Ottawa Senators prospects Lazar, Harpur saw long and fruitful postseasons

By Peter Morrow

Curtis Lazar - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Forward Curtis Lazar helped the Edmonton Oil Kings to a 2014 Memorial Cup Championship. Lazar was also a standout for the Oil Kings in the WHL Playoffs, posting 10 goals and 12 assists in 21 games. (courtesy of Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

While the Ottawa Senators failed to qualify for the postseason, most of the organization's prospects made playoff appearances this spring. CHL prospects Ben Harpur and Curtis Lazar had particularly noteworthy postseasons as they helped their respective teams to the 2014 Memorial Cup.

The organization's AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators made it to the first round of the playoffs, but lost in four games to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Two Senators prospects playing in Sweden squared off against each other in the SHL playoff quarterfinals. Goaltender Marcus Hogberg stepped up to help Linkopings HC upset Frolunda HC in a seven-game series. Defenseman Mikael Wikstrand was part of the losing Frolunda side.

In the NCAA, Quentin Shore and the Denver Pioneers made the most of the NCHC's inaugural Conference tournament, winning and advancing into the NCAA Northeast Regional final.

AHL

Binghamton's players underperformed across the board, and the team fell in four games to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the AHL playoffs. Stephane Da Costa and Mark Stone were a point per game for the Binghamton Senators despite being shut out in games three and four. No other players were able to make notably positive impacts on offense.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau took 11 shots on net without burying one, while Shane Prince was largely invisible throughout. A game one injury to sniper Matt Puempel and the absence regular season top scorer Mike Hoffman made creating offense difficult as well.

Senators 2011 draft pick Ryan Dzingel joined the Senators after the Ohio State Buckeyes season concluded, and contributed strongly down the stretch with two goals and five assists in nine games. But in game one of the playoffs, Dzingel suffered an injury which kept him sidelined for the remainder of the series.

Cody Ceci, Chris Wideman, and Fredrik Claesson combined for minus-13 in the playoffs. The offensively-minded Ceci and Wideman showed holes in their defensive games. Claesson meanwhile lacked the usual steadiness in his game, and the 21-year old Swede is likely facing another AHL season to develop in 2014-15.

Meanwhile, team captain Mark Borowiecki led the team with a plus-three rating. His four years of AHL experience, highlighted by his 2011 Calder Cup run with the Senators, stood out against the inexperience of his fellow blueliners. For all of the young talent prevalent in Binghamton's roster, their inexperience at the pro level was exploited in the playoffs.

OHL

In one final game to decide the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup champions, Harpur and the Guelph Storm failed to complete the tournament sweep. Guelph went undefeated, going 3-0 in the tournament prior to its championship game defeat. While Harpur failed to record a point for the fourth straight game in the tournament, he finished with a plus-two rating in the final despite losing 6-3 to the Edmonton Oil Kings. Harpur was relied upon as a top-four defenseman and contributed on the penalty kill, quietly helping the offensive-minded Storm win 19 of their 24 postseason games. He notched one goal and four assists, but logged serious minutes against opponents' top players. He used his 6'6, 210 pound frame and skating ability to play hard defense, and made simple, reliable outlet passes when the puck was recovered. Harpur's role in Guelph's successful campaign is a positive sign for the 2013 fourth-round pick's development.

WHL

Lazar led by example as the Edmonton Oil Kings battled their way through the WHL playoffs and to a Memorial Cup title. The Oil Kings steamrolled through most of the WHL postseason before coming up against the Portland Winterhawks, who they beat in a hard fought seven-game series. Lazar was consistently strong throughout the Oil Kings playoff run, finishing with 10 goals and 12 assists through 21 games.

Lazar scored the triple-overtime game-winner off a point shot re-direction in the Oil Kings' 4-3 victory over the Val D'or Foreurs in the Memorial Cup semi-final. In the championship game, the Oil Kings overcame a challenge similar to the one they were faced with against the Winterhawks – shutting down the offensive-minded Guelph Storm, which averaged five goals per game in the postseason. Lazar did not record a point in their 6-3 tournament win, but he helped secure the title by playing his brand of hockey.

