The Bulls have played 21 games representing roughly 30% of their schedule. With a record of 5-12-2-2 Belleville has picked up 14 points and is sitting in 10th place in the OHL Eastern Conference. The good news, is that they only sit 1 points out of the playoff picture. Belleville has played 12 games on the road going 1-8-1-2 and are 4-4-1-0 at the Friendly confines of the Yardman Arena.
We thought this was a good time to to give a break down.
Special Teams : The power play has been a sore spot the last couple years. Finishing last year ranked 17th in the OHL running at 17.7% and the Bulls still managed to clinch top spot in the Conference, so this year with the man advantage improved to 18.6% good for 16th in the OHL its an improvement right ? Its not. I will say, the power play started the season strong and has shown that it can be a dangerous, but its also learning process and with up to what can be eight first year players in the line up on any given night , its not surprising that it would struggle, its also not surprising that a Belleville Bulls power play unit would struggle under this Coaching Staff. The last three seasons have seen the power play be ranked 17th, 20th & 20th. This wasn't always the case. In Coach Burnett's 1st six seasons his group only placed out of the top ten twice, ultimately peaking at third in the 2007-2008 season. Something is wrong with the power play approach and has been fir a while.
A strong penalty killing unit is a staple of Burnett's system. Under this system the Bulls have finished in the top five in the league 4 times and only missing the top ten, three times. Last season it was the number one ranked unit in the OHL. Not this season, again with the turn over that Belleville has had, we all knew being ranked first again would be tough, but I don't think even the most real, realist this side of the Bay Of Quinte would have predicted that the Bulls would be ranked 18th in the league. Something is wrong with the penalty kill.
Fans : Where are they ? Like we said earlier the Bulls have played 9 homes dates. And to fair be fair the reports that we are hearing, are saying that attendance is down across the league. The Bulls season opener, where they raised a division banner, was their biggest draw of this early season, 2866 fans showed up. That's not a super bad number but in my opinion it has to be over 3000 on a big night like that. Numbers I don't like are 2101, thats the amount of fans that came out to see the Bulls host the Kingston Frontenacs on October 2nd and 1772, that how many fans came out for the November 13 game at the Yardman arena, also vs the Frontenacs. I know that both were Wednesday night games and they usually draw smaller crowds but come on folks, this is one of the up and rising club in the whole CHL and is your BIGGEST DIVISION RIVAL. You can't sell out ever games in some markets, but your division rivals and closest geographic rival, have to be your biggest draw, you play your division foes the most. The fans aren't wrong, they're the customers, they're always right because they pay the bills, but something is wrong thats keeping them away.
General Manager : George Burnett knows his club inside out. He's made some moves this year that have been working out. trading Brady Austin was tough, I'm sure, Burnett knew that Austin was the anchor of his blue line, but he needed scoring real bad, and to be able to give Brady Austin a chance to play for the Memorial Cup with London and picking up Remi Elie, who has been real good for the Bulls, was something that we like. Mark Raycroft doesn't replace Austin but he hasn't been bad at all. Trading Daniel De Sousa was a no brainer, everyone knew the writing was on the wall. Bulls import player David Tomasek was a real nice pick up. Bringing in Jake Marchment at minimal cost was a nice pick up as well. We like what Cameron Brace will bring to the Bulls lineup. Some believe the price ( A 2nd round pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection and Plymouth's 4th round pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection) was high. But we have to think Burnett knows what he's doing, he hasn't let us down that often when trading for players. This year, the test might be, not who he trades for but who he ends up trading away and what he gets before the season is over.
Coach : Burnett has been the most successful Coach the Belleville Bulls have ever had. Yes, we know their only J. Ross Robertson Cup came under Lou Crawford. But the Bulls have only missed the playoffs once under Burnett, they have won four division banners, been to the Memorial Cup, the OHL Final and four Conference Championship, including three in a row from 2006-07 to 2008-09. Three times with Belleville he has been selected as an OHL All-Star. He has won Gold Medals as an Assistant Coach with Team Canada at the WJC with Team Canada since joining the Bulls. Twenty players have been drafted by NHL Clubs since he has taken over the Coaching reins including Norris Trophy winner PK Subban. But for what ever reason the fans of Belleville have never warmed up to George. I don't why, he's been all business, is always up front with the media, and knows this league like the back of his hand. He's a winner, over 1000 games coached and over 500 wins , to be frank, the fans of the Bulls are lucky to have a guy with his pedigree. But it doesn't matter what he does its doesn't fly with the fans, it started when he traded Cody Thornton out of town and brought in Andrew Gibbons and before you knew it Gibbons was the Captain, everyone hated that move, including your truly at the time, but looking back and right away you knew it was the right move, Gibbons was great for the Bulls, the fans warmed up to him (how could they not ?) and Andrew was voted co-winner of the Jake Gilmour, but they never warmed up to the trade. When he traded for Jeff Leavitt, it was great, Jeff fit the system to a tee, but in his final year and as an OA when it wasn't working out and Jeff finished with the Dukes, the fans blamed Burnett. One time George traded for Brock McPherson a solid pick up, but right away the fans disliked the move because he was the 1st player to wear #11 since the beloved Ryan Ready. This season Burnett has already sat veterans , stripped letters , called guys out, what left for him to do to get the ship turned around ? Something isn't right with the Coach, we won't question Burnett to much he's forgotten more about the OHL then we will ever know, but something is wrong.
