The Ottawa Senators are in for another interesting, potentially franchise-altering offseason. Following former captain Daniel Alfredsson's footsteps last summer, the 2013-14 Senators captain Jason Spezza is likely on his way out. Two more top-six forwards, Ales Hemsky and Milan Michalek, might be following suit. With valuable assets to shop around, general manager Bryan Murray will remain busy leading up to the 2014 NHL draft.
Ottawa's short-term future is murky heading into the 2014-15 campaign, but the long-term picture is less so. The only position in need of serious help is right wing, and the deepest position is center. Goaltending, defense and left wing depth are all healthy enough for the time being. Ottawa holds four draft selections in 2014, not including a first round pick. That could change, and if it does, expect Murray to add a high-scoring winger to the prospect pool.
Top 10 Prospects:
Shaky defense put a damper on the Senators' playoff hopes this past season. Erik Karlsson was not at his best, still on the mend from an Achilles injury suffered during the 2012-13 campaign. His defense partner Jared Cowen was a liability at times, getting caught out of position too often. In short, the team's intended top pairing was anything but reliable.
Veteran Marc Methot sets the standard for defensive zone play, but there was never a capable match to play alongside him. Chris Phillips is 39 years old, unable to log top minutes like he used to. Eric Gryba, Patrick Wiercioch, Cody Ceci and Mark Borowiecki are all inexperienced at the NHL level, competing for the remaining two positions. In total there are eight slotted to play next year, and likely not enough quality between them for the Senators to be competitive.
Spezza's alleged request to leave Ottawa drastically alters the picture up front. If he and both Hemsky and Michalek leave town without viable short-term replacements, scoring depth up front could be a concern.
Youngster Mika Zibanejad will be tested as the second center behind Turris, aided by rugged Zack Smith behind him. After those three, the Senators are without any clear answers down the middle. Unless general manager Bryan Murray acquires proven assets to bolster the forward corps, several young players could be heavily relied upon.
As mentioned above, a host of young forwards are coming into their own. The Binghamton Senators posted more goals than any other AHL team in the regular season, thanks to scoring depth spread largely across three lines.
Right wing Mark Stone and centers Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mike Hoffman are strong candidates to produce scoring depth for the big club next season. Two-way center Curtis Lazar and sharp-shooting left wing Matt Puempel will earn their NHL trials shortly. There is no shortage of forwards with the potential to have strong NHL careers.
The Senators possess some young, improving defensemen who can chip in offensively. Ceci is strong skaters who joins the rush, dishes the puck, and can man the powerplay. Mikael Wikstrand is another exciting prospect who can create offense from the blue line. Ottawa's template for success relies on their ability to match mobile, puck-moving defensemen with rugged, stay-at-home types.
Goaltender Robin Lehner has been eased into the NHL by head coach Paul MacLean. Craig Anderson can still perform, but this could be the year Lehner takes over. Between the two, whoever minds the crease, the Senators can count on their goaltending next year. Former Calgary Hitmen netminder Chris Driedger was recently signed on a two-way contract, and Marcus Hogberg is a solid prospect developing in Sweden's SHL pro league. Either one could play a role in supporting Lehner down the line.
The Senators organization boasts a number of capable forwards from top to bottom, but only a few are sure-fire top-six players.
Lazar is close to NHL-ready, but he remains untested like so many of Ottawa's forwards. Furthermore he offers a strong two-way game, not necessarily a point-per-game output. If the Senators can, they might trade up to select a game-breaking forward in the upcoming draft.
The right wing position needs to be addressed more than anything. Stone will likely be counted on to produce on the second line despite limited previous NHL exposure. Binghamton winger Buddy Robinson has stand-out qualities, but remains a work in progress. After him the list of notable right wing options looks particularly thin.
On the flip side of Ottawa's mobile, puck-moving defense is its shaky defensive zone coverage. Fredrik Claesson is a smart, physical, defensive-savvy player in Binghamton, and Ben Harpur of the Guelph Storm showed promise. Still, the Senators organization requires added depth in the form of defensemen who can offer size, skill, intelligence, and skating – not just one or two of those attributes.
The Senators' history of drafting Swedish prospects has paid dividends. Karlsson, Jakob Silfverberg, Lehner, and Zibanejad were all products of Bryan Murray's drafting, and all have become quality NHL players. The WHL is another favourite for Murray, who has selected players from there in each draft since 2008 – Lazar being the most recent example. Murray generally drafts from Sweden and the CHL for the first four or five rounds, and then dips into the American development leagues later on.
The Senators own four draft picks in 2014. They will select at: 40th, 70th, 100th, and 190th. The Senators lost their first round pick to Anaheim when they acquired Ryan last summer. Ottawa traded their fifth round pick this spring when they acquired Hemsky from Edmonton. They also gave up their sixth round pick in 2013 when they acquired Matt Kassian from Minnesota.