Chris Driedger and the Calgary Hitmen were unable to build on their 2013 playoff run, which saw them fall in seven games in the Eastern Conference final. Driedger underperformed this time around, posting a .870 save percentage and 4.39 goals against average through six playoff games. Instead of earning another opportunity to beat the Oil Kings, the Hitmen fell to the Kootenay Ice in the first round.

QMJHL

This year, Vincent Dunn did precisely what he was supposed to do for the Gatineau Olympiques, he stirred the pot, wreaked havoc, and created offense. Applying his physical, attacking brand of hockey, he was an important player as the Olympiques defeated Cape Breton in the first round. He notched one goal and five points in four games. The second round match against the Halifax Mooseheads proved more difficult for Dunn and the Olympiques. In Gatineau's lone victory, a 5-2 win over Halifax in game three, Dunn was arguably the team's best player. He led his team in hits, scored the game-winning goal and collected another assist. He added another two-point performance, but the Olympiques were ultimately out-classed.

NCAA

Shore was injured for six games before returning to help the Denver Pioneers claim the first-ever NCHC Conference championship title. Denver defeated Western Michigan 4-3 in the Conference semi-final, and beat Miami 4-3 in the final. In the NCAA Northeast Regional final, Boston College overpowered the Pioneers 6-2. Shore was strong in the faceoff circle as usual, but in all three tournament games he was held without a point.

Dzingel and Ohio State teammate Max McCormick both stepped up in the Big Ten Conference tournament, spearheading the Buckeye offense as they had done all season. The Buckeyes overcame Michigan State in overtime, and downed top-ranked Minnesota in the semi-final, but fell short in the Conference final. Dzingel notched a goal and an assist, while McCormick added two assists, but the Buckeyes lost a 5-4 thriller in overtime to the Wisconsin Badgers.

Europe

Marcus Hogberg had a rough time while on loan to Mora IK in Sweden's Allsvenskan league. He earned a 5-8 record with a .892 save percentage. He returned to Linkopings HC before playoffs began, going 4-0 with a .960 save percentage to cap off regular season play. He brought that momentum into the postseason, posting a .913 save percentage and helping Linkopings to a seven-game upset over Frolunda HC. He took the starting job from veteran Christian Engstrand in that series, but the two shared duties in a difficult 4-1 semi-final series loss to eventual SHL champions Skelleftea AIK. Hogberg's size and skill were on full display in the playoffs, which was largely not the case over the regular season.

In contrast with Hogberg's playoff surge, defenseman Mikael Wikstrand had a weak postseason. While Wikstrand excelled during the regular season, earning 20 points in 27 Allsvenskan games and 11 points in 19 SHL games, he managed only a goal and an assist in seven playoff games.

Notes and signings

On April 1st, the Senators signed left wing Garrett Thompson to a one-year, entry-level deal. Thompson was a college free agent out of Ferris State University, who finished the year with 16 goals, tied for the team lead in points with 32. He will compete for a roster spot on the Binghamton Senators roster next season.

The Senators also signed four of their draft picks this spring. The team signed 2011 seventh round draft pick, center Dzingel to a two-year deal in late March. The former Ohio State Buckeyes forward had a breakout season in 2013-14, leading the team in points with 46, and 22 goals.

On May 28th, the Senators signed Dzingel's Ohio State teammate, left wing McCormick to another two-year contract. McCormick was drafted in the sixth round in 2011. Both are expected to join the Binghamton Senators next year.

Wikstrand was signed to a three-year entry-level contract on May 2nd. The Swedish defenseman was the Senators' seventh round pick of 2012.

In addition, the Senators signed third-round 2012 draft pick Driedger to a three-year deal. He will be competing with Andrew Hammond for a starting role in Binghamton next season.