Numerous Ottawa Senators prospects pushing for time in NHL

By Jason Lewis
Mark Stone - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Forward prospect Mark Stone began the 2014-15 season in the NHL with Ottawa. Stone was a sixth round pick from 2010. (courtesy of Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

The Ottawa Senators have one of the youngest groups of players currently playing in the NHL. They are the fourth youngest team, with an average age of 26, and have had numerous prospects make the jump to the NHL over the last few years, such as Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Wiercioch, and Robin Lehner.

Now, several other players are pushing in like Mark Stone, Curtis Lazar, Cody Ceci, and a number of AHL bubble players. While the overall pipeline has weakened due to graduations, the Senators remain in the middle of the pack with prospect depth.

Left Wing

At left the Senators have plenty in way of quantity, but the quality tends to slip past the first three. Those first three are Matt Puempel, Alex Guptill, and Shane Prince. Puempel, a former first-round selection, was a pleasant surprise for Binghamton last year. He notched a 30 goal season as a rookie in the AHL. The hard working Ontario native also racked up 94 penalty minutes and was a minus-11 rating. He got a good look at Senators training camp but could not quite crack the lineup before opening night. That being said he should be on a pretty quick call-up basis if his strong play continues into his second AHL year.

Guptill enters into the fold, as he was one of the prospects sent across from Dallas in the Jason Spezza deal. Guptill had a fine collegiate career with the University of Michigan, although he and Michigan suffered a bit of a down year in 2013-14. With a new organization and a fresh start in the AHL he will be heavily watched since he was involved in a major trade. He will also be heavily watched due to his noted disciplinary record and commitment issues both on and off the ice.

Prince bid his time with the baby Senators the last two seasons and has made steady progress. The former second rounder will likely be a Binghamton mainstay for a third straight year barring some catastrophic injuries to the big club. He has more to work on defensively if he wants to get a shot as well, but the offensive part of his game is pretty strong.

The other prospect involved in the Spezza trade was Nicholas Paul, who is currently playing with North Bay Battalion and off to a decent start. He also had a noteworthy preseason in 2014-15 and drew praise from head coach Paul MacLean. Being one of the veteran players with North Bay this year, he should see an increase in high quality minutes and could take another step forward after a decent 2013-14.

Tough guy Darren Kramer will be another Binghamton mainstay this season. Free agent signee from Ferris State, Garrett Thompson, will also enter the mix in the Binghamton bottom lines this season.

Max McCormick will join the Binghamton Senators with his aforementioned Ohio State teammate Ryan Dzingel. McCormick was a big part of Ohio State’s offense and he will be looking to translate his point per game form to the pro ranks.

Two 2014 NHL Draft choices come into the pipeline at left wing, at that would be USHL product Shane Eiserman and Rouyn-Noranda forward Francis Perron. Perron had a very good 2013-14 and is kicking things off nicely in 2014-15 with 13 points five goals through the first nine games of the year for the Huskies. Eiserman was noted at the draft for being a solid all-around forward, without being truly spectacular in any one area. After a great USHL season with Dubuque, the 19-year old will join the University of New Hampshire for what is likely four years of development.

Czech forward Jakub Culek had a decent year in the ECHL with 30 points in 49 games, but he continues to struggle to find a place among Binghamton and will be with Evansville to start the season.

Center

Even though the Senators lost Zibanejad and Derek Grant to graduation, the center group remains relatively strong.

Curtis Lazar has shifted from center to right wing in order to break into the Senators depth chart. While naturally a center, the opening was there for him at wing and the results have been fairly positive. With junior eligibility looming large, Lazar had a tremendous camp and looks all but certain to remain with Ottawa this season. He has played around 15 minutes a game, and there is no reason to believe he will not be a productive member of the Senators forward crew. He is Ottawa’s top prospect, and for good reason. While a learning curve should be expected, Lazar has all the makings of a solid NHL player. This year should be a fun one to watch for the 19-year-old.

Dzingel moves from a masterful NCAA career at Ohio State to the Binghamton Senators this year, and he should be a player to keep an eye on. With the Senators young forward group already loaded, Dzingel probably will not get much of a place at the NHL as he works on steadying his game at the pro level. Jean-Gabriel Pagaeu also has a tough go since the Senators are very young and deep up front. Despite being one of the most productive forwards last year with 44 points in 46 games with Binghamton, he showed little in his 28 game stay with Ottawa. He could be on a first call up basis if injuries occur to any forwards.

Pesky Vincent Dunn, is currently suiting up with Rimouski in the QMJHL. As it currently stands he has nine points through the first 14 games of the season and is already aggravating his QMJHL combatants. He compiled a noteworthy 156 penalty minutes last year with 10 fights. He projects as a somewhat productive bottom line player much in the vein of Chris Neil. It remains to be seen how he does with a new surrounding in Rimouski this season after being traded from Gatineau at the end of last year.

Two NCAA prospects will get going for the Senators this year, as Robbie Baillargeon will hope for a solid sophomore year with Boston University, while Quentin Shore will hope for a solid junior year with University of Denver. Baillargeon was great with Boston last year in his frosh season, and already has a goal under his built in the first game of the year. There should be plenty of opportunity for him as Boston has just two seniors on their squad this year and a staggering 10 sophomores.

