Ottawa Senators prospects expected to thrive in new environments for 2014-15 season

By Peter Morrow
Shane Prince - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Shane Prince will battle for a spot on the Ottawa Senators NHL roster in 2014-15. Prince was a second round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Icon Sportswire)

 

 Fresh surroundings will aid certain Ottawa Senators prospects in their development paths this season. Former college forward Alex Guptill is embarking on his pro career, while Swedish forward Tobias Lindberg left his country to join the Oshawa Generals in the OHL. Meanwhile, 2014 draft pick Kelly Summers is leaving the Ottawa valley region to test his abilities in the NCAA.

The biggest question mark this season may reside with Curtis Lazar. The 2014 Memorial Cup champion is talented, confident, and will do everything in his power to win a NHL roster spot. He, along with Senators defenseman Cody Ceci, are battling a numbers game and vying to come out on top.

Overseas, three Swedish prospects will play on their respective SHL clubs during the 2014-15 season. Mikael Wikstrand is a dynamic, up-and-coming defenseman with offensive upside, Andreas Englund is a defensive rock at 18 years old, and Marcus Hogberg is a looming 6’5 goaltender battling for a starting role.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa Senators (NHL)/Binghamton Senators (AHL)

Cody Ceci earned his keep last year with Ottawa. Last winter he made his NHL debut with the Senators and injected some much-needed mobility to the back-end. Aside from Erik Karlsson, Ceci was the most active defenseman, joining the rush regularly and back-tracking to stop counter-attacks. Ceci’s skating and puck moving abilities are strong, but could still improve strength. At 20 years old Ceci still has room to grow, but his play at both ends is encouraging.

Despite the impressive NHL debut, Ceci could be the odd man out in a numbers game to start the 2014-15 season. Of eight defensemen on the Senators roster, Ceci is the only one who can be sent to the AHL without having to pass through waivers. If he re-joins Binghamton it will surely be a temporary fixture, until an injury or trade occurs in Ottawa. On a blue line that was among the NHL’s worst in 2013-14, Ceci is too good to leave out.

Unsigned for 2015-16
Shane Prince, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)

Prince is among the most talented forward prospects for the Senators, and arguably the most under appreciated. The Senators’ 2011 second round draft choice is a long shot to crack the Senators roster this year, although he has lots to offer. Prince is a 5’11, 190 pound goal-scorer who has grown considerably in two AHL seasons with the Binghamton Senators. There are a few winger spots available in Ottawa, and Prince is competing with the likes of Matt Puempel, Curtis Lazar, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman for a roster spot.

Assuming Prince rejoins Binghamton for the 2014-15 season, it could be his final year in a Senators uniform. He will look to better his 21 goals and 48 points from last year and at some point earn a mid-season NHL call-up.

Bounceback Prospect
Alex Guptill, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)

A new environment could work wonders for Alex Guptill’s development. The Dallas Stars‘ 2010 third round draft pick encountered off-ice problems during his junior season at the University of Michigan. It showed on the ice, as Guptill’s 12 goals and 25 points were career lows after three NCAA seasons. He failed to improve from his freshman year, but Guptill remains a talented forward with NHL potential.

At 22 years old with two years left on his contract, Guptill has time to grow. Already strong on the puck, physically mature and a good skater, Guptill has the tools to be a productive scorer. Slotted to play the 2014-15 campaign with the Binghamton Senators, he still needs to master defensive components and head coach Luke Richardson will help with that. Offensively, Guptill could become a top-six contributor for Binghamton.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Curtis Lazar looks more than ready to make his NHL debut. He led the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship and Memorial Cup title last season, playing in all situations and serving as assistant captain. The Oil Kings used him comfortably on the power play, penalty kill, and any faceoff at even strength. Although Team Canada’s World Junior team failed to capture a medal last winter, Lazar’s performance was above average.

Buttressed by the mental fortitude of a professional, Lazar continues to build on a well-balanced skillset. His skating, strength, and two-way presence are stand-out qualities for a player his age. If he returns to the Oil Kings, expect Lazar to play a prominent role for Team Canada at the World Juniors – possibly as captain – as they look to reclaim a gold medal.

Offensive Breakout
Nicholas Paul, LW, North Bay Battalion (OHL)

Nicholas Paul exploded during last year’s OHL playoffs, helping the North Bay Battalion reach the OHL championship series. Paul notched 12 goals and 18 points in 22 playoff games, ranked second in team goals, as the Battalion fell in five games to the powerhouse Guelph Storm. During the offseason Paul was acquired by Ottawa via trade with the Dallas Stars, and has already turned heads within the organization.

