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Rookie revolution

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – An influx of freshmen to the AHL ranks each year is expected.  Over the past few years, though, Hamilton has been breeding an increasing number of rookie pups…a number of whom have quickly become top ‘Dogs.

Brock Trotter
The 2007-08 campaign saw 13 players make their debuts, doubling the previous season’s total.  This year, the Bulldogs have boasted 11 rookies on their roster over the course of the season, including one currently plying his trade as a new recruit in the NHL – Max Pacioretty

That total increased by one earlier this week when Habs prospect Andrew Conboy was inked to an AHL pact earlier this week.  Conboy comes aboard after 21 games with the Michigan State Spartans, where he notched 38 points to rank fifth in team scoring.

The 20-year-old is the fourth collegiate player among Hamilton’s rookie class this year, joining the likes of Pacioretty, Brock Trotter and J.T. Wyman.  Pacioretty’s success on the farm earned him the call-up while Brock Trotter appears to have found an offensive groove of late, recording nine points in January, his best output of any month so far.

Ryan White
Other Bulldogs have headed to Steeltown by way of the Canadian junior ranks.  Ben Maxwell and Ryan White headed east from the WHL while Yannick Weber made the near-hour trek from Kitchener (OHL).  Maxwell has enjoyed a stellar campaign so far and with 35 points heading into Wednesday’s action, leads all AHL rookies, in addition to ranking second in team scoring.  The North Vancouver native had a breakout first month of 2009, producing at a point-per-game clip, including an eight-game points streak during which he found the scoresheet 11 times.

Weber endured a slow start to his professional career - not unusual for most rookies - but has since become the top ‘Dog on the blue line, offensively.  The Swiss rearguard has amassed 25 points so far, placing him 10th in the AHL among his fellow defensemen and earning him a spot on the PlanetUSA squad at the recent All-Star Classic.  White, meanwhile, has been a reliable two-way commodity for head coach Don Lever; he’s earned a respectable 23 points in his pro debut and posted a plus-10 differential, third-best on the team.

The remaining members of Hamilton’s rookie class of 2008-09 have graduated from the club’s affiliate in Cincinnati.  Forwards David Desharnais, Olivier Latendresse, Thomas Beauregard and netminder Cedrick Desjardins took the next step forward after helping lead the Cyclones to a Kelly Cup conquest last season.

Desharnais continues to succeed in Hamilton after winning the ECHL scoring race last season.  The diminutive forward sits fifth among AHL freshmen in scoring and is just a point shy of teammate Maxwell for the lead. After leading the ECHL in goals-against (1.92) and earning a handful of starts in Hamilton in 2007-08, Desjardins struggled in his first few starts as Marc Denis’ backup this year.  He’s since picked up the slack while battling a groin injury, posting a .912 save percentage in 17 appearances. 

David Desharnais
Desjardins’ injury paved the way for Loic Lacasse to get his feet wet in the AHL and the 22-year-old made it tough to return him to Cincinnati, going 6-1-0 with a 2.07 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.

Latendresse and Beauregard earned call-ups from Cincinnati earlier this season and were finding their respective grooves before the injury bug that’s been haunting both the Habs and Bulldogs (to a lesser extent) found them. Latendresse played a key role on Hamilton’s first power-play unit and had earned 13 points in 20 games before dislocating his shoulder on Jan. 23, an injury that will keep him out of action for the remainder of the year.

Beauregard’s season is also done.  After suiting up for just eight games since his recall, the right-winger, who had three points in his last four games, had knee surgery and is expected to be out for anywhere from six to eight months.

The Bulldogs and their depleted roster begin a three-game homestand Wednesday night which will see them host division rivals Syracuse (Wednesday) and Lake Erie (Sunday), with a tilt versus Binghamton (Friday).
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