A little more than halfway through the 2013-14 NHL season, the Ottawa Senators are crowded at most positions. A number of forwards and defensemen are being evaluated as Ottawa tries to solidify its roster and push up the Eastern Conference standings.
The only position written in stone is between the pipes, as the one-two punch of goaltenders Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner will be relied upon for the foreseeable future.
Among the skaters on the cusp are centers Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Derek Grant, who have both played well at the NHL level. Mika Zibanejad has earned his roster spot, while Mike Hoffman is still looking to establish his game at the top level. Defenseman Cody Ceci has shone under the NHL spotlight while Mark Borowiecki was sent back down to the minors. Others are still developing under Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson, but their futures look bright.
Mark Stone, RW, 21
The New Year marked a new chapter for Mark Stone. In 2013, he was a consistent point-producer for the Binghamton Senators. He suffered a shoulder injury during the first shift of his 2013-14 AHL season on October 5th, missed 10 games as a result, and has scored nine goals and nine assists in his 19 games since returning. His blend of size, puck-handling and scoring have been Stone's bread and butter, and his skating has noticeably improved.
He was recently recalled to the Ottawa Senators and has taken full advantage. Stone has stood out on the fourth line, often playing alongside Pageau and Matt Kassian, and he could see his ice-time increase.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 21
Jean-Gabriel Pageau has performed well enough to spend most of the 2013-14 season in the NHL, but not enough to have a spot locked down. His offensive numbers have been less than stellar in the NHL, with just two goals and no assists through 21 games. But to his credit, the 5'11, 163 pound forward has performed the tasks typically assigned to third- and fourth-line players quite admirably. His two-way game has been impressive and he has upped the tempo of play with each shift.
Pageau made Ottawa's roster out of training camp, but has been back and forth between the AHL and NHL for much of the season. In the AHL, he compiled six goals and 10 assists through 15 games.
Cody Ceci, D, 20
Cody Ceci's seamless transition to the NHL was preceded by an excellent 24 games played with the Binghamton Senators. He notched two goals and 15 assists in the AHL, leading all Binghamton defensemen in points. Now 16 games into his NHL career, Ceci is beginning to live up to his billing as Ottawa's 15th overall pick from 2012. He could still improve in the defensive zone, but he has the speed, skills, and intelligence to play at the NHL level.
Cole Schneider, RW, 23
Cole Schneider has earned his spot on Binghamton's top line, helping the Senators to a four-game win streak toward the end of 2013. Schneider rode a seven-game point streak, notching five goals and six assists to end the month of December. He delivers a balanced skillset alongside offensive talents Hoffman and Stephane Da Costa. He performs well in each zone and offers a strong presence offensively.
Schneider earned 17 goals and 18 assists during his first full AHL season in 2012-13 and should easily surpass those totals this year, as he already has 13 goals and 17 assists in 34 games.
He has yet to make his NHL debut, but Schneider has shown promise for an undrafted forward. His size and skating ability, and his poise with the puck bode well for a potential NHL future.
Buddy Robinson, RW, 22
Buddy Robinson is an interesting prospect for the Senators, still developing in his first full AHL campaign with Binghamton. Robinson is a solid skater for his 6'6, 222-pound frame, and causes a ton of problems for the opposition in their defensive zone. He has played regular duties on Binghamton's third and fourth lines, earning seven goals and seven assists through 32 contests.
His gritty style of play befits his stature and size and his success with Binghamton could translate in the NHL. He chose to leave Lake Superior State University after two seasons, and signed with Ottawa as a college free agent. Robinson is a late-bloomer, but the undrafted winger looks promising so far.
Matt Puempel, LW, 20
The youngest player on Binghamton's roster, Puempel is learning what it takes to play at a professional level. A sniper by trade, Puempel managed 35 goals in 51 OHL games last year and is off to a strong start in the pros, with 12 goals in 38 AHL games. He has been primarily used on the third and fourth lines, but sees some power play duties.
Puempel's lethal shot is his biggest asset, but he is fully expected to develop into a more complete player. He offers skill and secondary scoring in Binghamton and he is adding more grit to his game. At some point in the next couple of years, the Senators first round pick on 2011 will be given ample opportunity to play in the NHL.