Brendan Gaunce : (GP 18, G 10, A 12, PIM 23) Gaunce is an NHL 1st round pick of the Vancouver Cunucks, and is the Bulls Captain. He is the teams leading scorer and he should be, Brendan hasn't been bad for the Bulls, not at all. He had a little bit of a so so start after coming back from Canucks camp, but has been turning it up. Gaunce has more to offer and needs to bring it hard every night, something that doesn't always seem like the case so far. Brendan will be fine and Bulls fans shouldn't worry about his play, his play will be fine, the question is does he finish the year as a Belleville Bull ?
Remi Elie : (GP 20, G 9, A 9, PIM 10) Elie is a Dallas Stars Prospect and has been real good for the Bullswith 15 points in 14 games. Elie plays the type of game that this club was lacking, he drives the net hard and is very effective. Elie is currently on a five game goal scoring streak.
Garrett Hooey : (GP 19, G 11, A 7, PIM 20) Hooey is improving at the pace he should be and more, with 11 goals already Hooey has matched his career high. Has been playing a few games on the back end this season and hasn't been a liability.
Luke Cairns : (GP 18, G 6, A 7, PIM 6) Cairns has put up some ok numbers, but has also been a Coaches scratch in back to back games. I'm not sure how long Cairns stay in Belleville will be, that depends on him.
Jordan Subban : (GP 20, G 2, A 14, PIM 24) Jordan was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks last spring and for good reason he scored 15 goals and collect 51 points. This season Jordan has also been a Coaches scratch, and its clear that Coach Burnett wants more from Subban. I don't see the Bulls moving Jordan and he will be counted on to be a leader the rest of the way. Our money says when Subban turns the corner for good, he will be one of the offensive leaders on this club
Cameron Brace : (GP 13, G 4, A 6, PIM 21) Brace hasn't played for the Bulls yet, but lets hope he comes as advertised.
Jake Marchment : (GP 21, G 2, A 9, PIM 32) Machment has been good for the Bulls in his rookie season, he leads the team in penalty minutes and plus/minus (+7). He is very tough to play against and is currently on a 5 game point streak. he fits in very nicely. He's already a fan favourite.
David Tomasek : (GP 17, G 5, A 3, PIMS 4) Tomasek has been good for the Bulls, he is adjusting to the OHL life and has been banged up a few times, but his numbers in limited ice time are good. He's been a healthy scratch a few times but he doesn't deserve to be every time. The rest of the way, we look for his role to get bigger, Tomasek has earned the right to play every night. He can't let up, he has to go hard, on this team at this point in his career he can't afford to be a passenger.
Aaron Berisha : (GP 20, G 3, A 5, PIMS 4). We like Berisha's game. Last season he showed that he can be really effective at this level, we still think he can but he needs to start producing at a higher rate. Aaron has also been a Coaches scratch this season, he responded with a big game after the benching, but more consistence is needed.
Scott Simmonds : (GP 16, G 5, A 2, PIM 12) We said earlier in the pre season that the only way Simmonds wasn't going to be on the club was if he made the Penguins as a Free Agent. He came back to the Bulls and started out really hot, but injuries have slowed him down. Scott has really been targeted. Some games it feels like when Simmonds gets hit, its always hard. With 5 goals Scott is only 1 off his career high. Its hard to tell if he's 100% yet, it doesn't look like, let hope its rust and he can shake it off, sooner the better. Overage Forward have to produce under Burnett right ? Ask Jeff Leviett.
Niki Petti : (GP 21, G 2, A 4, PIM 13) Petti is the Bulls 1st round pick from last season, and as a rookie he scored 4 goals and had 13 PTS in 50 games. Its safe to say if he stays healthy he should surpass those numbers, but the bottom line is the Bulls need more from Petti, some games he is down right invisible. One game where we were really impressed with Petti was a game on Oct 30th and Petti was really ramped up, so much so that he even dropped his mitts and had a spirited bout. We don't want Niki to turn in to the next David Silverstone but we'd love for him to find a way to harness the kind of enthusiasm and drive. this kid can really skate and once he learns that, his best tool in his bags of tricks is his skating, he'll be fine,
Mark Raycroft : (GP 23, G 3, A 1, PIM 8) Mark has played 14 games for the Bulls, and he plays a role, that isn't super glamorous. Raycroft has scored 1 goal since coming to Belleville from North Bay. We are still trying to figure out where we see him fitting in long term.
