Ottawa Senators 2014 Fall Top 20 bolstered by offseason trades

By Peter Morrow
Curtis Lazar - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Forward Curtis Lazar had a strong 2013-14 season, managing 41 goals in 58 WHL games. Lazar was picked 17th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 

The lack of a first round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft hurt the Ottawa Senators, but the arrival of two forward prospects via trade helped generate some excitement. Acquired from the Dallas Stars as part of a package deal for Jason Spezza, OHL forward Nicholas Paul is a player on the rise, poised for a breakout year in 2014-15. Fellow new arrival Alex Guptill, on the other hand, is looking to rebound back to elite form after a forgettable final season with the Michigan Wolverines.

This year in Ottawa, there are a few forward spots up for grabs. Winger Mark Stone has all but secured his spot, but there is a litany of others close behind. Curtis Lazar is undoubtedly NHL ready, but he could end up victim to a numbers game. The blue line is clogged with eight defensemen, and Cody Ceci could play a full NHL season after an impressive debut in 2013-14.

Swedish shutdown defenseman Andreas Englund, drafted 40th overall, was the only 2014 draftee to crack the top 20 list.

1. (1) Curtis Lazar, C, 7.5B
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2013

There is very little, if anything, to dislike about Curtis Lazar’s game. Off the ice he exudes an unwavering confidence and on the ice it translates to a business-like approach. During his 2013-14 WHL season with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Lazar finished second in team scoring with 76, ranked first in goals with 41. He played in all situations – including power play and penalty kill – leading his team as assistant captain to an Eastern Conference regular season title. The Oil Kings went on to claim the WHL playoff championship, followed by the Memorial Cup title with a victory over OHL champs Guelph Storm in the final.

Lazar is a complete two-way player with offensive upside, although unlikely to reach a point per game at the NHL level. He appears NHL-ready, either this season or next, and he could be wearing the ‘C’ shortly thereafter.

2. (2) Cody Ceci, D, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2012

Without a doubt the Senators’ best defense prospect since Erik Karlsson, Ceci won his way onto the Senators’ roster mid-way through last season. Opportunity knocked following an early-season display of Senators defensive incompetence, and he took full advantage. Ceci is an above-average skater who can join the offensive rush and close the defensive gap quickly on opponents. Coupled with his good size, Ceci can compete physically with opponents and rarely loses foot races.

In 49 NHL games Ceci recorded three goals and six assists in 2013-14, preceded by two goals and 17 assists in 27 AHL games with Binghamton. His offensive ceiling is high, and the points will likely arrive in time. In 2014-15 his number one priority is making a strong defensive impact, especially following one of Ottawa’s worst years defensively. The Senators’ blue line appears crowded heading into pre-season, but Ceci is favored to establish a permanent spot this year.

3. (4) Mark Stone, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2010

Mark Stone is a top choice to break the Ottawa Senators roster in 2014-15, possibly in a top-six role. His scoring potential was established after his 123-point WHL campaign in 2011-12 with the Brandon Wheat Kings. In two AHL seasons with the Binghamton Senators, Stone was an increasingly reliable scoring option, scoring 15 goals and 26 assists in 37 games last year. He is a big body, listed at 6’2, 205 pounds, with a lethal shot and smooth stick-handling.

Concerns were raised over Stone’s skating ability, but he made a definite leap forward during his 19-game NHL stint last year. He notched eight points and four assists, proving he can keep pace in the NHL and beat goaltenders when given the opportunity. His skating is no longer a hindrance, and two seasons under Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson has been a blessing for Stone’s development.

4. (9) Matt Puempel, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2011

Matt Puempel wasted little time in adapting to the pro level. In his rookie AHL campaign during 2013-14, Puempel scored more frequently as the season went on. When several Binghamton forwards including Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau were re-called by Ottawa throughout the year, Puempel took advantage of increased ice-time. Come playoff time, he was a fixture in Binghamton’s top six.

