Senators Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Josh Chenoweth

While the past season was a disappointment for the Senators, there are signs of a better future ahead. Some of the team’s long-term prospects have made, or are on the verge of making the team, such as Peter Regin, and Brian Elliott. Others have shown major strides over the past year, like Erik Karlsson. The most recent draft yielded some intriguing players and four of those 2009 draftees have made their way on to the Senators Top 20 prospects.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Erik Karlsson, D
2. Jared Cowen, D
3. Brian Lee, D
4. Brian Elliott, G
5. Peter Regin, C
6. Patrick Wiercioch, D
7. Ilya Zubov, F
8. Jim O’Brien, C
9. Louie Caporusso, C
10. Jakob Silfverberg, W
11. Zach Smith, C
12. Robin Lehner, G
13. Cody Bass, C
14. Erik Condra, RW
15. Andre Petersson, W
16. Mattias Karlsson, D
17. Vitaly Anikeyenko, D
18. Chris Wideman, D
19. Eric Gryba, D
20. Tomas Kudelka, D

1.(1) Erik Karlsson, D
Rating: 8.0C
Acquired: 2008 draft, 15th overall

Maintaining his position as Ottawa’s top-ranked prospect, Karlsson has a bright future ahead of him. He’s just 5’11, but has managed to add muscle to his frame, weighing in at around 175 lbs at the Senators’ prospect development camp. He could report to training camp at 180 lbs, which would probably be the minimum weight he would need to handle the physical play in the NHL. Karlsson has stated that his goal is to compete for a spot on Ottawa’s blueline for the 2009-10 season.

Karlsson has elite offensive skills from the back end, and is a fantastic skater. He could give Ottawa the mobility and offense it needs from its defense. However, if he doesn’t make Ottawa out of camp, he may return to Frolunda in the SEL. If that is the case, he’ll almost definitely be ready for regular NHL duty the following year.

2.(NR) Jared Cowen, D
Rating: 8.0C
Acquired: 2009 draft, 9th overall

Debuting at the No. 2 spot on the top 20, Cowen has the potential to bring a physical presence to the Senators defense corps. Standing at 6’5, Cowen is imposing on the ice but skates remarkably well for a big man. To top it off, he isn’t devoid of offensive ability, posting 21 points in 48 games with Spokane in the WHL this past season.

Major concerns about Cowen revolve around the knee injury he sustained during the season, which required major surgery. However, he’s expected to make a full recovery. He’s still probably another year away from NHL duty and will return to junior. Expect to see him playing a prominent role on Team Canada’s world junior squad.

3.(2) Brian Lee, D

Rating: 7.0B
Acquired: 2005 draft, 9th overall

After an underwhelming start to the season which resulted in a demotion to the AHL, Lee rebounded and was recalled to Ottawa. While he struggled with his physical and defensive play earlier in the year, it was vastly improved after his time in the AHL. The increase in his strength is quite evident, and he’s grown in confidence as well.

Lee could still stand to work on his shot, which just doesn’t match up with what a power-play quarterback’s shot should be. Ultimately, he probably won’t turn out to be a top-pairing defenseman, but should be a solid second pairing defender who quarterbacks the second power-play unit. Barring salary cap restraints, Lee should be in Ottawa on a full-time basis starting this fall.

4.(3) Brian Elliott, G

Rating: 7.0B
Acquired: 2003 draft, 291st overall

After a stellar start to the year in the AHL, Elliott was recalled to Ottawa. For a time, it seemed like Elliott could help get the Senators back into the playoff picture. However, Elliott would show growing pains typical of a young goalie. Still, his play was overall impressive, resulting in him be signed to a two-year contract this offseason.

Going into 2009-10, the 24-year-old looks to be the backup on a full-time basis, but given Pascal Leclaire’s history of injuries, Elliott could see substantial time between the pipes. To take the next step and push to be a No. 1 goalie, Elliott must work on his rebound control, which was shaky at the NHL level. His athleticism and hockey IQ are both top notch, so with a bit of work, Elliott usurping Leclaire is not that far-fetched.

