While the Ottawa Senators struggles continue, the Binghamton Senators’ season continues on a much more positive note. Binghamton finds themselves right in the thick of the East Division playoff race, sitting fourth in their division with 42 points in 34 games, three points ahead of fifth-place Philadelphia, and two back of third place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Binghamton’s improvement in the standings can be attributed to the progress of several Senators’ prospects this season, some of which are showing definite NHL potential.
Acquired: 2003 entry draft, 291st overall
Elliott has become a workhorse this season, and currently leads all AHL goalies in wins with 17. In fact, Elliott has been in net for all but one of Binghamton’s 18 wins thus far this season, a testament to how good he has been, and how poorly backup Jeff Glass has played.
Elliott was the second to last pick in the 2003 draft, which says much about how far he has come. At the end of last season, Senators GM Brian Murray said he wanted Elliott to play a full season as a starter in the AHL for 2008-09, and Elliott has held onto just that. Even after having poor games, Elliott has been able to rebound consistently, and come back as strong as ever. He has a 2.39 GAA and .924 save percentage.
Elliott still has to clear up some rebound control issues, and is not known for having strong stickhandling skills, but his angles and overall competitiveness are major strengths. If he keeps it up, Elliott could find himself in Ottawa full time as soon as next season as the backup in Ottawa.
Acquired: 2004 entry draft, 89th overall
While Elliott’s season has been one that has seen his stock rise significantly, Glass’ season has been one of strife. The former World Junior gold medalist has won just once in 10 games, while posting poor goals against average (4.20) and save percentage (.881). Clearly, the coaching staff is reluctant to put Glass in when they are in a tight battle for a playoff spot at the moment. He holds a 1-6-0-2 record.
Unless Glass turns his season around soon, his days with the Ottawa organization could be coming to a close, as he is out of a contract at season’s end. The only aspect that could mean a return to Binghamton next year is that Ottawa is not deep with goaltending prospects, and if Elliott makes the jump to the NHL, Binghamton will be without a goalie. Still, if his struggles continue, even that will not save him, as under Bryan Murray, the Senators have shown a commitment to keeping the farm team competitive stocked with solid players.
Acquired: 2005 entry draft, Ninth overall
Lee’s season has been one of ups and downs, but mainly downs thus far. Expected to be in Ottawa full time this season, after a strong showing during a call-up late last season, Lee struggled to find a niche on the Senators’ blueline and was sent back down to Binghamton to get more playing time. Primary concerns about Lee’s game centered on his shot, thought to be too soft, and his physical game.
While in Binghamton, Lee has shown some improvement in his physical game, as evidenced by his 28 penalty minutes, the offense has been slow to come. Lee was expected to give a boost to an already strong Binghamton power play, as well as help generate offense five-on-five, but has put up only eight points in 22 games. However, Lee has still been one of the first call-ups for Ottawa when injuries have struck the defense, and did score his first NHL goal against the Edmonton Oilers on the power play. Perhaps Lee will stick with Ottawa after this, but he had best show improvement quickly, as he is already struggling to justify being a top 10 draft pick.
Acquired: 2003 entry draft, 135th overall
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season has been the emergence of Mattias Karlsson. After receiving a freak injury prior to training camp last season, Karlsson suited up for only two games with Binghamton and at the recommendation of the Senators organization, returned home to Sweden to play for Bofors IK of the Alsvenskan, and then Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League. Karlsson returned to North America for training camp this season and has been a bright spot on the Binghamton defense, becoming a fixture on the power play. He is now the team’s highest scoring defenseman, and is the top scoring rookie defenseman among in the AHL with 23 points in 33 games. He is also tied with teammate Zack Smith for sixth in rookie scoring, and tied for fourth in scoring among all defensemen. Karlsson is even with 18 penalty minutes.
While Karlsson has been a pleasant surprise, if he wants to make it to the NHL he will need to improve his skating. His lack of speed is the largest weakness in his overall game. While he may be able to manage at the AHL level, he would be exposed in the NHL. Still, he has great size (6’3, 228 lbs) and solid offensive instincts. If he can improve his skating, he could get a major look by the Ottawa brass at training camp next season with Ottawa’s lack of offensive skill on the defense.
Acquired: 2005 entry draft, 136th overall
After struggling to hold a spot on Binghamton’s blueline last season, Kudelka is finally managing to be a full time player in the AHL this season. Kudelka is firmly entrenched among Binghamton’s top six defensemen. However, Kudelka’s skating is lacking and he could stand to add more mass to his 6’3 frame, as he tips the scales at only 196 lbs. He is a long-term project, at least two to three years away from getting a look in Ottawa. But Kudelka is showing positive strides forward. He has 11 points in 33 games with a -7 and 26 penalty minutes.
Derek A. Smith
Acquired: Free Agent
The former Lake Superior State University standout has shown improvement in his second season as a pro. He has 11 points in 31 games and has 19 penalty minutes. His solid skating stride and overall size are good assets, but he has shown little in the way of taking the next step to get to the NHL. At 24, his chances of becoming an NHL regular are slim.
