Senators junior prospects update

By Derek Cheng

Despite their regular-season success, the Ottawa Senators have done a good job of drafting NHL caliber talent and restocking the prospect shelves.  Though in recent years there has been a lack of Senator prospects at the junior level, they have had success with players coming out of junior.  In fact, seven of Ottawa’s 14 drafted players on the current roster come from the CHL. 

This season, Ottawa has five youngsters developing in the junior ranks.  There are two new additions in Jim O’Brien (WHL) and Ben Blood (USHL), while Kaspars Daugavins (OHL), Ryan Daniels (OHL), and Pierre-Luc Lessard (QMJHL), all drafted in 2006, have returned to their respective junior clubs. 

OHL

Kaspars Daugavins – Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2006

Daugavins had a strong inaugural season in North America.  Though his team often struggled, he managed to score at a point-per-game pace and finished sixth in the league in rookie scoring.  When his club’s season ended, he signed an amateur tryout agreement and got his first taste of professional hockey, suiting up for Binghamton 11 times and scoring two goals.  Just a few months later, he signed his entry-level contract with Ottawa and seemed poised to land a roster spot with Binghamton.  But with six or seven other forward prospects expected to play for the Baby Sens in 2007-08, Daugavins would have been fighting for ice time.  To avoid this, Ottawa sent him back to St. Michael’s where he could play a significant role for the Majors.

And he has done exactly that so far in the 2007-08 season.  The Majors are once again among the bottom-feeding teams, sitting fourth in the Central Division with just 15 points after 19 games, but Daugavins has been one of the few bright spots.  Playing mostly on a line with captain Jesse Messier and Casey Cizikas, he leads the team in goals (11), assists (11), and points (22), ranking him 38th overall in the league.  He has also served as alternate captain on a number of occasions and is a team-best +6 on a club that is collectively -24 in goals for/goals against. 

While Daugavins has piled up the points, he has shown that he tends to do so in bunches.  After being held pointless in the first three games, he went on to post 10 points in his next four games.  In all, he has been held off the scoresheet nine times, scoring all 22 points in 10 games.  He has also been an early clutch performer for the Majors.  In seven wins so far, he has notched the game-winner on three occasions.

The 6’0, 195-pound native of Lativa is primarily an offensive-minded player, but he does possess the qualities of being a good energy forward as well.  Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he plays a feisty game and is not afraid to mix it up when necessary.  He showed this when he dropped the gloves with Stefan Legein (CLB) in a game versus Niagara in early October. 

Daugavins has developed nicely and should be a late-season addition to Binghamton again if the Majors miss the playoffs.  The 19-year-old will likely be a full-time pro next fall.

Ryan Daniels – Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 5th round, 151st overall, 2006

Daniels inherited the starter position in 2006-07.  He played extremely well for the Spirit, finishing fifth overall in GAA while playing in 60 of the club’s 68 games.  He appeared to be on track to become another asset in Ottawa’s goaltending pipeline after turning in a strong performance at development camp.  He attended his first training camp and was among the first cuts, heading back to his starting role in Saginaw.

The Spirit have struggled out the gate and are currently dead last in the West Division.  Their 71 goals against rank third worst in the Western Conference and ninth worst in the league.  Daniels has also struggled early on in the season.  Through 11 games played (599 minutes), he has allowed 40 goals for a 4.01 GAA.  His save percentage sits at .874 and his record at 3-4-2-1.  He has turned in less than a handful of strong performances, his best coming in a 39-save effort in a shootout loss to Windsor in early October.  He has allowed four or more goals in six appearances.

Having won only one game in over a month, Daniels is in jeopardy of losing playing time to 19-year-old Parker Van Buskirk.  In his last game, Daniels gave up five goals on 24 shots and was pulled for the second time in 11 starts.  Van Buskirk holds better numbers in all categories and has played with more consistency in his eight starts.

Though Daniels has improved immensely since being drafted, his lack of progress early in the season is somewhat alarming as he is the last in a short line of goaltenders in Ottawa’s prospect system.  The Senators will need to sign him before June 2008 or relinquish his rights.   