5.(5) Peter Regin, C

Rating: 7.0C
Acquired: 2004 draft, 87th overall

On the spring prospect ranking, Regin came in behind Russian forward Ilya Zubov, but after the conclusion of the AHL season, it would seem Regin is further along in his development. He was far superior to Zubov during his 11 game call-up to Ottawa, and didn’t look out of place among the other forwards in Ottawa’s line-up. Despite his injury troubles, he was one of Binghamton’s best forwards, and was sorely missed when out of the line-up.

Regin has all the tools to be a solid No. 2 center. He has fantastic stickhandling and skating ability, as well as an excellent defensive conscience. Look for Regin to get a long look at training camp to make the Senators. If he outperforms some of the veteran forwards, Ottawa may have to make a trade in order to make room on the roster for the talented Dane.

6.(6) Patrick Wiercioch, D

Rating: 7.5D
Acquired: 2008 draft, 42nd overall

Going into the fall of 2008, Wiercioch figured to be playing another year in the USHL. Instead, he started at the University of Denver, and ended up making the WCHA all rookie team, all the while scoring at nearly a point-per-game clip. His surprising play earned him an invite to Canada’s World Junior training camp in December, although he didn’t make the team. But as a result, he received an invite to the summer orientation camp for the 2009 World Junior Team.

At 6’4, along with solid stride and top-notch offensive abilities, Wiercioch has the potential to be a solid presence on the blueline. Once he adds some muscle to his current weight of 185 lbs, he could be ready for NHL duty. He’ll be returning to Denver, and if his development continues at this rate, he could very well turn pro by the summer of 2010. Look for him to be competing for a spot on the 2010 Team Canada WJC blueline alongside Cowen.

7.(4) Ilya Zubov, F

Rating: 7.0C
Acquired: 2005 draft, 98th overall

Overall, Zubov has shown impressive strides in his development this year. His offensive output improved significantly, and he seemed to be more adjusted to a North American style of game. It seemed that spending the summer in Ottawa training had been exactly what Zubov needed to push himself to the next level. However, he faded down the stretch, managing only four goals during the last half of the season. It’s this stall in his development that causes a drop on the Top 20.

zubov is in the running to earn a spot on the big club, and if he trained well this offseason, then he very well could be on the opening night roster. If he doesn’t make the team, he could be a risk to return home and play in the KHL.

8.(7) Jim O’Brien, C
Rating: 6.5C
Acquired: 2007 draft, 29th overall

Going into this season, many expected O’Brien’s numbers to improve more than they actually did. It’s not that the 6’2 center didn’t play well, he did manage 62 points in 63 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL), but slightly more was expected. He never seemed to take the next step offensively, and for this reason, it’s looking less likely that O’Brien will become a top-six power forward, which is what the Senators were hoping for. His offensive ability gives the impression that he’ll more likely turn out to be a Mike Fisher type player: an excellent third liner, but a mediocre second liner.

There is the possibility that O’Brien could switch to the right wing. Ottawa’s depth at that position is lacking, so it would give O’Brien a better chance to make the big club. Despite not lighting it up offensively, there’s nothing wrong with being a very solid, two-way checking center. Ultimately, he needs at least a year in the AHL, and it should give a better indication as to where he’ll fit in the NHL.

9.(8) Louie Caporusso, C
Rating: 7.0D
Acquired: 2007 draft, 90th overall

The sensational sophomore posted great numbers this past year for the University of Michigan, scoring 24 goals and 49 points in 41 games. After the team lost many of its key offensive players during the summer of 2008, Caporusso stepped up and filled the void.

With his great speed and offensive instincts, Caporusso translates as a top-six forward at the NHL level. If he doesn’t make it in the top six, it’s unlikely he’ll be an NHLer at all, as his 5’10 frame and style of game isn’t suited to a checking line role. He’ll be returning for junior year at the University of Michigan, after which he could turn pro if he has another season like this past one.

