We now find ourselves 36 games into the regular season, and the Houston Bulls, one of two expansion teams celebrating their first year in the VHLM, find themselves still in contention for the playoffs, and, though winning consistently has been a season-long issue, dare I say the Founders' Cup?
Yes, I do dare. And hopefully, this analysis will show why the Bulls are a better team than most people take them to be from the standings. First we'll start with a review of the VHLM Dispersal Draft:
First Round: C Maximilian Kirbsson (6th overall) and LW Kari Jurri (8th overall). The Bulls came out strong in the first round, grabbing Kirbsson at #6 and Jurri at #8. Both players have become legitimate stars in Houston, with Kirbsson at a team-leading 52 points and Jurri right behind with 50. The two were the two lowest-TPE members of the first round of the draft, but Jurri is now projected to be drafted 3rd overall and Kirbsson 4th into the VHL. Mind you, they are also #1 and #2 on the list of first-generation players, making their selections all the more impressive as they carried a bit of a higher risk when drafted. Jurri has already reached the 200-TPE cap for the VHLM, while Kirbsson is not far behind at 193. Overall grade: A
Second Round: D Fylo Gibbles (12th overall). Gibbles, in fact, came into the draft with more TPE earned than either Kirbsson or Jurri, at 136. He dropped to the second round, however, as he was a S65 player who had had more time to earn these points. After two high-risk, high-reward selections in the first round, the team opted for a lower-risk choice in the second. This proved to be a bad move, however, as Gibbles has not earned one single TPE all season, and has more or less earned the title of "inactive." He has still been semi-productive for the Bulls this season, as 136 TPE is decent in the VHLM, but this is not the type of player any GM hopes to pick in the 2nd round and one should expect to see his numbers begin to decline later on as he is caught up to and even surpassed by members of previously lower standing. Overall grade: F
Third Round: LW Milan Griffin (21st overall) and G Owen May (24th overall). The third round, for the Bulls, was a bit of a mixed bag. With the choice of Griffin (another S65 player), the team picked up a player with experience, albeit without the expectation of greatness, as Griffin came into his second season with only 82 TPE. Griffin has not been inactive--he is currently at 133 TPE, not producing at a star level but still present enough to not be considered a bust. The real story of the third round here was goaltender Owen May, the second goalie off the board in a class not initially considered to be very deep in goalkeeping talent. While May had only 58 TPE at the time of the draft, he is now at 151 TPE and is in the league-wide conversation about which goalie is the best, with some recently placing him above Philadelphia's Wendy Kandee Cain in value. While the numbers have not shown May to be undeniably great, a look at his TPE progress shows a player with star-level potential who is simply going through a rough patch with the simulator. Overall grade: B-
Fourth Round: LW Blake Laughton (26th overall). In the fourth, Houston went for yet another left wing, picking Blake Laughton at #26. Laughton has produced in much the same way Milan Griffin has: not inactive but not consistently active, either. With 30 TPE at the time of the draft, Laughton was a bit of a reach for the Bulls, as he was the first 30-TPE player selected and multiple forwards with higher TPE (notably, Nethila Dissanayake with 72, Blake Gaudette with 55, or even S65's Matteo with 130) were selected afterward. The choice was a bit questionable in the first place, and might not have paid off the way the team had hoped as Laughton currently sits at 77 TPE. Overall grade: D
Fifth Round: D Jerry Garcia (36th overall). Let's face it--I'm here. I'm active. I'm writing this article. Garcia is my player, and though I dislike giving myself credit for things, was a steal in the fifth round with 38 TPE at the time of the draft. Garcia, as of this week, surpassed Gibbles as the team's highest-TPE defender (now at 144) and has steadily climbed the VHL draft rankings to a tie at, as of yesterday when I last checked, #17 overall. He's more than paid off for this team, and, while I am not trying to promote myself, I will say this: Overall grade: A
Sixth Round: D Joseph Gagnier (48th overall). The Bulls selected their second 30-TPE player here, with talent starting to run a bit thin. Unfortunately for them, Gagnier's TPE has not moved one bit since...well, ever, as he's still at 30 TPE. Not much to say here, but even though the likelihood of finding active players at this point was fairly low, there's really nothing other than a failing grade to be given here. Overall grade: F
Seventh Round: RW Callum MacElroy (56th overall). Guess what? Garcia wasn't the Bulls' biggest steal in this year's draft. MacElroy, a Scottish forward with 32 TPE who was inactive through S65, found his groove this season, getting to 133 TPE at the time of writing. Not only that, but MacElroy's agent has since been named Houston's Assistant General Manager, and by all accounts is a driving force for good in the Houston locker room. Finally, MacElroy's selection can be directly traced to the Bulls' top free agent signing (we'll get to that later). Arguably the Bulls' best pick, and not one that would be made by most, if any, other teams. Overall grade: A+
Eighth Round: D Hadrian Melborn (64th overall). Melborn, a S65 defenseman with 44 TPE, came into the draft with low expectations, and as a result, was drafted with the Bulls' last selection before they passed on making one in the ninth. His TPE was 44, and at 44 it has stayed, as Melborn has been inactive for a good while. Overall grade: F (although at this point in the draft this doesn't mean a whole lot).
