this season. Bitten and Strome have both spent time as centres, but historically are best use on the wing. Connor McMichael could come in and impress the coaching staff so much that they don’t waste time developing his two-way skills. McMichael has the potential to be a #1 centre in the OHL down the road, but will likely need some time to find his way. The Bulldogs have the rights to two centres who Staios will probably send an invitation to training camp, who are likely to decline.
Joni Ikonen (MLT-2nd, #58) and Skyler Brind’Amour (EDM-5th, #177) were both drafted in June, and would be huge recruitment victories by Staios if they were to commit. When Ikonen was drafted by the Bulldogs, everyone on Twitter was pleased to express that I was blinded by the possibility would ever consider leaving Europe for Hamilton. It was clearly explained to me that he would be foolish to leave the development powerhouse that is Frölunda HC. Two months later and Ikonen has left the team, signing with Kalpa in the Finnish league.
“While rumours place Ikonen in Kalpa nothing is certain and the situation is fluid at the moment”. – Patrik Bexell, Eyes on the Prize (Source)
Brind’Amour enjoyed a productive development camp with the Oilers in July, and is currently lined up to play in the BCHL for the Chilliwack Chiefs before heading to Michigan State of the NCAA for the 2018-19 season.