10.(NR) Jakob Silfverberg, W
Rating: 6.5C
Acquired: 2009 draft, 39th overall

The second 2009 draftee to find his way onto the Top 20, Silfverberg is an offensive forward who can play either wing. Solid skating and a quick, if a bit inaccurate, shot are his trademarks, and the Senators’ Swedish scout, Anders Forsberg, was very high on taking Silfverberg. Some think he could turn out to be a star forward, but opinions vary.

Silfverberg plays a strong two-way game, which should help his chances of playing in the NHL in the future. His play earned him a call-up to Brynas of the SEL, where he scored three goals and one assist in 16 games. Look for Silfverberg to be on Team Sweden at the 2010 World Juniors.

11.(9) Zach Smith, C

Rating: 6.5C
Acquired: 2008 draft, 79th overall

After being drafted as a 20-year-old in 2008, Smith jumped right into the AHL, and quickly became one of Binghamton’s top forwards offensively. He was also a physical presence, accumulating 132 penalty minutes, a fair number of them fighting majors, to go with his 24 goals. His play earned him a one-game call-up to Ottawa.

Despite finishing the season with a respectable 48 points, it should be noted that Smith’s offense fell off significantly after a hot start to his pro career. This could have been due to the loss of linemate Ryan Shannon, who got called up to Ottawa. Regardless, Smith plays a hard-nosed game, which would be most welcome in Ottawa. He’s a dark horse to get a roster spot on the Senators out of camp.

12.(NR) Robin Lehner, G
Rating: 7.0D
Acquired: 2009 draft, 46th overall

The third 2009 draftee on the list, Lehner is the first goalie Ottawa has drafted since taking Ryan Daniels 151st overall in 2006. Lehner is a butterfly goalie, and has excellent size, 6’4, 220 lbs, to cover the majority of the net. His lateral movement is also one of his strong points.

Lehner’s weakness is his rebound control, which can be sloppy. He can use his lateral movement to get into position for the rebound, but his athleticism can’t save him every time. Lehner was drafted by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL at the CHL European Import Draft, and will play for them this season.

13.(10) Cody Bass, C
Rating: 5.5B
Acquired: 2005 draft, 95th overall

For the second year in a row, Bass’ season was cut short due to injury. The feisty checking center sustained a shoulder injury on Nov. 19 that kept him out of the line-up for the remainder of the season.

Bass has all the tools to be a great fourth line center, but having two years in a row worth of major injuries is disconcerting. Still, his speed and style of game would be greatly welcomed in Ottawa, along with his cheaper cap hit of $513,333. He may be able to bounce back and earn a spot on the fourth line in Ottawa. If not, it’s back the AHL for him.

14.(12) Erik Condra, RW
Rating: 6.5C
Acquired: 2006 draft, 211th overall

After being named captain of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Condra lead his team in scoring for the fourth consecutive season, all the way to the CCHA playoff championship. During the past summer, Ottawa signed Condra to an entry-level contract, and he’s expected to play in Binghamton of the AHL for the coming season.

Despite leading Notre Dame in scoring for four years, Condra’s offensive ability doesn’t seem destined to translate to the NHL level. There’s potential he could turn into a top-six forward, but it’s unlikely. With his smart two-way game, and great instincts, Condra could turn out to be a solid defensive winger with some scoring ability.

15.(15) Andre Petersson, W

Rating: 7.0D
Acquired: 2008 Draft, 109th overall

A boom-or-bust project, Petersson made major strides towards the boom end of his potential this past season. He managed six points for Team Sweden at the 2009 World Juniors in Ottawa, and was among the league leaders in scoring in the J20 SuperElit Sodra and the J20 SuperElit Top Eight. There’s no question, Petersson’s offensive abilities are top notch. He received a 10-game stint with HV71 in the SEL, where he notched one assist.

Petersson should play full time with HV71 this season, and the experience of playing against men will go a long way to determining where he truly stands among Ottawa’s other prospects: is he a legitimate top-six prospect, or just a long shot? If he doesn’t pan out as a top-six forward, he probably won’t see NHL action at all, as his 5’9 and lack of a physical game would require him to be an offensive producer in order to hold a spot down on an NHL roster.