Right Wing

While the left side for the Senators is filled with numerous prospects, the right side wing remains fairly light, even with Lazar shifting from center to right.

Mark Stone leads the charge for the Senators, and has been a fairly serviceable member of the Senators have posting huge numbers with Brandon. While he is not scoring a ton of points, Stone has been on a call-up basis for Ottawa, and might be in line to stick this year. He has started out 2014-15 very well, already opening up the season with a goal. He is big bodied, with decent skating and good offensive instincts, and he has made a good impression so far.

Tobias Lindberg, the big 6’3 Swede, is in for a potentially huge season. After playing in Sweden with Djugården’s youth team, he has made the jump over to the OHL with Oshawa. So far he has been great, with 13 points in his first 11 games. Transitions from Europe to North America can be difficult, but if Lindberg can keep up his solid pace to start the year he might look like a steal for a fourth round pick.

Cole Schneider and Buddy Robinson have both done well with Binghamton to make themselves relevant within the system. However, both have a mountain to climb in terms of getting into the Senators lineup. While both have been solid offensive and defensive contributors in the AHL, the Senators are extremely deep on right wing. Consistency is key for the two, and unless injuries really mount at the NHL level, both will remain in the AHL for the majority of the year.

Chris LeBlanc will start his sophomore year with Merrimack College this season. The Warriors hope to have a better year in the Hockey East conference, as last year the team finished dead last with an 8-22-3 record and a minus-35 goal differential.

Defensemen

The Senators did their best at the 2014 NHL Draft to restock the defensive pipeline that lost Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki since the start of last year. Cody Ceci remains the team’s best defensive prospect, and right now he is starting to cross the line as a full time NHL starter. He split his time between Ottawa and Binghamton last year but should be good enough to be a full time NHL player this year. His offensive abilities have not quite flourished yet in the NHL but given time he should turn into a solid puck-moving defenseman behind Erik Karlsson.

Feeling the need for a big shut down defenseman, the Senators used one of their 2014 picks on Andreas Englund. While he still may be a bit of a work in progress, his physical and defense first style has seen him start the season with Djugården in the SHL. He is not going to light up the stat sheet, but he is a solid positional defenseman.

Also playing in the top ranks of Sweden with Frölunda is Mikael Wikstrand. Last season as a 19 year old he had a great showing in 19 games, scoring four goals and 11 points. He is off to a slow start in 2014-15 but has come a long way since being a seventh round pick in 2012.

Another Swedish defenseman, Fredrik Claesson, played well enough with Binghamton the last two years to potentially slip into a bottom-pairing role with Ottawa this year at some point. He has made significant strides over the last year and with more consistent play could challenge for playing time in the NHL.

Ben Harpur is probably the next most intriguing defenseman of the Senators blue line prospects. His switch from forward to defense continues to look seamless and it is hard to imagine he did it just before going to the CHL. He is a solid stay at home guy with great mobility to boot. He has been getting rave reviews recently, and is playing on a loaded Guelph team which should be an outside favorite for a title in 2014-15. Harpur’s production should not be used as an indicator of his development, but look for him to push his numbers and get more high pressure minutes this season as one of Guelph’s leading defenseman.

Chris Wideman had a phenomenal sophomore campaign with Binghamton last year, and if he could equal that 51 point output, it would be hard for the Senators to keep him down. While he is a bit undersized, he has thrust his name into contention for the bottom pairing in Ottawa this year. He has started in the AHL, but it is not out of the question to see him get a cup of coffee at some point.

Big Michael Sdao got an extended look at Senators camp this year, but his heavy hitting and defensive style will return to Binghamton for a second full year.

To star the year, Troy Rutkowski will see his services retained by the new ECHL Senators affiliate, the Evansville Iceman, for a second straight year.

In the amateur circuit, 2014 selection Miles Gendron will compete with the Penticton Vees this season before committing to the University of Connecticut for 2015-16. His draftmate in 2014, Kelly Summers, has just begun his freshman year with Clarkson University. There is plenty of opportunity for Summers as The Golden Knights are fielding an incredibly young team with five of their eight defenseman being sophomore or freshman.

Tim Boyle‘s career has come off the hinges a bit, as he left Union college to play in the newly formed USPHL. Since then he has returned to collegiate hockey, except with Division III program at Endicott. It remains to be seen what, if any, future he has in professional hockey.

Goaltending

One year ago Robin Lehner was one of the top Senators prospects, and with his graduation along with the loss of Francois Brassard to free agency the goalie position is now easily the weakest of the five positional categories for the team. That being said Marcus Hogberg has looked solid in what should be his first true SHL season as a starter.

Chris Driedger rounds out the goaltending pool. The former third round pick will be taking his first steps out of the WHL and into pro hockey. He will likely be the majority starter with the Evansville Icemen in the ECHL this year but could see tie in the AHL later this season. Either way, the ECHL is not a bad place for Dreidger, who should see plenty of starts and game action instead of being a split starter in the AHL.