A natural goal-scorer, Puempel ended the 2013-14 regular season with 30 goals in 74 games, tied for the team scoring lead with Hoffman. He only had 18 assists but has traditionally produced more goals than assists. Defensively he worked hard to learn under Richardson’s guidance, battling for position and puck possession rather than waiting for passes. Puempel is a dark horse to crack Ottawa’s lineup in 2014-15.

5. (4) Chris Driedger, G, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 76th overall, 2012

The path is long and arduous for Chris Driedger to become a future fixture in Ottawa’s crease, but he continues to inch closer. The Senators placed trust in Dreidger’s ability, in the form of a three-year contract signed this summer. Listed at 6’3, 200 pounds, Dreidger possesses a solid frame but still needs to sharpen his game – especially in the postseason.

Since being drafted, Driedger has claimed back-to-back winning seasons for the Calgary Hitmen. In 2013-14 he went 28-14-7, with a 2.64 goals against average and 0.918 save percentage. The Hitmen finished second in the Central Division and third in the Eastern Conference but suffered a first-round upset to the Kootenay Ice. Driedger posted a 4.39 goals against average and .870 save percentage in the 4-2 series loss. Next season he will join the Binghamton Senators in the AHL, and compete for starts with 26-year-old Andrew Hammond.

6. (5) Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2011

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is undersized, but highly skilled and has proven in the past he can excel in the NHL. The upstart performer from Ottawa’s 2012-13 playoff campaign failed to make a strong impact in the 2013-14 NHL last season, but did not look lost. Pageau played 20 games in Ottawa last fall, skating in a bottom six role and recording two goals and no assists. Upon rejoining the Binghamton, Pageau posted 20 goals and 24 assists in 46 games.

Pageau is a strong two-way player with offensive upside, and despite his 5’9, 175 pound frame, he can play in most situations, including special teams. With an abundance of young Senators forwards vying for NHL jobs, Pageau is still a strong candidate to crack the roster. If 2013-14 was a learning curve, Pageau could be poised to break out for Ottawa this season.

7. (8) Ryan Dzingel, C, 7.0C
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2011

Dzingel was among the NCAA‘s best last season. He exploded with 22 goals and 46 points in 37 games for the Ohio State Buckeyes of the Big Ten conference, leading his team and conference in goals and points. To top off his breakout year, Dzingel was among the top ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. Following the Buckeye’s post-season exit – an overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Conference final – Dzingel joined the Binghamton Senators in the AHL late in the regular season. His impact was immediate, scoring two goals and seven points in nine games.

Dzingel’s shot is hard and accurate, and he is no longer hesitant to use it. He developed for three seasons with Ohio State, and now appears ready to play pro. The Senators are deep in forward options for the 2014-15 season, but a NHL job is very much on Dzingel’s radar for 2015-16.

8. (NR) Andreas Englund, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2014

Andreas Englund’s profile embodies what the Senators needed most last season. He plays strong positional defense, and has the physicality and work ethic to match it. On the puck, he makes simple, decisive plays to ensure the play exits the defensive zone. During the 2013-14 season, Englund spent the bulk of it with Djurgardens’ junior team but also saw time with the senior team in Sweden‘s Allsvenskan league. He stuck with the big club during the postseason, helping Djurgardens earn promotion to Sweden’ top league.

In many ways, this was precisely the kind of play Ottawa lacked in the 2013-14 season as they missed the playoffs. His selection at 40th overall could be a direct response to Ottawa’s poor defensive play, but Englund still needs to develop physically and fill out his 6’3 frame. Still a few seasons away from NHL consideration, he projects to be a third or fourth defenseman worthy of logging regular minutes versus the opposition’s top players.

9. (NR) Alex Guptill, LW, 7.0D
Trade with the Dallas Stars, July 1st, 2014

A new environment could be exactly what Alex Guptill needs. The big, skilled winger had discipline issues during his three-year tenure at the University of Michigan, but now enters a new organization and will make his pro debut in 2014-15. Last season as a junior, Guptill dipped in production from his previous two college campaigns and was scratched at times for his sordid defensively play. Guptill notched 12 goals and 25 points in 31 games for Michigan, followed up by two assists in five AHL games for the Texas Stars.