For the whole draft? Not bad! A few misses, but definitely a few steals. Overall, I'd say it was pretty solid and set the Bulls up for some reasonable level of success. Overall grade (entire draft): B
*Side note: In the VHLM expansion draft, the Bulls made the only non-draft pick selection, grabbing center Viktor Kozlov from the Halifax 21st. Kozlov is one of two 200-TPE players the Bulls have this season, and while he has not put up unbelievable scoring numbers, has certainly produced on the defensive end of things as he makes the transition from enforcer to power forward. As far as expansion drafts go, the Bulls hit the big time here. Overall grade: A
And now let's go to free agency, shall we?
D Beau Buefordsson. Selected not too long after the draft, Buefordsson has picked up a grand total of 89 TPE thus far. Though this number may seem a bit low, he is certainly active and learning the ropes as a first-year player. In the locker room, he is a friend to everyone, and a recent surge of activity should help his standing in the future. Overall grade: C+
C Ludvig Sederstrom. Remember that connection to MacElroy? Sederstrom (and his brother Joakim) came as surprise signings for the Bulls, with both being recruited by MacElroy's agent. Ludvig has paid off and become a valuable centerpiece to the team's second line, currently at 132 TPE. Not bad for someone who wasn't around for the draft. Overall grade: A
LW Joakim Sederstrom. ...and then there's Joakim. Active at first, Ludvig's brother now sits at 50 TPE, and may remain there for good. Given Ludvig's success, the dual signing was overall a positive move, but it's had a bit taken away from it by Joakim's lack thereof. Overall grade: D-
C Rhys Chism. Chism is another Griffin-esque player--he's around, but not at the same level of what's generally considered an "active member" of the VHL community. Hasn't been a huge contributor and likely does not have star potential, currently at 95 TPE. Overall grade: C
D Samuel Sparrow. Sparrow currently has exactly the same TPE level as Buefordsson, though Buefordsson has gained points a bit faster in the past few weeks. Overall grade: C
LW Jean ClaudePaul and D Finn Theismann. These two have just recently made their way onto the team and have not had the time to prove themselves, one way or another. Overall grade: Too early to tell.
And while we're at it let's have a look at the team leaders to close it off.
1. Kari Jurri--25
2. Maximilian Kirbsson--24
3. Fylo Gibbles/Milan Griffin--11
1. Maximilian Kirbsson--28
2. Viktor Kozlov--26
3. Kari Jurri--25
1. Maximilian Kirbsson--52
2. Kari Jurri--50
3. Viktor Kozlov--32
1. Maximilian Kirbsson-- +18
2. Kari Jurri-- +16
3. Viktor Kozlov-- +10
1. Viktor Kozlov--97
2. Jerry Garcia--76
3. Fylo Gibbles--64
1. Viktor Kozlov--137
2. Jerry Garcia--118
3. Milan Griffin--87
1. Kari Jurri--18.38
2. Maximilian Kirbsson--16.0
3. Jerry Garcia--15.0
1. Samuel Sparrow--64
2. Fylo Gibbles--62
3. Jerry Garcia--60
1. Maximilian Kirbsson--3
2. Callum MacElroy--2
T2. Blake Laughton--2
...and there you have it. Do the Bulls have what it takes? State your opinion below!