What do you mean "Can the Belleville Bulls improve?" Every team can always improve, just ask any Coach they will tell ya, but the Bulls are a 1st place club, they lead the OHL's East Division and currently hold the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference with 64 points, with a record of 29-14-3-3 in 49 games played. Almost as soon as the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs last spring by the Ottawa 67's, it was thought that the Boys from the "Friendly City" would be ready to make a strong push for the J. Ross Robertson Cup.
Belleville is a great system team, they are one of the stingiest teams in the OHL having only given up 124 goals. That's a real nice number that is made possible thanks in a part to the league's most efficient (86..5%) penalty killing unit and very strong goaltending from Boston Bruins Prospect Malcolm Subban and NHL draft eligible Charlie Graham. When Subban was away with Team Canada, Graham really stepped up and showed that he was more the capable of being a number one goalie. NHL Scouts took notice of Charlie's stellar play, earning him notice on the NHL draft radar. He did what you ask of a player, he accepted his role, he waited, he learned, he worked hard in practice, and when Charlie was given his window of opportunity he was prepared and was nothing short of outstanding. Malcolm Subban has also been outstanding for the Bulls. We don't need to recite Subban's numbers, everyone knows they are top drawer. At this point in the season we don't need to tell you that Subban in among the OHL leaders in GAA and SV% and almost every night he plays, he can be considered for a 3 Star selection. Everyone knows that.
Subban has played in some big games this season and has been praised and criticized (some warranted, some not), and for maybe the first time in his fine young career faced some diversity. Malcolm handled it like a pro and you can see him returning to MVP form. You can see him smiling again, his body language is starting to speak that he is regaining confidence. In my opinion confidence is one of the biggest parts of Malcolm's game. Goaltending has never been a problem under Burnett and won't be anytime soon.
When you look at the Bulls defense core, you think no real problems here, its a strong group. Jordan Subban was the Bulls leading scorer for most of the season and will be drafted in the early rounds of the NHL draft. He's a great skater that can make things happen real quick, and he has one of the most accurate shots on the team. His buddy Jake Worrad might be one of the most under rated D-man in the league. Jake Cardwell has fit in to the Bulls group well and has been a plus player. Stephen Silas is ready to finish his OHL career on a high note and has already set career highs in all offensive categories. Buffalo Sabres draft pick Brady Austin does what he does as good as anyone and the glue is Adam Bignell who has missed the last couple games and his absence has been felt, not that fill in rookie Daniel de Sousa hasn't been good, he has but he doesn't bring the same set of skills that Adam does or is he ready to play the same minutes that Bignell can against teams top lines.
The Bulls have depth at forward. Its a nice group with skill and size. Canucks 1st round pick Captain Brendan Gaunce is the leader, he does it all on this club and is as good without the puck as he is with it. Austen Brassard's (Winnipeg) season started slow but since the addition of Tyler Graovac his game has hit a new gear. Wild draft pick Graovac has been a point a game player since coming to Belleville. The line of Joseph Cramarossa (Anaheim), Daniil Zharkov (Edmonton) and deadline pick up Alan Quine (Redwings) has been the Bulls top line since Quine arrived in town from Peterborough. All 3 players are really clicking and the chemistry that they have looks like they have played together all season. Both of those lines can score, but the trio of Michael Curtis, Carter Sandlak and Garrett Hooey has been strong all year without the puck and on the fore check , the scoring numbers are starting to pick up. the cycle that these three throw at teams will wear down defenses and will lead to goals. It not really fair to call the players that are left the fourth line because, as we all know Coach Burnett isn't against shuffling the lines and all of seen time on other lines, 1st round pick Niki Petti has spend time playing with Brendan Gaunce and so has Aaron Berisha and both have looked good showing lots of promise for the future and gaining very valuable experience along the way. Chad Heffernan and Michael Cramarossa have also shown good stuff in limited minutes. Scott Simmonds can play with everyone in the line up and I think he has, he is the example of team play and hard work every game.
Every thing seems fine right ? We just showed the depth that Belleville has at every position and highlighted the things that have made the Bulls a 1st place club. But one weakness the Bulls have is the ability to score goals. We will give GM Burnett credit pulling off trades for Cardwell early, and Graovac and Quine at the deadline has helped the Bulls score at even strength, but its the power play that is the Toro's Achilles heel. It's has been really brutal only working 13% of the time. In the last nine games the man advantage has gone 0 for 30. This team has shown that they can score, but why can't they score on the power play ? Coach Burnett takes the blame in a story in the Intell Burnett says that the Bulls know "there's going to need to be significant improvement from our power play, to be successful. That falls on me. We need to improve". He's right. Down the stretch the power play could be the difference between 1st or 2nd in the division or worse maybe be the reason you can't put a team away in the playoffs. Burnett is giving it the old collage go, hes trying new things, at one point even employing 5 forwards. If the power play can improve the Bulls could be one of the most dominate teams in the OHL, opposing teams already know that Belleville is a tough task at home and on the road, but right now players can take liberties with out fear. Things like, running the goalie, after whistle garbage, why not give Bulls players that extra whack because they don't fear taking penalties, if anything when you play Belleville and the Bulls have momentum take a penalty it will sucks the life right out of them. Many power play's go bye where the Bulls don't even register a shot, they really look lost. I'm not sure what the answer is, Coach Burnett, his staff and the players know they have to fix it. How and when they do is the question. This weekend would be a great time to start.