Shane Prince, LW, 21
Shane Prince has overcome a shaky start to his second AHL season with Binghamton. He spent time as a healthy scratch in October, but the sniper has since established his role as a second-line player alongside center Jim O'Brien and right wing Andre Petterson.
Prince is one of several skilled wingers with offensive upside in the Ottawa Senators' depth chart. He has seven goals and 12 assists through 32 games and now looks poised to surpass his 2012-13 totals of 18 goals and 17 assists through 65 games. Prince is looking to prove he can overcome size and produce consistent offense in the AHL.
Andre Petersson, LW, 23
Andre Petersson could be playing his final year of professional hockey in North America and it looks to be a strong one. The Swedish playmaker missed the bulk of the 2012-13 season due to injury, which severely hindered his development. He posted 23 goals and 21 assists in 60 games with Binghamton in 2011-12, his North American debut season. He is likely to improve on those numbers with 11 goals and 10 assists through 30 outings, but Petersson faces an uphill battle to crack Ottawa's roster. Ottawa's depth chart is laced with younger forwards built from a similar mold as Petersson and he has a limited time to make his case as a result.
Mike Hoffman, LW, 24
Mike Hoffman is Binghamton's top scorer 36 games into the season. He was recalled by Ottawa and played three NHL games with Ottawa in early December, without recording a single point. Unable to make an impact during that time, Hoffman is back with Binghamton and sitting second in league scoring with 16 goals and 25 assists.
Hoffman's blend of speed, skill and scoring ability are lethal at the AHL level, but it has yet to translate into NHL success. Without much of a physical side to his game, he is better suited to play among the top two lines in Ottawa.
Darren Kramer, LW, 22
Darren Kramer has earned a regular spot in Binghamton's roster, following a 2012-13 campaign split between the ECHL's Elmira Jackals and the AHL's Senators. Kramer serves as an enforcer, having accumulated 121 penalty minutes in 41 AHL contests to date. He only has three points in 20 games this season, but he offers an effective checking presence, and is earning regular third line duties in Binghamton when healthy.
Stephane Da Costa, C, 24
Stephane Da Costa is one of the best in the AHL. The native of Paris, France possesses a unique set of skills, which have failed to translate effectively in the NHL, despite several attempts. In 39 NHL games, spread out across four seasons dating back to 2010-11, Da Costa has recorded four goals and three assists. Listed at 5'11, 180 pounds, Da Costa is a player who relies on his offense to make contributions to the team.
His soft hands, agility, and playmaking abilities are enough to keep him intact as an elite AHL player. He has 12 goals and 20 assists in 35 games to his name this season with Binghamton but Da Costa has been perennially incapable of reproducing similar success with Ottawa. In four NHL games this season, one of which was spent on the top line alongside Jason Spezza, Da Costa yielded zero points on his behalf.
Derek Grant, C, 23
Derek Grant took a step forward in his career following a lengthy stint with Ottawa to start the 2013-14 season. Grant's success as a fourth line checking forward and penalty killer kept him on the roster through 20 games, but was sent down to Binghamton at the start of December. He has two assists over that span, and since joining Binghamton he has recorded four goals and four assists through 16 games. Grant has centered the third line alongside 20-year-old Puempel and Robinson, providing the team with ample secondary scoring. Grant plays a simple game, fully capable of filling a bottom-line role at the NHL level.
Wacey Hamilton, C, 23
Wacey Hamilton generally centers the fourth line on a Binghamton roster deep with highly skilled forwards. Beyond Hamilton's two goal and seven assists he plays well off the puck, bringing energy, playing the body and creating turnovers. His fourth line duties are unlikely to change, barring injuries. Nonetheless Hamilton's skating and energy provide tools to grow as a player and make his case for an NHL spot.
David Dziurzynski, C, 24
For an undrafted player without a major junior or college career, David Dziurzynski has been a pleasant surprise. During the Ottawa Senators' injury-plagued 2012-13 season, Dziurzynski was one of the AHL call-ups to make a positive impact. In 12 NHL games he recorded two goals and provided strong forechecking on the Senators' bottom two lines.
