In recent years, the Senators have been drafting more and more college and college-bound players. This trend is not at all surprising, as it allows for the NHL club to retain that player’s rights for four or five years before signing them to an entry-level contract. This allows the club more flexibility.
In total, the Senators have seven prospects in the NCAA, four defensemen and three forwards. Two of these players are having standout seasons; one as a freshman defenseman.
Patrick Wiercioch, D
Acquired: 2008 entry draft, 42nd overall
For a player who wasn’t even supposed to play in the NCAA this year, the 18-year-old Wiercioch has turned many heads while playing at the University of Denver. The 2008 second-round pick has become an integral part of the Pioneers’ blueline, especially on the offensive side of the puck. Wiercioch is currently the team’s top-scoring defenseman with 9 goals and 12 assists in 23 games.
Wiercioch’s size is impressive, standing 6’4. He still needs to fill out his 180 lb frame, but when he does, it will make the transition to the pro ranks smoother. While Wiercioch has ample size, he lacks the mean streak that is present in large defensemen such as Chris Pronger, and Zdeno Chara, but that is not Wiercioch’s game. He is a smooth, offensive-minded rearguard who can hold his own in the defensive zone.
Aided by his solid skating ability, Wiercioch already looks to be a steal for the Senators. His impressive play resulted in an invite to Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp in December. While he did not make the cut for the actual tournament, the selection alone was impressive for a player who was not on the radar for many until this season.
Wiercioch has missed four of Denver’s games this season with various injuries. When in the lineup, he maintained a point-per-game pace. While he has fallen slightly behind that, his consistency suggests that his play is not a mere hot streak. Still, Wiercioch is some time away from turning pro. Expect to see him play at least another season for Denver. He will also have a strong chance of making the Team Canada roster for the 2010 World Juniors.
Eric Gryba, D
Acquired: 2006 entry draft, 68th overall
Gryba is a big, stay-at-home defenseman currently in his junior year at Boston University. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native has been a physical presence for the Terriers, while producing only eight points in 94 games. Gryba will never produce even average offensive numbers, but that is not his role. He often lays out bone-crunching checks, and keeps opposing forwards honest in his end. However, he is still quite flat-footed. If he wants to take the next step and turn pro, he must improve his skating.
After this season finishes, whether or not Gryba will turn pro remains to be seen. With Binghamton’s depth on the blueline, another year at Boston might be best to ensure he gets ample ice time. How he performs at the Senators prospect camp in the summer could go a long way to determining whether or not he returns to Boston for the fall of 2009.
Mark Borowiecki, D
Acquired: 2008 entry draft, 139th overall
Ottawa native Borowiecki is in the midst of his freshman season at Clarkson University, which produced fellow Senators prospect Shawn Weller. A standout for Smiths Falls in the Canadian Junior Hockey League, as one of the youngest players at Clarkson, Borowiecki’s ice time and opportunities have been limited, although he recently registered his first goal and assist of the season. He also does not mind engaging physically in games, as he has 20 PIM through 23 games this season, after having 80 and 85 in each of his last two seasons in the CJHL. He has some offensive talent, though it is too early to tell how well his offense from the CJHL (54 points in 99 games for Smiths Falls) will translate to the NCAA.
Borowiecki is a long-term project to be sure, and will probably play at least two more seasons before the Senators sign him, if at all. By then, hopefully he will have worked his way up the Golden Knights depth chart and be receiving more ice time, thus giving the Senators a better idea of what he is capable of.
Ben Blood, D
Acquired: 2007 entry draft, 120th overall
Blood is currently a freshman at the University of North Dakota, the old stomping grounds of fellow Senator prospect Brian Lee. After playing the 2007-08 season in the USHL with Des Moines and then Indiana, and putting up decent offensive totals (10 goals and 13 assists in 57 games between the two clubs), he has run in to the same situation as Borowiecki has at Clarkson, fighting for ice time as a freshman.
Blood has good skating ability, but his offense hasn’t translated, with zero points through 18 games with North Dakota. More discouraging is the fact that Blood is not a defensive specialist by any means, and not very physical either. Since he does not seem to excel either offensively nor defensively, and is not well rounded, Blood’s future is fuzzy at best. Granted, there is time on his side, but he will have to show improvement and some sense of direction in terms of his role on his team to keep the Senators interested.
Louie Caporusso, F
Acquired: 2007 entry draft, 90th overall
With the University of Michigan losing three of its four top scorers over the summer of 2008, there was going to be a massive offensive void to fill on the Wolverines for the 2008-09 season. Caporusso has stepped up to fill that void better than anyone could have anticipated. With 20 goals in 28 games, he is among the top goal scorers in the NCAA, blowing past his 12 goals in 33 games last season. His 11 assists and 31 points are also new career highs, surpassing his nine assists and 21 points the year before. The diminutive but speedy forward has been a bright spot on Michigan all season.
How his numbers will translate to the pros remains to be seen. There have been many NCAA starts who then struggle in the NHL, as Senators fans should be well aware having seen Brandon Bochenski not too long ago. Still, Caporusso’s progress is very encouraging, showing why former Senators scout Frank Jay was so high on taking him. Another year at Michigan would probably be best for him, so he can further hone his game, and add much-needed mass to his 5’10, 185 lbs frame. After next season, if his development continues as it has, expect to see him finish the 2009-10 season in the AHL.
Erik Condra, RW
Acquired: 2006 entry draft, 211th overall
Condra is coming to the conclusion of his NCAA career, finishing his senior year as captain of the Fighting Irish. While his statistics have not been as high as expected, being third on the team in scoring with 22 points in 27 games, he has been an essential part of Notre Dame’s success this season. The speedy playmaker has also been a model of consistency throughout his time in the NCAA, registering 142 points in 146 games. He also led Notre Dame in scoring in each of the last three seasons.
Condra also has great character and a solid head on his shoulders. He would have to, being a pre-med major, while maintaining such a high level of play. He has earned nothing but praise from his coach for his attitude, dedication, and leadership qualities. Also worth noting: he was offered the captaincy of the team last year, but turned it down because he did not want to upset the seniors ahead of him on the team.
Condra is currently projected as a solid, third-line energy forward with some scoring touch. While his point per game ratio is not as impressive as the past three seasons, he has nothing left to prove in the NCAA. Expect Condra to join Binghamton after the Fighting Irish’s season comes to an end and be signed to an NHL deal by Ottawa.
Colin Greening, C
Acquired: 2005 entry draft, 204th overall
Now into his junior year at Cornell, Greening is one of the Big Red’s go-to offensive players, after posting 14 goals and 33 points in his breakout campaign last season. At 6’2 and 210 lbs, he has great size and strength, which should help him adjust to the more physical aspect of the pro game. He also possesses a decent amount of speed to go with his size.
While Greening has shown progress the through the last two years, he is still producing below the point-per-game mark with seven goals and 18 points in 21 games. At the age of 22 (23 in March) he would seem to have reached his ceiling in the NCAA, as he is unlikely to grow more as a player while competing against opponents who are up to four years his junior. He should sign with the Senators in the off-season and get the opportunity to further develop by playing against tougher competition in the AHL.