As a new member of the Senators organization, Guptill has an opportunity to rebound. His scoring ability, combined with his 6’3 frame, is unmatched by most Senators forward prospects who are on the smaller end. If Guptill can emerge as a stronger two-way player for Binghamton in the AHL this year, he could soon compete for a NHL job.

10. (10) Shane Prince, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2011

Shane Prince is inching closer, but needs to step on the gas this season. For such a highly skilled forward, a roster spot with the big club is very much within his reach. He progressed in his sophomore AHL campaign last year with the Binghamton Senators, but his 21 goals ranked third on the team and his 48 points was tied for fifth. Binghamton was the AHL’s top offensive team in 2013-14, and Prince failed to stand out among the others.

Several Ottawa forward prospects, comparable in talent to Prince, have earned NHL call-ups. To distinguish, Prince will have to play harder at both ends of the ice. If enough injuries occur in 2014-15, he could land his first NHL try-out at some point in Ottawa. Ultimately the Senators possess a solid scoring threat in Prince, but precisely where he fits into the organization long-term remains to be seen.

11. (13) Fredrik Claesson, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2011

Of all the Senators prospects, Fredrik Claesson is the strongest defensively. Known as a feverishly hard worker, Claesson had a breakout AHL season last year for the Binghamton Senators. He collected three goals and 26 assists in 75 regular games, but one stat separated Claesson from his peers. Claesson’s plus-37 rating ranked second-highest among all AHL players and far ahead of his Binghamton teammates.

Claesson was relied on heavily by a Binghamton team known primarily for its stellar offense. With a crowded blue line in Ottawa, Claesson will spend at least another year in the AHL before his NHL career kicks off.

12. (11) Mikael Wikstrand, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2012

Behind Ceci, Mikael Wikstrand is the next defenseman with legitimate offensive potential in Ottawa’s prospect system. Playing overseas in Sweden’s professional leagues, Wikstrand has averaged well over 0.5 points per game in the past two seasons. Last year he notched four goals and 16 assists playing with Mora IK in Sweden’s Allsvenskan league before adding 11 points in 19 games for Frolunda of the top tier Swedish Hockey League.

Wikstrand is a strong puck-mover from the back end, with excellent passing and a hard shot from the point. Much like Ceci, Wikstrand is a solid two-way player but is still cultivating his defensive skills. Given the abundance of mostly defensive defensemen in Ottawa’s depth chart, the door is open for Wikstrand to earn a spot years down the road. He signed a three-year contract this offseason, but will play another season with Frolunda in 2014-15.

13. (NR) Nicholas Paul, LW, 6.5C
Trade with the Dallas Stars, July 1st, 2014

Nicholas Paul could ascend the prospect ladder quickly if he carries over recent success. Passed over in his first year of OHL eligibility, Paul broke out in his second OHL campaign last year for the North Bay Battalion. He notched 26 goals and 20 assists in the regular season before adding 12 goals and six assists in 22 playoff games, ranked ninth in OHL playoff scoring. This summer he participated in Canada’s World Junior development camp and excelled in exhibition games. He killed penalties and scored a goal in Canada’s 6-2 win over Czech Republic in August.

Paul is a big body (6’3, 199 pounds) who plays hard on both ends, battles for pucks and can make smart passes. He possesses a quick, accurate shot and boasts solid strength, but still needs to improve skating. Paul will re-join the Battalion in 2014-15, and could find himself invited to Canada’s World Junior camp come December.

14. (16) Vincent Dunn, C, 6.5
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2013

Vincent Dunn keeps changing teams, but his role stays the same. The QMJHL journeyman joins the Rimouski Oceanic in 2014-15, his third team in four seasons, after a strong but contentious campaign in Gatineau. With four league suspensions and 156 penalty minutes, Dunn thrived as a pesky physical presence who rattled opponents. He notched 51 points and 31 goals, excelling on a line with Calgary first-rounder Emile Poirier. The penalties and suspensions are costly, but his energy and offensive ability make him a valuable asset. He has years to mature, and perhaps by the time Chris Neil is finished in Ottawa, Dunn will enter.