WHL

Jim O’Brien, C – Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall, 2007

Ottawa’s prized selection of the 2007 entry draft was originally expected to suit up for the University of Minnesota Gophers in what would have been his sophomore year.  After turning in a strong performance in limited ice time as a freshman, O’Brien decided to continue his development in the WHL.  He signed an entry-level contract with Ottawa, voiding his NCAA eligibility, and joined the Seattle Thunderbirds. 

The Thunderbirds got off to a hot start, winning six of their first 10 while dropping only one game in regulation.  After missing the first two games recovering from the off-season shoulder surgery that kept him out of training camp, O’Brien made an immediate impact when he was inserted into the lineup.  He scored seven points in his first eight games including a game-winner.  The club hit a wall in late October though and the team has since slid to fourth in the U.S. Division, having won just three of their past 10.  O’Brien’s struggles have been synonymous with the team as he has registered just one goal and one assist in the past nine games, along with a -4 rating.  Cumulatively, he has 3 goals, 6 assists, and 9 points on the year, ranking him sixth on the team.  He has also racked up 20 penalty minutes.  He has had several different linemates thus far, with the most time being spent alongside Bud Holloway and Jan Eberle.

O’Brien is still very raw and needs time to develop.  Luckily, the Senators can afford to be patient with him.  They have also had a great deal of success with their first-round picks. 

QMJHL


Pierre-Luc Lessard, D – Prince Edward Island Rocket

Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall, 2006

Originally a draft pick of the Gatineau Olympiques, Lessard was moved to Prince Edward Island prior to the 2006-07 season.  Touted as a puck-moving offensive-minded defenseman, Lessard did not progress as hoped and did not participate in Senators training camp.  He is playing in his final year of junior eligibility. 

The PEI Rocket have struggled early in the season, but Lessard’s production has improved.  Through 24 games, he has tallied 6 goals and 12 assists, for 18 points to lead all rearguards on his club, and ranking him eighth in the league.  Half of his goals were scored with the man-advantage and he currently has a -4 rating. 

Lessard got off to a slow start, scoring just once in his first seven games, and going -7 in the process.  But since October, his play has improved.  In his past 17 games, he’s tallied 17 points with a +3 rating.  Still though, the Rocket are struggling to get above .500.  With such a young defense corps, they will need him to their best defenseman if they hope to move up in the standings.

It remains to be seen whether or not Lessard has a future with the Senators.  Drafted in 2006, Ottawa will need to sign him by June 2008.  There are plenty of young defenders who play a similar style in the system, some who are already playing at higher levels.  Lessard will need to have a standout year in order to establish himself and get into the mix.

USHL

Ben Blood – Des Moines Buccaneers
Acquired: 4th round, 120th overall, 2007

Ottawa’s fourth selection at the 2007 draft comes from the same hockey school that produced Sidney Crosby.  Blood, an 18-year-old native of Minneapolis, already has remarkable size (6’4, 220) and has played well early on as a rookie with Des Moines in the USHL. 

The Buccaneers are off to a rough start, but Blood has been one of the bright spots.  The rookie has recorded 7 assists through 11 games and is a +1.  He leads all defensemen on his club with 7 points and 23 shots, despite missing two games in mid-November.  He has shown good skills on the power play having notched four helpers with the man-advantage.  He’s also shown he won’t back down, dropping the gloves with Ian Slater of the Cedar Rapids in a late October tilt. 

Blood’s strong play early on earned him an invitation to play for the 2007 U.S. Junior Select Team at the World Junior A Championships.  The six-day tournament featured five countries, including two Canadian teams and the Russian Junior Selects.  The U.S. team won both of their round robin games, lost to Canada West in the semi-final, and defeated Team Russia to capture the bronze medal.  Blood registered 2 assists in the final game for a total of 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in the tournament.  He ranked third among defensemen behind teammate Blake Kessel and Russia’s Maxim Chudinov. 

Blood has an excellent mix of size and skill.  Having committed to the University of North Dakota for 2008-09, the Senators can afford to take their time and let him develop.  He has the potential to become a solid two-way defender.  

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.