Ottawa Senators have numerous prospects vying for limited NHL roster spots

By Peter Morrow

Matt Puempel - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Forward Matt Puempel is playing in his first season of professional hockey. Puempel is a sniper who was selected in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

After several years of strong drafting by the Ottawa Senators, a healthy competition for a limited amount of NHL jobs has developed among their young players. A wealth of Swedish prospects, led by goalie Robin Lehner, has served Ottawa well in recent years. They also have several first round picks, including Cody Ceci and Curtis Lazar, who are on track to become impactful NHL players.

The Senators AHL affiliate in Binghamton is packed with talented forwards, many of whom are pressing for time in the NHL.

Left Wing

The left flank is laden with talent in Binghamton, with Matt Puempel, Andre Petersson, Mike Hoffman, and Shane Prince all providing exciting options. High expectations for Puempel, a 2011 first round pick, could finally materialize during his first full season of pro. Puempel has noticeably improved his two-way game, and is already a proven goal-scorer in junior. If it translates in 2013-14, he could make a serious case for an NHL roster spot in 2014-15.

Hoffman’s skating is his biggest asset, and he has scored consistently over his AHL career. The speedy winger can create opportunities and finish them, but the jury is still out on whether he can produce at the NHL level. The Senators have a potential top-six asset in Hoffman, who will likely be given opportunity in the event of any injuries this season.

At 24 years old, Petersson is looking to make one final impression after missing the bulk of 2012-13 due to injury. But once again, he remains sidelined by injury in Binghamton again after notching two goals and two assists in five outings. Petersson’s puck skills are off the charts, heralded as among the best in the Senators organization, but injuries are an obvious concern for an aging prospect.

Prince is developing a more complete defensive game on top of his already solid offensive game. He can play physically which he proved during the NHL rookie tournament in August, raising his NHL value, and is a strong skater. He had a sluggish start to the 2013-14 season, prompting him to be a healthy scratch for a few games, but has since found his form.

Also at the minor league level are Darren Kramer, Jakub Culek, and Ludwig Karlsson. Kramer is one of the tougher Senators prospects and has worked his way into a permanent spot with Binghamton this season, after an ECHL stint with Elmira in 2012-13. He improved his overall game, but still has work to do in hopes of skating shifts in Ottawa.

Culek played three games in Binghamton before being demoted to the Elmira Jackals in the ECHL. At this point he does not project as more than a depth player in the system.

Karlsson, a free agent signing out of Northeastern University, has played sparingly this year, seeing two games in the ECHL and three in the AHL. He is a big, fast winger with good puck skills.

In the NCAA, Max McCormick and Jeff Costello keep raising their games. Costello is a rugged two-way player who is in his senior year with Notre Dame. At 6’0, 210 pounds, he is a power forward with a heavy shot.

Now in his junior year, McCormick is slated to help lead the Ohio State Buckeyes offensively. Playing on the Buckeye’s top scoring line, the 21-year-old has developed good chemistry alongside fellow Senators draft pick Ryan Dzingel. After flirting with a point-per-game in 2012-13, the scoring tandem could reach it this year.

Rounding out the left wing position is Nikita Filatov, who is playing his second full season with Ufa Salavat Yulayev of the KHL. Filatov recorded 10 goals and 11 assists through 47 contests in 2012-13, but is off to a better start with seven goals and five assists through 20 games so far. At 23 years old, he has the talent and experience to potentially crack the Senators roster in 2014-15. He does not appear particularly interested in returning to North America however.

Center

Behind undisputed top two centers Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris, nothing is set in stone for Ottawa. Veteran Zack Smith occupies the third spot, with center prospects Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Derek Grant, and Stephane Da Costa all vying for time in the lineup.

In Pageau, the Senators have a creative center who played a checking role on their fourth line for the first eight games. He is expected to split the 2013-14 season between the AHL and NHL.

Da Costa earned a spot in Ottawa early this season, but was demoted after four games played, cleared waivers and landed back in Binghamton. At 24 years old, an NHL career with Ottawa suddenly appears more far-fetched. Expect Da Costa to hover around a point-per-game as long as he plays in the AHL.

