With the OHL season beginning next week, BTN taking an early look at each team in reverse order of last season's standings.
In 2011-12 — 31-30-4-3, 69 pts, seventh Eastern Conference. Lost 4-2 in the first round to the Ottawa 67s.
Final Dynamic Dozen ranking — 17th OHL, 44th CHL.
Drafted — G Malcolm Subban (Boston, first round) F Brendan Gaunce (Vancouver, first round) F Danill Zharkov (Edmonton, third round) D Brady Austin (Buffalo, seventh round)
Draft watch* — D Jordan Subban is a potential first round target. F Aaron Berisha was the MVP of the 2011 OHL Cup and makes his Belleville debut this season.
1. They had two guys taken in the first round?
They did. According to our friend John Matisz's book about Brendan Gaunce's draft season, the Boston Bruins extensively scouted Gaunce. At the draft, knowing that both Gaunce and Malcolm Subban were on the table, Peter Chiarelli, rather than lead with the customary "the Bruins select from the Belleville Bulls..." he opted to say Subban's name first, team second, as to not bring down Gaunce.
So the two ought to have a playful rivalry this season. Gaunce was taken two picks later by the Vancouver Canucks, who exhibit a healthy rivalry thanks to a memorable seven-game Stanley Cup series two seasons ago.
Gaunce has a reputation as a silent leader and a defensive specialist, but his big asset may be his offensive game. Scouts love his shot, and improving on his 28 goal total would help out a team that was third worst in the OHL last season ahead of just Kingston and Erie.
3. Just 200 goals? Can anybody else on this team score goals?
The benefit to having a pretty young team is that there are wild differences from a player's 17-year old season and his 18-year old season, or his 18-year old season and his 19-year old season. While the Bulls are losing out on former captain Luke Judson, the fact of the matter is that he didn't produce like an overager should on a good OHL team. Austen Brassard, Danill Zharkov and Garrett Hooey are all a year older and they added a big gun in Sergei Kupstov from Mississauga. They should score well over 200 goals this season.
But where I think they'll really get help is in the development of Jordan Subban. At the Ivan Hlinka camps in August he was one of the most noticeable players on the ice and one of the top two defenders. He's a few pounds heavier this year than last, but that hasn't affected his skating. He has a very good top speed in the neutral zone and is quick when he has to be with good acceleration in his own end. If Belleville can deploy him effectively, he could have a 10-goal season.
2. Is Malcolm Subban the best goaltender in the country?
Probably. The middle of the Subban brothers is the clubhouse leader to be Canada's starting netminder at the World Junior tournament in Ufa, Russia this season. Subban had a .923 save percentage, among the elites in the OHL, behind an absolutely porous defence last season. The D is a little more battle-hardened and should cut down on the number of shots and chances that Subban sees. It's on Belleville's skaters to take a big step forward this season, but they ought to be a contending team in the Eastern Conference.
(* First-time eligible players)