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Boston Bruins: Previewing Providence and the AHL's Atlantic Division

Al DanielCorrespondent IISeptember 23, 2012

Boston Bruins: Previewing Providence and the AHL's Atlantic Division

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    The Providence Bruins’ road to redemption, i.e. a return to the playoffs after a four-year absence, is unprecedentedly dense with divisional dates. Precisely half (38) of the 76 games on their 2012-13 season schedule will feature an adversary from the AHL Atlantic.

    Translation: Providence’s promising preseason lineup will only be as good as it drives through the likes of St. John’s, Portland and especially Manchester and Worcester. If enough key cogs arrive performance-wise on game night, a division title and automatic home ice for the first round are wholly attainable.

    Yet, as second-year head coach Bruce Cassidy ought to know, inconsistency amidst a hefty slate of virtual four-point tilts can quickly bust a tire or two.

    Based on a Friday press release naming 34 training camp participants, the P-Bruins will return 18 participants from the 2011-12 season and add another 16 aspirants for the next two weeks.

    Although they were not initially listed when the parent Boston Bruins announced their AHL assignments ahead of the NHL lockout, newly acquired forward Chris Bourque and returning enforcer Lane MacDermid both project to take part.

    This should mean having the 2010 Calder Cup playoff MVP and top AHL regular-season point-getter from last year in Providence for 2012-13. Bourque, along with third-year Bruin Jordan Caron and rising prospects Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner figure to be the go-to offensive pilots.

    Seasoned captain Trent Whitfield and newcomer Christian Hanson will join Bourque, Caron and Jamie Tardif as the learned trendsetters on offense. Youngsters Carter Camper, Craig Cunningham, Kyle MacKinnon and Max Sauve will simply be tasked with staying healthy and staying the course in their development.

    The P-Bruins defensive corps will feature five returning regulars along with NHL/AHL veteran Garnet Exelby and two fresh-out-of-college rookies in Torey Krug and Tommy Cross. Exelby, Matt Bartkowski and Colby Cohen will stand as the elder statesmen while sophomore Kevan Miller seeks to follow up on an uncanny plus-20 campaign.

    The other four blueliners coming in for camp this Friday are long shots and are more realistic candidates for the ECHL, at best. But some will likely see slivers of AHL action over the course of the season in accordance with the inevitable revolving door, especially if the lockout ends in time to salvage an NHL campaign.

    Third-year pro Michael Hutchinson is the front-runner candidate for the starting job in net, though Niklas Svedberg need not waste any time acclimating to North America and preparing for his share of the workload.

    With a little less than three weeks left until the teams in question begin to set themselves apart on the ice, the opposing outlooks are still relatively similar. Here is a capsule of the P-Bruins' four Atlantic Division cohabitants based on their presumptive NHL lockout lineups.

Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles)

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    The Monarchs are likely the most AHL-seasoned team in the division, if not the league. Five of the skaters assigned to Manchester each have more than 200 AHL games to their credit, while 17 total players have combined for 1,899 regular-season appearances in the development circuit.

    Meanwhile, their projected contributors, most notably forwards Andrei Loktionov and Jordan Nolan and defenseman Slava Voynov, have combined for 144 regular-season games in The Show.

    Loktionov has 59 NHL regular-season and two playoff games on his transcript. He also put in two appearances for the Kings in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Voynov tallied 20 points in 54 regular-season appearances with the Kings and was in action for the full 20-game ride to the Cup, as was Nolan.

    Voynov and the returnees on the blue-line brigade will have long-time Providence point patroller Andrew Bodnarchuk on their side. Bodnarchuk, who transferred his rights to L.A. as a free agent after playing five games for Boston and 270 for Providence, will visit his old mates and fans on opening night for the first of 12 meetings.

    Another former P-Bruin, David Kolomatis, enters his fourth season with the Monarchs, joining a slew of other multi-year Manchester veterans. The most notable is David Meckler, a rare specimen who has logged five seasons with one AHL club and will now be an even rarer sixth-year Monarch.

    With Brandon Kozun, Stefan Legein, Meckler and Linden Vey, the Monarchs will return at least four of last year’s double-digit goal-scorers. Other returnees most likely would have been in that club had they stayed in the AHL for the balance of the season.

    One can’t-miss freshman in Manchester is Tanner Pearson, the defending champions’ top draft choice this past spring, who will be eligible to break into the AHL without delay, having turned 20 in August.

Portland Pirates (Phoenix)

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    The parent Coyotes recently announced 29 AHL training camp participants, headlined by defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who played through Phoenix’s full season and tallied a 13-19-32 scoring log as a sophomore last year.

    Based on the Coyotes’ release, the Pirates will have as many as 10 returnees from last season, though only Andy Miele was a regular participant and contributor.

    For the duration of the lockout, Ekman-Larsson, David Rundblad and Michael Stone can be leaned-on for two-way productivity. All eyes will also await the first professional impression of Brandon Gormley, arguably the most touted Coyotes prospect.

    Up front, the continuing development of sophomores Miele and Brett Hextall and the health of NHL/AHL veteran Alexandre Bolduc will be pivotal to Portland’s nucleus.

    Newly acquired goaltender Chad Johnson, who spent the bulk of the previous three years with Hartford/Connecticut, can expect to get the nod most nights. Major junior graduates Mark Visentin and Louis Domingue will battle for the backup role.

St. John’s IceCaps (Winnipeg)

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    The defending division champions are keeping their core and raring to rebound after being swept out of the Eastern Conference finals by the eventual Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals.

    It won’t hurt to bring back 12 skaters who combined to tally 134 (or 56 percent) of the team’s 240 goals last year. The Jets have assigned Patrice Cormier, Carl Klingberg, Eric O’Dell and Zach Redmond, among others, while Aaron Gagnon, Spencer Machachek and Paul Postma are among those returning by way of an AHL contract.

    Third-year professional Eddie Pasquale figures to retain the starting job in net and will vie to build upon a .923 save percentage from the 2012 playoffs.

    As was the case in 2011-12, the P-Bruins will only cross paths with the IceCaps four times in the coming campaign, and the season series will be over by mid-December. However, that only means both parties will need to grab their divisional points and potential playoff seeding deciders before they’re gone.

Worcester Sharks (San Jose)

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    Freddie Hamilton, the older brother of high-ranking Bruins prospect Dougie Hamilton, will step into the Sharks' farm system after a prolific major-junior career in Niagara.

    He along with Sebastien Stalberg, who tallied a 3-2-5 scoring log in 13 games last year after signing out of the University of Vermont, will be leaned on to replenish a strike force that finished 25th in total goals last season.

    San Jose’s official announcement of AHL assignments confirms the return of four forwards (Stalberg), three defensemen and three goaltenders to Worcester from 2011-12. Alex Stalock, who tended the net for 102 games over two seasons, will seek reclaim the starting job from Harri Sateri after splitting a short 2011-12 campaign of 11 games between Worcester, ECHL Stockton and AHL Peoria.

    Another familiar face, Danny Groulx, will be returning to the club after two years in the KHL. Groulx, a veteran of 10 professional seasons, played Worcester’s full 80-game slate in 2009-10 and has 495 career AHL games with five organizations to speak of.

    It is unclear if there will be additional returnees, but an overhaul may be welcome for the Baby Sharks, who are coming off their worst season yet and hoping to avert a third straight playoff no-show.

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