In Da Costa’s place, Grant has since been called up from Binghamton, with a legitimate chance to remain in Ottawa as a bottom-six grinder. Grant can transition between left wing and center, providing an up-tempo checking presence for the Senators. The 23-year-old is known as a good penalty killer and he impressed Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson with his tenacity and strong two-way game.

Also playing center at the professional level are Wacey Hamilton and David Dziurzynski. Hamilton plays fourth line duties in Binghamton, and has only one goal with three assists to his through 15 games. Hamilton’s solid two-way game has earned him respect from head coach Luke Richardson, who recently named him alternate captain.

Dziurzynski offers toughness down the middle in Binghamton, and his skating ability allows him to compete at the NHL level as a bottom line grinder. He had a 12-game stint in Ottawa last year following a series of injuries, and finished with two goals.

Curtis Lazar is playing the 2013-14 season with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL, and will likely dominate the through the season. Barring any setbacks, Lazar looks poised to compete for a roster spot in Ottawa as soon as 2014-15. He is a skilled scorer with an effective two-way game, whose ceiling projects as a top-six forward. This year he will look to carry the Oil Kings past the Eastern Conference finals, where they fell in seven games to the Calgary Hitmen last spring.

The Senators have a deep stockpile of center prospects in the NCAA, led by Ohio State junior Ryan Dzingel, who led his team in scoring last year. He is expected to once again produce around a point-per-game and be one of the top-scorers for the Buckeyes.

Robbie Baillargeon has looked strong in his freshman year at Boston University. The former fifth-round pick from 2012 produced big numbers in the USHL, and still has years to develop in a more competitive NCAA environment.

Vincent Dunn suffered an ankle injury early in November but expects to return to QMJHL action soon. He collected 59 penalty minutes, nine goals and seven assists through his first 18 games in his debut 2013-14 season with the Gatineau Olympiques after posting similar numbers in two campaigns with the Val D’Or Foreurs. Dunn impressed Senators brass at Ottawa’s rookie camp with his offensive talents and physical play, and he appears on track for a pro career following his junior eligibility if he continues to develop.

Quentin Shore is currently in his sophomore season with the University of Denver. He is the youngest brother of Florida Panthers prospect Drew Shore and Los Angeles Kings prospect Nick Shore – both former Denver Pioneers forwards currently playing at the professional level. Quentin plays a similar two-way style of game as his brothers. It remains to be seen what kind of offensive upside he has, but he has been very productive so far this year.

For 2012 third-round pick Jarrod Maidens, a concussion sustained during the 2011-12 season has kept him sidelined to date. Maidens possesses skill and size, but his upside has been diminished by years missed during his OHL tenure with the Owen Sound Attack.

Right Wing

The Senators right wing prospects is scarce in comparison to other positions, but the off-season acquisition of 26-year-old Bobby Ryan on the right flank helped fill a major organizational need. NHL forwards Cory Conacher and Mika Zibanejad can play on the right side, but there is no wealth in the amount of natural right-wing players.

Mark Stone is the top right wing prospect, coming into his second AHL season with the Binghamton Senators. He was sidelined for the start of the season because of a shoulder injury, but the 6’3, 200 pound forward has been solid since his return, managing five points through six games. Despite a lack of top-end speed, Stone possesses all the offensive tools to be a top-six forward, assuming he can stay healthy.

Behind stone is Buddy Robinson, a 6’5, 236 pound winger with decent offensive abilities. He was signed as a free agent last year after two seasons with Lake Superior University. Robinson does not project as a top-six NHL player, but given his size, he can play a checking role if he further develops his puck skills.

Cole Schneider found early chemistry on the first line alongside Hoffman and Da Costa. Through 14 games Schneider has four goals and six assists. His strong skating and willingness to crash the net are his biggest assets, around which he could foster a solid pro career at least in the AHL.

Tobias Lindberg is a Swedish prospect playing overseas with Djurgardens J20 team in Sweden’s SuperElit. The 18-year-old has work to do, but his 6’2 frame, speed, and physicality are all great assets. If Lindberg can add muscle to bolster his gritty style, the Senators may have a valuable right wing in their depth chart.