Michael Cramarossa : (GP 20, G 2, A 2, PIM 2) Michael is the Bulls third round pick from last season and was used in a very limited role. This year he falls in to the same boat as Petti, Belleville needs more. No one expects Cramarossa to score 50 goals but he needs to become way more of a factor, he needs to hit, he needs to use his body to gain control of the puck and then use his skill and line mates.
Jake Worrad : (GP 17, G 0, A 4, PIM 10) We are a fan of Worrad, we thought last year the his pairing with Jordan Subban was very good. This year as an overage player Worrad needs to be better, he gets big minutes and hasn't been producing. He took a turn as a coaches scratch this season too. Worrad needs to pick it up and not just in the points department, he has taken some really badly timed penalties and at times looks like he's having a hard time.
Justin Lemcke : (GP 20, G 0, A 4, PIM 21) Lemcke has been good in his rookie season. He plays tough and he plays smart. He's going to make mistakes, but so far they have been few and far between.
Adam Laishram : (GP 17, G 1, A 2, PIM 6) Adam has been the best of the rookies for me so far this season, he goes hard every shift, has a great compete level and is one of the clubs better penalty killers. I'm going to make a prediction right now and thats not something normally do, and not because I'm superstitious but because I don't want to jinks anything. But you read it here 1st Adam Laishram will be the Captain of this franchise. Not this year and not next but he will be.
Chad Heffernan : (GP 17, G 2, A 0, PIM 29) Chad has proven this year that there is way more to his game then just dusting it up. I really like him and Marchment paired together. For some reason, even though there forwards and have more skill, they remind of Fulton Reed and Dean Portman, mainly because they look like they're having fun playing together.
Andrew Ming : (GP 15, G 1, A 1, PIM 5) Ming will be a solid OHL player in time.
Justin Bean : (GP 7, G 0, A 2, PIM 2) The Bulls are taking their time with Bean and we love it. He has been splitting time between the Bulls and the Dukes and with ever game you see him getting more confident. He plays on the power play with the Bulls and he looks like he belongs.
Jake Bricknell : (GP 18, G 0, A 1, PIM 15) Bricknell has shown in flashes that he has what it takes to compete in the OHL and thrive in the system that the Bulls play.
Brody Morris : (GP 16, G 0, A ), PIM 15) Morris is leaving the dream, he's a local kid playing for the Bulls after battling some secret injuries earlier in the season, he is starting to adjust to the OHL very nicely.
Adam Bignell : (GP 21, G 0, A 0, PIM 15) Bignell has yet to score a goal in 21 games this season, in fact in his yet to score a goal in 187 games played as a Belleville Bull. Yet he remains a fan favourite. Adam does all the little stuff that no one else likes to do, he blocks shots, he takes hits, he fights, he messes it up the the other clubs biggest guys. he is a great team-mate. Adam wore the "C" for the Bulls when Brendan Gaunce was still with the Canunks and he's our pick for the Bulls next Captain, he leads by example.
Jason Da Silva : (GP 5, W 1, L 3, GAA 4.40, SV% 0.868) We cant give you a real fair assessment of Da Silva because we need to see more.
Charlie Graham : (GP 18, W 4, L 9, GAA 3.86, SV% 0.913) We didn't save the best for last by design, but we surely wont argue. Charlie started a little slow thanks to an injury and I don't believe we have even came close to seeing the best of Charlie Graham, but as of right now he is far and away the Bulls MVP. Ever game he gives the Bulls a chance to win. Graham has given up a few bad goals but with the amount of shots he faces, we can't fault him. Graham leads the OHL in shots against (755) and in saves with 689. In 18 games this season Charlie is facing an average of 41.9 shots per game . In 12 of of the 18 games he has been in he has faced 39 or more shots and on six occasions he has faced over 49 shots. Twice he has faced over 59, Wednesday night he faced 60 from Kingston, and on October 12 vs Guelph he faced a whopping 72 shots, both of those games were victories.
Moving Forward : We believe that the Bulls will be a playoff team, Charlie Graham is capable of that on his own, and we know that Coach and GM Burnett wont sit still and watch his club fail, he will do what ever it takes to help his team win. A big win over the visiting London Knights will give the Bulls a real nice momentum boast and it would give the Bulls back to back wins for the 1st time this season.