Following the playoff run, Paul excelled during Team Canada’s summer World Junior camp. He scored a goal in Canada’s 6-2 win over the Czech Republic in August, earning early recognition as a potential sleeper candidate to crack the roster come December. He has grown considerably since his OHL rookie year, standing at 6’2, 202 pounds. His size, shot and stick-handling are impressive traits and he looks ready to shatter his 46-point benchmark set during the 2013-14 season.

New Team for 2014-15
Tobias Lindberg, RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Tobias Lindberg is set to join the Oshawa Generals as a 19 year-old OHL rookie. Arriving from Sweden, Lindberg notched seven goals and 22 assists last season for Djurgarden’s under-20 team. Those numbers notwithstanding, recent glimpses of Lindberg’s play have been encouraging. His skating and physicality are noticeably strong, and at 6’3, 198 pounds, he is more than ready for the North American game.

His shot still needs to improve, but he could be relied upon as a top-six forward for the Generals this season.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Robbie Baillargeon, C, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)

Robbie Baillargeon stepped into the NCAA last year and hit the ground running. The Boston Terriers freshman quickly worked his way into a top line center role thanks to an impressive two-way game. He finished with 10 goals and 17 assists to lead his team in points, and was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Baillargeon has proven to be a responsible two-way forward with offensive upside, who can play in all situations – including the penalty kill and power play.

For the 2014-15 season, Baillargeon’s production could jump significantly with the addition of highly touted forward prospect, Jack Eichel to Boston’s roster. With Eichel’s pace and offensive instinct up front, Baillargeon’s workload on offense will either decrease or the two can combine on Boston’s top line. Either way, as Baillargeon enters his sophomore campaign, the Terriers should improve on last year’s 5-12-3 record in the conference.

Freshman to watch
Kelly Summers, D, Clarkson Golden Knights (ECAC)

Kelly Summers was born and raised in Renfrew – within spitting distance of the Ottawa Senators home rink, joining Mark Borowiecki and Ceci as local defensemen selected by the Senators in recent years. While Summers is a project, like Borowiecki was, he holds more offensive upside evidenced by 17 goals and 43 assists in 53 games last season in the CCHL. Summers drives puck possession with simple and accurate passes, and intelligent defense.

Summers will skate the 2014-15 season as a freshman at Clarkson University in the ECAC. His skating still requires work, and the NCAA pace should present a greater challenge, but Summers could surprise many with his ability to drive plays forward. He will require a few years in college to develop his speed and fitness, but Summers’ impact could be immediate.

Unsigned for 2015-16
Quentin Shore, C, Denver Pioneers (NCHC)

With two years remaining of NCAA eligibility, Denver junior Quentin Shore still has time to develop. He already progressed from his underwhelming freshman campaign to produce seven goals and 18 assists in 33 games. He even produced two assists for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Shore is a gifted offensive player with strong skating and work ethic, but he is still needs refinement at both ends of the ice.

Europe

Top European prospect
Mikael Wikstrand, D, Frolunda HC (SHL)

Mikael Wikstran’s stock has risen steadily since being drafted in 2012. A mobile, two-way defenseman, Wikstrand transitioned seamlessly into the SHL last year. He signed a three-year deal with the Senators this summer, but will remain with Frolunda on loan for the 2014-15 season.

Wikstrand is spending more time developing overseas, but Ottawa’s current blue line is crowded. Along with fellow Swede Fredrik Claesson, current Binghamton stay-at-home defenseman, the Senators possess two talented Swedes developing rapidly into future NHL impact players.

First Year Pro to Watch
Andreas Englund, D, Djurgardens IF (SHL)

Like the aforementioned Wikstrand and Claesson, Englund is another promising Swedish blueliner. Closer to Claesson’s blend of positional play and toughness, Englund is highly touted for his defensive abilities. He uses his stick well, he is already a big body at 6’3, 190 pounds, and he can skate well. Combined with his work ethic, Englund can provide aggressive defense and outwork his opponents. He notched one goal and one assist through 19 games with Djurgarden in the Allsvenskan last year, but the club extended him a two-year contract this summer. Djurgarden has also been promoted to the top tier SHL for the 2014-15 season.

Bounceback season
Marcus Hogberg, G, Linkopings HC (SHL)

Marcus Hogberg found his game late in 2013-14, but not before struggling mightily in Sweden’s professional system. The 6’5 Swede went 5-8 with a .892 save percentage while on loan to Mora IK, only to rejoin Linkoping in the SHL midway through the season. He rebounded with a 4-0 record and .960 save percentage, snatching the starting job and leading Linkoping past Frolunda in the first round of the SHL playoffs. Going into the 2014-15 season, Hogberg needs to pick up where he left off.

Playing the full season with Linkoping could help stabilize Hogberg as he aims to become the starter. Hogberg’s size helps him compete against men in Sweden, but as a young goaltender, mental composure and consistency will be important going forward. Expect a more consistent year from Hogberg as he aims to become part of the Senators future.