Chris LeBlanc is a 6’3, 195 pound forward in his first season at Merrimack College. Four games into his first Hockey-East NCAA season, he remains without a point. The Senators organization is banking on Leblanc being a late-bloomer. His upside does not look exceedingly high, but he will have several years to develop in the college system.

Defensemen

At the top of the depth chart is Cody Ceci, a gifted offensive defenseman in his first full season of professional hockey. Ceci is a good skater and has good size, but has been considered a defensive liability through much of his junior career. His game in his own end has improved and should continue to do so as he gains more experience in the AHL.

Another mobile, two-way defenseman is Mikael Wikstrand, a 2012 draft choice playing with Mora IK of Sweden’s Allsvenskan. He notched four assists for Sweden at last winter’s World Junior Championship tournament. At 20 years old, he plays a simple game at both ends of the ice. Once he adds more strength to his 6’1 frame, the Senators could have another mobile defenseman competing for time in the NHL.

On the opposite spectrum is Mark Borowiecki, a defensive-minded player who plays with a physical edge. Off the puck he can shut down the opposition, and with the puck he plays a safe, simple game. Borowiecki was recently recalled to the NHL and has played well in the seven games he had dressed for.

Fredrik Claesson is coming along as a reliable, second-pairing defenseman in Binghamton. Like Borowiecki, he can lay big hits and does so quite often. Claesson is perennially lacking in point production, but he wields a heavy shot and at 20 years old, still has time to come alive offensively.

After five impressive WHL seasons with the Portland Winterhawks, Troy Rutkowski is fighting for playing time in his debut season with Binghamton. He is currently making the tough adjustment from playing top-pairing minutes in juniors to a depth role at the minor-league level.

Michael Sdao and Ben Blood are far from earning NHL spots at 24 years old, but the more mobile, 23-year-old Chris Wideman is making leaps after a four-year stint at Miami University in Ohio. He has 10 points through 13 games while playing mostly bottom-pairing minutes alongside Sdao. Blood is a hulking 6’3 defenseman who plays a hard-nosed game but currently lacks puck-moving skills needed for the NHL level.

Tim Boyle, a fourth round pick from 2012, is currently playing with the South Shore Kings of the USPHL after playing last year with Union College. Boyle struggled with the transition to the NCAA level last year, prompting him to play at a lower competition level for the 2013-14 season. He will be eligible to join another NCAA program for the 2014-15 season.

Rounding out the defense list is 2013 fourth-round pick Ben Harpur, who plays a key defensive role for the Guelph Storm. At 18 years old, he already possesses a 6’6, 210 pound frame and a heavy shot.

Goaltenders

The Ottawa Senators have a healthy stable of goaltenders behind starter, Craig Anderson. Backup Robin Lehner is only 22 and pushing for more starts in the NHL. He has a 2.13 goals against average, a .945 save percentage, and a 3-2-2 record.

Free agent signing Andrew Hammond is in his first year of professional hockey, playing backup to Binghamton starter Nathan Lawson. Hammond played four years for Bowling Green, and in his senior year managed a 2.47 goals against average, a .917 save percentage, and a 10-15-3 record.

Between Chris Driedger of the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL and Francois Brassard of the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL, the Senators have two top-end goaltenders at the Canadian junior level.

Driedger has uncharacteristically struggled in his final year of juniors, posting a 6-5-4 record, a 3.04 goals against average, and a .906 save percentage.

On the East coast, Brassard continues to quietly perform for the sixth-place Remparts. His 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage are both top 10 in the league. He also has a 9-5-2-2 record in 21 starts.

Marcus Hogberg is a 2013 third round draft pick, currently playing for Mora IK in Sweden’s Allsvenskan. Standing at 6’5, 212 pounds, and possessing a lot of quickness, Hogberg is hard to beat. He was impressive at the U20 WJC Summer Evaluation Camp for Sweden and has his eyes set on the World Juniors starting job this winter.

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