16.(14) Mattias Karlsson, D
Rating: 6.5D
Acquired: 2003 draft, 135th overall

After an injury-filled season that saw him unable to hold a spot among the Binghamton defense corps, Karlsson (no relation to Senators’ top prospect Erik) came to camp healthy and ready to compete for a regular spot in the AHL. Ultimately, he far and away exceeded expectations, scoring 51 points in 73 games, en route to being named to the AHL all-star game, where he scored another goal and three assists. Despite his lackluster foot speed, Karlsson seemed to be on the path to being a legitimate challenger for a spot on the Ottawa blue line, if he trained hard enough during the offseason.

However, Karlsson signed a contract with Timra of the SEL during the offseason, meaning he’ll play in Sweden for the coming year. Why he signed remains a mystery. Perhaps he just saw no opportunity to make Ottawa in the near future. The end result of all this could be another lost prospect for the Senators.

17.(11) Vitaly Anikeyenko, D
Rating: 6.5D
Acquired: 2005 draft, 70th overall

After another season in Russia, Anikeyenko has cemented himself as a solid, if unspectacular defenseman in the KHL. The 6’4 rearguard compiled two goals and 11 points in 40 games this past season, as well as two assists in 19 playoff games for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. The previous year, he accumulated similar numbers: four goals and 13 points in 40 regular season games, and no points in 16 playoff games.

At this point, Anikeyenko will likely not come to North America to receive significantly less money to play in the AHL before getting his shot in the NHL. Odds are Anikeyenko can be chalked up as another Russian pick that will never wear NHL colors.

18.(NR) Chris Wideman, D

Rating: 6.5D
Acquired: 2009 draft, 100th overall

The final member of a quartet of 2009 draftees to make it onto the Top 20, Wideman joins what is already a crowded cupboard of prospect defensemen, and current NHL defenders in Ottawa. He had an exceptional freshman year at Miami University (Ohio), compiling 26 assists and 56 penalty minutes in 39 games. This earned Wideman an invitation to Team USA’s summer orientation camp for the World Juniors.

Undersized for a defender, standing at 5’10 and 170 lbs, Wideman is an offensive defenseman, but holds his own in the defensive zone with his smart positioning and stick work. He possesses an excellent first pass, and can join the rush with ease. The only concern with him, asides from size, is where he’ll fit in with so many prospects of the same ilk.

19.(NR) Eric Gryba, D

Rating: 6.0C
Acquired: 2006 draft, 68th overall

The big 6’3, 215 lbs defender had a solid year at Boston University, recording six assists and 106 penalty minutes in 45 games. He played his typical physical, shutdown game, providing BU with a gritty edge to their defense corps. He also showed his defensive chops at Senators development camp, easily handling many opposing forwards with his massive frame.

Despite his defensive acumen, Gryba must get faster to play at the NHL level. But his hitting game and grit are exactly the type of style that Murray likes. Gryba will never be an offensive threat, but with some more development, he could turn into a solid bottom pairing defender. He’ll be returning to BU for his final year of college hockey.

20.(17) Tomas Kudelka, D
Rating: 6.5D
Acquired: 2005 draft, 136th overall

After struggling to hold down a spot in the AHL during the 2007-08 season, Kudelka showed that he can be a regular in the AHL, playing in 76 games this past season, during which he scored seven goals and 23 points to go with 67 penalty minutes. It’s a significant improvement for a player who on many nights then looked like a boy playing against men. Still, he was a team-worst -21 this year.

Kudelka has decent offensive ability, and good size, although it would help if he added some muscle to his 6’2, 196 lbs body. However, he has shown solid improvement this past year, and will try to continue that trend through 2009-10. If he hopes to take his game up a notch, he’ll have to increase his foot speed, and improve his defensive zone coverage. He should get ample opportunity to show it, being one of the more experienced blueliners returning to Binghamton this fall.