Ilya Zubov, LW
Acquired: 2005 entry draft, 98th overall
After starting last season strong but drastically fading towards the end, Zubov spent all summer training in Ottawa with NHLers such as Chris Kelly and Chris Neil. Through his training he lost about 15 lbs, and the results have been very apparent, as Zubov spent the first quarter of the season being Binghamton’s best offensive player. His energy and endurance are all significantly improved, and it has translated directly onto the scoresheet for him, now with 10 goals, 15 assists in 21 games. Even after being called up to Ottawa for an extended period of time, in hopes of providing the NHL Senators with some secondary scoring, Zubov is still Binghamton’s leading scorer.
His speed and offensive instincts are his greatest assets, and he has used them to his full advantage in the AHL this year. In Ottawa, he is still finding his way and adjusting to NHL competition. Some more seasoning in the AHL and specific work on his defensive game are probably needed, but if his progress continues, Zubov has a strong chance of being a regular in Ottawa next season.
Peter Regin, C
Acquired: 2004 entry draft, 87th overall
Regin’s North American career has had a rough start, as he was injured twice in the opening two months of the season, and has missed a dozen games as a result. After returning from injury, it took him some time to find his game again, but he has started to consistently produce offensively for Binghamton, which has helped fill a void with leading scorer Ilya Zubov being called up to Ottawa. Regin’s skill with the puck is very apparent, as is his strong skating ability. He is able to use them to be incredibly shifty in the attacking zone, and he has been responsible defensively as well. Physically he has not been intimidated, but he needs to add strength to his 6’2, 198 lb body. Otherwise, it is simply a matter of adjusting to the North American style of game, and avoiding injuries that are the biggest hurdles he currently faces to get to the NHL. He has 12 points in 23 games, and is +4.
Zach Smith, C
Acquired: 2008 entry draft, 79th overall
Another surprise in Binghamton this season has been rookie Zach Smith. Drafted as a 20-year-old in 2008 after being passed over in the previous two, the Senators have been rewarded nicely for taking Smith in the third round. Tied for the team lead in goals with 10, and third on the team in points with 23 (in 34 games), Smith has also shown a willingness to drop the gloves regularly, with 56 penalty minutes. At times overmatched by more experienced AHL fighters, the Senators are still thrilled with his enthusiasm. Smith’s strong season thus far resulted in a one game call-up to the NHL.
Offensively, Smith began the year on fire, playing on Binghamton’s top line with AHL veteran Ryan Shannon, and Zubov. He has slowed down somewhat with Shannon and Zobov both receiving call-ups to the NHL, but he is still able to regularly contribute on the scoresheet. Smith can often be found collecting the “garbage goals” in front of the net, though he has demonstrated some high end offensive skills.
Cody Bass, C
Acquired: 2005 entry draft, 95th overall
Many expected the speedy grinder to start the year with the NHL Senators, but the number of veteran players signed in the offseason resulted in Bass being sent down to Binghamton. While he has failed to duplicate his modest scoring pace from the last season (just two points in 18 games), nobody expects Bass to score. He has been a major piece of Binghamton’s penalty kill, though it has struggled much of the season, and provided energy with his feisty physical play. He’s -5 with 41 penalty minutes. This has resulted in Bass being one of Ottawa’s first call-ups in the event of an injury, in the hopes that he can provide the same energy to a struggling Ottawa team.
Unfortunately for Bass and the Senators, he has recently sustained a shoulder injury that will require surgery to repair. There is a strong possibility it could wipe out the rest of his 2008-09 season.
Josh Hennessy, C
Acquired: Trade with Chicago, 2006
Hennessy’s stock has fallen considerably. He now finds himself at eighth among Ottawa prospects, and rotating between second and third line duty in Binghamton. The major knock against Hennessy is his lack of effort most nights, and it has reflected his slide down the Senators’ depth chart. It is quite disappointing as Hennessy has many of the tools to become a solid third liner with some scoring touch: great speed, and decent offensive awareness. But his lack of effort ultimately holds him back, not only in the offensive zone, but in the defensive one as well. This is evidenced by the fact that Hennessy is a team-worst -11. He also has 18 points in 35 games.
With players such as Zubov, Regin and Zack Smith having strong seasons, Hennessy appears destined to be a career AHLer, a major disappointment as he was part of the now infamous Martin Havat trade.
Shawn Weller, LW
Acquired: 2004 entry draft, 77th overall
For Weller, a former Clarkson University standout, this season has not been the one that was hoped for. While he still provides physical play, and plays a lot of minutes on Binghamton’s penalty kill, the offense has been slow to come, as his production is down from last year. He has just five points in 32 games. There is clearly skill there, but it is still very raw. However, Weller has significantly improved his defensive play, going from -13 in the previous season to -2 this season, and he has managed to stick in the AHL this year, as opposed to going back and forth between the AHL and ECHL. Before he gets considered for NHL call-up duty though, completing this season in the AHL, and some of next season there too, are required for further development.
Jim McKenzie, RW
Acquired: 2004 entry draft, 141st overall
Ottawa does not have much depth at right wing, and this is shown in McKenzie being the only prospect on the AHL team to naturally play the position. McKenzie was always seen as a long shot to make the NHL, and he has not shown anything to increase his standing on the Senators’ depth chart, as he struggles to stay in the AHL. McKenzie has only played 18 games thus far this year, and has been scratched for many others. He has put up just three points and is -2. At this point, managing to carve out a career in the AHL would be an accomplishment.