15. (17) Marcus Hogberg, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2013

Marcus Hogberg is showing intermittent flashes of brilliance early in his career. Shipped from Linkoping’s under-20 team to Mora IK’s senior team and over to Linkoping’s senior team all in one season, the 6’5 Swede saved his best for last. He worked his way into a starting role for Linkoping in Sweden’s top pro league, posting a .913 save percentage in 11 games. The big, athletic goaltender also served as backup for Sweden’s World Junior squad. He will battle for the starting job in Linkopings in 2014-15, and after that could join Binghamton in the AHL.

16. (NR) Tobias Lindberg, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2013

Tobias Lindberg has yet to break out, but this could be the year. His 6’2, 201 pound presence did not produce eye-catching numbers in Sweden’s under-20 league, but his skating, size, and intelligence are hard to miss. He can protect the puck, win battles and puck races, but he has yet to show a scoring touch. He notched 22 points and seven goals, ranked sixth in team points; and added 93 penalty minutes in 38 games, ranked first on the team. Lindberg’s skill is not lacking, and he is already a sound two-way player. He remains a wild card, but the picture will soon be clearer as Lindberg is set to join the Oshawa Generals of the OHL in 2014-15.

17. (20) Ben Harpur, D, 6.0C
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2013

Ben Harpur has blossomed into a top shut-down defenseman in the OHL. The former forward has tremendous size (6’6, 214 pounds) and skating ability, which combine to frustrate opponents. He was a key cog in the Guelph Storm’s Memorial Cup tournament runners-up performance, including the Storm’s dominant OHL playoff run. Harpur was reliable but still needs to improve puck skills, even for a strictly defensive defenseman. He projects to be a bottom pair defenseman, and still requires years of refinement at 19 years old. Harpur was invited to Canada’s World Junior development camp this summer, further indicating his progression to date.

18. (18) Robbie Baillargeon, C, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 106th overall, 2012

Robbie Baillargeon has very quickly made a name for himself at Boston University. He was upgraded to first line center and did not disappoint, being named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Baillargeon finished with 10 goals and 17 assists to lead his team in points through 35 games. He is a responsible two-way forward with offensive upside, a strong skater and can play in all situations – including the power play and penalty kill. Next season he will be playing much the same role as Boston looks to improve its 5-12-3 record in the conference. In a couple of seasons, Baillargeon could be in the thick of the competition for a NHL roster spot in Ottawa.

19. (19) Max McCormick, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 171st overall, 2011

Max McCormick and Ryan Dzingel are a package deal. The 2011 Senators draft picks and Ohio State linemates are both set to join the Binghamton Senators in 2014-15. McCormick’s junior campaign was his best, posting 24 assists and 11 goals, trailing only Dzingel in Buckeyes scoring. McCormick improved each year, signing an entry-level contract with the Senators following Ohio State’s Big Ten Conference Championship loss to Wisconsin.

McCormick’s ability to see the ice and make plays was a catalyst to Dzingel’s breakout season. He is more of a set-up man than goal-scorer, while Dzingel is the opposite. Also a strong two-way player, McCormick should adapt well to the AHL next season. Within a year or two, McCormick could be battling for a bottom six position with the Ottawa Senators.

20. (NR) Buddy Robinson, RW, 6.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 25th, 2013

Buddy Robinson could be the power forward of the Ottawa Senators’ future. Listed at 6’5, 236 pounds, Robinson’s most noticeable asset is his size. He can skate well for a player of his physical stature, barreling down the wing at both ends of the ice. While not a top notch offensive player, he creates opportunities with hard forechecking and a strong net presence. Robinson produced 15 goals and 16 assists for the Binghamton Senators of the AHL in 2013-14. Largely a third line AHL player, Robinson projects to be a fourth-line player in the NHL. Given his size, skating and two-way presence, he should be given his chance in Ottawa shortly.