In 36 games in the AHL this season, Dziurzynski has posted three goals and eight assists playing fourth line minutes. He possesses a big frame (6'3, 214 pounds) and drops the gloves periodically, but plays his checking role with discipline. Dziurzynski is not a flashy player but he can kill penalties, take face-offs, and play a smart two-way game.
Mark Borowiecki, D, 24
Mark Borowiecki began the 2013-14 AHL season on a defensive pairing with the mobile Cody Ceci on Binghamton's top pairing. Borowiecki was re-called by Ottawa in early November for a 13-game stint, but eventually had his spot in the lineup replaced by Ceci.
Borowiecki works hard off the puck and plays a sound defensive game, but could still benefit from smoother passing out of the zone. Borowiecki could serve as a bottom pair NHL player going forward, but more work needs to be done to secure a permanent spot.
Fredrik Claesson, D, 21
Fredrik Claesson is a reliable, stay-at-home defenseman in his second season with Binghamton. Claesson is a strong, steady skater on the back end, and has made strides to become a better puck-handler. Earning second-pairing minutes alongside Michael Sdao, he has also been a top penalty-killer. Claesson is starting to jump up offensively as of late and has 11 points in his last 17 games. As one of Binghamton's better defensemen, he will look to continue growing his overall game before an NHL call-up is in order.
Michael Sdao, D, 24
Michael Sdao has fit right into the Binghamton lineup in his first full AHL season. After four years playing with Princeton University, Sdao is 24 years old with a 6'4, 220 pound frame. He has already collected 100 penalty minutes, several of which were earned through fights. He plays a similar style to former Binghamton player Eric Gryba – a punishing, physical defenseman who makes simple, safe plays with the puck. Sdao might possess NHL-ready size, strength, and intelligence, but speed might be an issue.
Chris Wideman, D, 24
With Cody Ceci's call-up to the NHL, Chris Wideman has become Binghamton's go-to offensive defenseman. His power play time has increased, and his points have shot up as a result. Since the game following Ceci's promotion, Wideman has managed 14 points in 14 games, including three powerplay goals.
On the flip side, Wideman is minus-nine and remains a project in his own end. He plays the bottom pairing and his partner changes regularly, but Wideman still has to improve in the defensive zone.
Ben Blood, D, 24
Ben Blood continues to be extremely tough to play against in the defensive zone, which keeps him on the Binghamton Senators roster. He stands out as a strong, bruising defenseman, but can struggle with the puck. Generally, Blood competes for playing time on the bottom pairing, to play alongside two-way player Wideman. While Wideman joins the rush, Blood serves as the last-man back in case of turnovers. If Blood continues to win battles in his own zone, he will continue to see icetime under Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson.
Andrew Hammond, G, 25
Hammond's first season of professional hockey has been a mixed bag thus far. The 6'1 goaltender signed an entry-level deal with Ottawa following a four year career with Bowling Green and has split starts with veteran Nathan Lawson. Through 19 games Hammond has a 9-7-3 record, a 3.28 goals against average, and a .894 save percentage.
Jakub Culek, 21, LW
Jakub Culek is one of few stand-outs on the struggling Elmira Jackals, with six goals and 12 assists through 25 contests. Among the youngest on their active roster, Culek is second in points behind veteran Jordan Pietrus, who has played 10 more games and notched five more points. The Senators' third round pick of 2011 is still developing, but is a competent two-way player and consistent point producer.
Ludwig Karlsson, LW, 23
Ludwig Karlsson has progressed to the AHL following 19 games with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. He posted four goals and seven assists with the Jackals, before receiving the AHL call-up. He was returned to the ECHL after eight scoreless games.
Karlsson was a college free agent acquisition by the Senators in July 2013, inked to a two-year entry-level deal.
Troy Rutkowski, D, 21
Just last spring, Troy Rutkowski was at the pinnacle of junior hockey stardom. He served as captain for the Portland Winterhawks who were runners-up in the Memorial Cup final to the Halifax Mooseheads. Now the former junior star finds himself on the Elmira Jackals blue line in the ECHL.
With a logjam of experienced, capable defensemen playing in Binghamton, Rutkowski is the odd man out. He is a solid skater, skilled with the puck, and dangerous on the power play, but this season with Elmira will help to develop his game in the defensive zone.