A number of Ottawa Senators prospects came into their own during the 2013-14 season. Curtis Lazar was the best among them, leading the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship, and a berth in the 2014 Memorial Cup.
In the AHL, Binghamton defensemen Mark Borowiecki, Fredrik Claesson, and Chris Wideman all performed well but were not able to carry the Senators past the first round of the playoffs. Matt Puempel proved he can score goals on the professional stage, and Ryan Dzingel will look to do the same next year. Mike Hoffman and Buddy Robinson are two forwards with valuable skillsets, still battling to establish themselves as well-rounded players.
Hardest Worker: Fredrik Claesson, D, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Fredrik Claesson is giving himself every advantage towards earning a future NHL career. When he left Sweden’s professional system to play his first AHL season in 2012-13, the move was done with the intent to adapt to the North American game. That decision is paying dividends, as Claesson’s play for the Binghamton Senators continues to trend upward. He nearly tripled his point totals in 2013-14 from the year previous, recording three goals and 26 assists, bolstered a plus-37 rating – tied for second in the AHL. Claesson plays hard defensively, contributes offensively, and matches his toughness with on-ice intelligence.
Hardest Shot: Matt Puempel, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
No other Senators prospect can shoot the puck like Matt Puempel. He notched 30 goals this season in his professional debut, tied for the Binghamton Senators goal lead with Mike Hoffman. Puempel can score from the perimeter, but he serves as a power forward and can make an impact all over the ice. He possesses an NHL-caliber shot, and committed himself to rounding out his game in a bottom-line checking role for the better part of 2013-14. He plays with grit, and collected 94 penalty minutes including eight fighting majors. Injuries slowed his development following his draft year in 2011, but the first-round draft choice is back on track to challenge for an NHL job.
Best Defensive Prospect: Mark Borowiecki, D, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Since being drafted in 2008, Mark Borowiecki emerged as a leader and shutdown defenseman for the Binghamton Senators. Borowiecki dominates opponents physically to win battles, and makes safe plays with the puck. His penchant for missing big hits and allowing odd-man rushes against has largely disappeared, bringing high energy and strong defensive zone play. Entering the second half of his two-year deal, Borowiecki is guaranteed an NHL contract for 2014-15. He performed well in his 13-game NHL stint this past year, but he will need to work on puck movement in hopes of retaining a top-six NHL job. At the very least, Ottawa adds a defensive workhorse to their blue line, which allowed the third most goals against in the Eastern Conference this season.
Fastest Skater: Mike Hoffman, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
The title befits Mike Hoffman’s performance at the 2014 AHL All-Star Skills Competition, where he was crowned fastest skater. He notched 30 goals, 37 assists in 51 AHL games played before joining Ottawa’s roster in late February, and eventually finishing eighth in AHL scoring. His skill complements his speed, and when given open ice, Hoffman can create opportunities and capitalize on them. His physicality and strength are still lacking, but Hoffman’s speed up front provides a spark the Senators could use. He only notched three goals and three helpers through 25 NHL games this season, but looked dangerous throughout.
Prospect of the year: Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Through the WHL regular season and playoffs, Curtis Lazar has been central to the Edmonton Oil Kings’ success. Lazar plays a 200-foot game at even strength, and contributes regularly in power play and penalty killing situations. He notched 41 goals and 35 assists through 58 regular season games, going over a point per game in the playoffs, but Lazar’s presence is felt all over the ice. His leadership qualities, defensive awareness and intelligence reflect a mature hockey player readying himself for a strong NHL career. On the World Junior Championship stage this winter, Lazar was a consistent force for Team Canada which ultimately failed to meet its own expectations. Lazar’s performance was outstanding in 2013-14, and he could be set to join the Ottawa Senators as early as next season.
Breakout player for 2013-14: Robbie Baillargeon, C, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
It did not take long for Robbie Baillargeon to establish himself as a top-line player for Boston University. He exceled on a checking line to kick off the 2013-14 campaign, and Terriers head coach promptly promoted the rookie to the first line. Baillargeon works hard to win puck battles, retain possession and create offense. He can thread passes and shoot well, and given increased playing time, Baillargeon soared to become the Terrier’s leading point-scorer this season. With 10 goals and 17 helpers through 35 games, he was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. As Baillargeon builds strength and bulks up his 6’0, 175 pound frame, with his current skill set intact, the ceiling for Baillargeon appears high.
Most improved prospect: Ryan Dzingel, C, Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten)
Ryan Dzingel was the Ohio State Buckeyes’ top point-scorer for each of his three college seasons, but 2013-14 was his best by far. Dzingel was under a point game through his freshman and sophomore seasons, before exploding as a junior and compiling 22 goals and 24 assists through 37 games. He was recognized as a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, finishing among the top ten players to be eligible for the title. Ohio State was eliminated in the Big Ten final by late March, and shortly thereafter Dzingel joined the Binghamton Senators for a nine-game AHL stint. He produced two goals and five assists in the AHL, suggesting his emergence into an elite scorer can translate to the professional level.
Overachiever: Chris Wideman, D, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Chris Wideman spent most of the 2013-14 campaign on Binghamton’s third pairing, but finished fourth among AHL defenseman in scoring. His nine goals, 42 assists ranked fourth in team points, on a Binghamton team deep in offensive talent. Wideman’s puck distribution, especially on the power play, helped Binghamton finish atop the AHL in regular season goals with 276 in 76 games played. Wideman deserves credit for the emergence in his second pro season, but he still needs to sharpen up defensively. His bid for an NHL roster spot in Ottawa looks stronger, but the Senators are in current need of defensive specialists rather than offensive contributors.
Underachiever: Buddy Robinson, RW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Buddy Robinson has not been a letdown for the Binghamton Senators, but he has been inconsistent. Robinson possesses a valuable set of attributes, namely his 6’5, 222 pound frame, and an above average skating ability. He plays physically, drives hard to the net and creates opportunities, but has failed to produce regularly. If Robinson continues to round out his game for another year in Binghamton, he could be NHL-ready by the time his contract expires in 2016. Robinson is yet to evolve into a NHL-calibre power forward, but he holds the requisite skills to do so.
The Ottawa Senators have a hard-hitting pest in Chris Neil, and they drafted another in Vincent Dunn. When Dunn plays his best, he plays a hard, 200-foot game. He creates turnovers, takes the body, and frustrates opponents in every way possible. At his worst, Dunn inflicts the same tactics by crossing the line too often. Dunn was a mix of both over the course of 2013-14, playing alongside Calgary Flames prospect Emile Poirier and posting 31 goals, 20 assists through 50 games. On the flip side he earned 156 penalty minutes, and was suspended four separate times by the league. The fine line between taking penalties and legal, physical play was undeniably fuzzy for Dunn this year. If he can manage his play with slightly more discipline, he can make a positive difference on the ice.