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On Wednesday, the Hamilton Bulldogs announced their training camp roster. While most AHL clubs are inviting somewhere between 30 and 34 players, the Bulldogs have brought considerably more to camp, 43 players in total. Including among this group are 14 tryouts, several of which could be intriguing pieces for Hamilton this season. Here is a quick look at each of the potential newcomers.
It should be noted that due to the lockout, none of these players are eligible to sign NHL two-way contracts (NHL/AHL). Any of these players who sign a deal will either ink a one-way AHL pact or a two-way (AHL/ECHL) one which is what forwards Stefan Chaput, Olivier Fortier, and Daultan Leveille did last week.
Spencer Bennett: A 5th round selection of Calgary back in 2009, Bennett has the size of a power forward but plays a finesse game. He was invited to training camp in Phoenix last season and earned a minor league deal where he played relatively well in very limited action. I doubt he'd challenge for a roster spot in Hamilton but he might be a useful player to have as an option to recall if injuries arise during the season.
Bobby Farnham: An all-out hustler, Farnham plays larger than his small 5'10 frame. Skill wise though, he's a bit more limited. His shot and playmaking abilities were mediocre at the collegiate level which doesn't bode well for his chances to succeed in the pros. He had a couple of brief tryouts last year but I think he'll be lucky to get one from Hamilton.
Stephen MacAulay: Like Farnham, MacAulay is a tireless worker on the ice. He can play all three forward positions and plays well in the defensive zone. A big knock on his game is his skating while he has failed to take strides forward over his years with Saint John in the QMJHL. A good camp for him could earn the former St. Louis prospect an invite to rookie camp next season but a contract isn't likely.
Michel Ouellet: Of the many invites, Ouellet surprised me the most. The 30 year old has played 190 NHL games but hasn't seen any significant time there since 2007-08. After a stint in Europe, he returned to the AHL last year where he played for the Calder Cup winners in Norfolk but had a secondary role with that team. I've long been harping about the need to bring a veteran forward onto the roster and Ouellet would be a good fit. He wouldn't be a go-to guy at this stage but could provide some scoring from the second or third line plus bring some leadership to the locker room.
Brendan Ranford: Between the season and playoffs last year, the former Flyers prospect led Kamloops (WHL) in goals with 45. (If anyone's wondering who was second, it was 3rd rounder Tim Bozon.) His size (5'10) works against him as does his mediocre skating ability but there's no denying that Ranford has offensive skills that will translate to the AHL level. The lockout probably is working against him here. I think he'd have been a candidate to sign with Montreal and then be returned to junior. I don't see him playing his way onto the Hamilton roster out of camp and with the alternatives being Wheeling or Kamloops, the latter is likely best for his development.
Kyle Rank: This is likely the strangest invite of the bunch. The 29 year old has basically been out of hockey since 2009-10, save for a two game stint with Rochester in 2010. He's from near the Hamilton area, I have to guess this invite is a favour to someone more than anything. I doubt he's signed.
Zack Torquato: I was a big fan of Torquato's game back in his junior days. The former Detroit selection (6th round in 2007) wasn't able to bring his offensive game to the pro level and has spent the past two years primarily in the ECHL. He is under contract to Wheeling, Hamilton's ECHL affiliate and could parlay a strong effort at camp into a recall if needed during the season but shouldn't get an AHL deal.
Etienne Boutet: A late addition to the training camp roster, Boutet has shown slow but steady improvement in his four full seasons in the QMJHL. He isn't a particularly physical player but he doesn't shy away from contact either. His skating, once a concern, has come around in recent years. He played for Clement Jodoin (last years' Hamilton coach, now an assistant with Montreal) in Rimouski, I imagine Jodoin had a say in his invite.
Antoine Corbin: A Quebec-born player who suits up in the WHL, Corbin has overhauled his style of play since joining the league. Prior to playing junior hockey, he was primarily a skill defenceman who didn't have much of a physical game but today, he is a hard hitter whose primary focus is his own end. Like MacAulay, his goal should be to play well enough to earn consideration for a rookie camp invite next offseason.
Kevin Gagne: A prolific high school scorer, the diminutive Gagne has had glimpses of success at the QMJHL level but has yet to become the dominant offensive force he needs to be to stand out amongst the rest. He's a solid skater but taller/stronger forwards can outmuscle him in junior and they will in the pros too. He's likely going to be back in junior.
Sebastian Owuya: The brother of Toronto goalie prospect Mark, this defenceman is the tallest among those invited to camp. He has only played in North America for the past two years, one so-so year in the WHL and one so-so year in the East Coast League. Hamilton needs a blueliner or two for extra depth but I have to think they could do better than Owuya.
Cody Wild: Since turning pro in 2008, he has bounced around a bit, playing for three AHL and three ECHL teams. He was affiliated with Wheeling last season but spent most of his year with Wilkes-Barre Scranton, the other AHL affiliate of the Nailers. He played relatively well in a limited role with the Baby Penguins and I think would be a quality depth guy to have in the system, one he already has been a part of. If there is a defence spot up for grabs in camp, I think it's his to lose.
Scott Darling: He signed with Wheeling a few weeks ago after spending most of last year in the Southern Professional Hockey League. He also is the lone invite to camp who dressed for Hamilton last year having dressed as the backup goalie for a game late in the season. He's not going to challenge for the backup role, I'm not even sure he'll be in Wheeling instead of a lower level.
Cody Reichard: This is someone the Habs have had their eye on for a bit as he has attended rookie camp with them previously. He already is under contract to Stockton of the ECHL this season. He isn't going to beat out anyone ahead of him on the depth chart so this is probably just an extra look to assess if Montreal management wants to bring him around for the next rookie camp in the offseason.
With three goalies, seven defencemen, and nineteen forwards already under contract, there aren't a lot of spots available to be had but don't be surprised to see one or two of these players play themselves into the plans this year while several others could make a case to be brought back to one of the Habs' rookie camps in 2013.
- Full Training Camp Roster