Senators organizational depth analysis, Fall 2009

By Shane Goudie

The Ottawa Senators organizational depth chart can best be described as unbalanced. There is a striking lack of goaltending in the Senators system and has been for several years. The team is also thin on the wings, especially on the right side. There are quality centers in the organization but none of them are considered sure bets to be top-six in the NHL. What the Sens lack in other positions, they make up for somewhat at defense, where the team’s top three prospects can be found.

Organization 

The Senators have exclusive minor league affiliates at both the AHL and ECHL level. The AHL’s Binghamton Senators have been associated with the NHL club since the 2002-03 season. The team’s general manager is Tim Murray, nephew of Ottawa GM Bryan Murray and is currently coached by former Tri-City Americans coach Don Nachbaur.

The Senators’ ECHL affiliate is located in Elmira, New York. The Jackals began their affiliation with Ottawa during the 2008-09 season after serving as the affiliate for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team is managed by Robbie Nichols and is coached by former minor league tough guy Steve Martinson. 

Right Wing

Ottawa’s depth at right wing is very thin. Their closest and only real prospect with NHL potential is Eric Condra. The speedy winger was a seventh-round choice in the 2006 draft. Condra had a solid NCAA career at Notre Dame and became a legitimate prospect. He made his professional debut this season with Binghamton and thus far has played well. Despite steady development and progression, Condra needs to improve his strength, defense, and consistency if he is to make the jump from AHL hockey to the NHL.

Acquired from Anaheim this off-season for forward Shawn Weller, Jason Bailey will look to get his career back on track this season with Binghamton. He is a fast-skating checker who will need to develop more of a scoring touch to be more of a factor on the ice. Last season with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL, he managed only two assists in 35 games.

The only other true right winger in the organization is Swiss-born Roman Wick. Once one of Ottawa’s more intriguing prospects, Wick is now considered somewhat of an afterthought since returning to Switzerland. Wick skates for Kloten of the Swiss A league and has played well for them. The jury is still out as to whether Wick will ever return to North American hockey.

Center

The Sens have several interesting prospects at the center position, but lack a genuine stud prospect down the middle. That being said, multiple players have legitimate chances to have NHL careers in the future. Twenty-three-year-old Dane Peter Regin is only one of two centers in the organization with significant NHL experience. A pivotal member of the Binghamton offense in 2008-09, Regin also played in 11 games with Ottawa last season. His 2009 training camp sufficiently impressed the Ottawa coaching staff that he was given a roster spot to start the season. He has the offensive talent to be a regular NHL forward, but ultimately must become stronger and tougher if he wants to stick around for the long haul.

The other Ottawa center with more than one game of NHL experience is Cody Bass. He has a total of 33 regular-season games under his belt and also participated in four playoff games in 2007-08. Bass made the best of his time with the big club and showed no hesitation in bringing his feisty style of play to the NHL. He is a player with limited scoring ability and may ultimately find himself as a third or fourth-line grinder. He has been hampered with injuries over the past few seasons, which have slowed his progression somewhat. Bass will play hard in the AHL this season and attempt to earn another chance to stick in the NHL with Ottawa.  

Ottawa’s 2007 third-round pick Zack Smith received a one-game call-up last season as a result of his hard work with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton. Like Bass, Smith is a hard-working, gritty forward. Both centers play a style of game that Ottawa needs and both will be pushing each other for a chance to play in the NHL this season.

Currently playing in his first pro season with Binghamton is former Seattle Thunderbird Jim O’Brien. The Minnesota native may be the most well-rounded center in the organization. He plays extremely well in his own zone and is capable of taking the body. His scoring ability is by no means devastating, but O’Brien has the ability to contribute.

A pair of 2009 draft picks also highlights the list of Ottawa’s prospects down the middle. Bryan Murray took a bit of a flyer early in the draft to acquire Swede Jakob Silfverberg in the second round. Some believe he has the makings of a star, while others contend that he will struggle to reach his potential. The two-way forward is a project and will continue to polish his game in the Swedish Elite League this season. Also taken in 2009 was Saint John Sea Dog Mike Hoffman. Hoffman is an undersized scoring machine with no lack of skills. Like Silfverberg, he is seen as a long-term project.

The remaining three centers on the Ottawa depth chart all currently play at the NCAA level. Louie Caporusso, Derek Grant, and Colin Greening are all long-term projects as well. 

Left Wing 

Although not as thin as the organization’s ensemble of young right wingers, the Senators have an obvious lack of depth on the left side. A deep group of NHL centers allowed Ottawa to partially rectify this situation by moving prospect Ilya Zubov to the left wing. The switch could potentially help Zubov stick in the NHL sooner than if he remained at center. He will still have to improve his consistency and his conditioning if he is to live up to his potential. Zubov could be a top-six scoring forward for Ottawa if he can get his game together this season in Binghamton.

Enigmatic winger Andre Petersson could grow into a more reliable and consistent player. There is no doubting Petersson’s ability to score. There are many doubts, however, as to his maturity level as well as his willingness to improve. He will play for HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Elite League this season and should be given more ice time than in his rookie year.

Latvian Kaspars Daugavins takes his second crack at AHL hockey this season. His 2008-09 AHL rookie season was cut short after Binghamton returned him to his junior club due to his poor performance. After four games this season, he has gone pointless. Just as with Petersson, Daugavins is a project at this point. He plays a tougher and better rounded game than Peterson, but doesn’t have his natural scoring touch. Daugavins’ development will not be rushed and he more than likely won’t see any NHL ice this season.

Smallish forward Emil Sandin is the definition of “wild card” as far as prospects go. Sandin has a ton of raw talent and is an excellent worker. The 2008 seventh-round pick will remain in the SEL for the foreseeable future.

GM Bryan Murray did a fine job restocking the cupboards during the 2009 draft, adding left wingers Jeff Costello, Corey Cowick and Brad Peltz.

Defense

Ottawa has one of the deepest groups of young defensemen in the league. Not only are they deep, they also can boast three of the best young blue liners in the game.

The team’s top prospect, and Hockey’s Future No. 29 ranked prospect overall, Erik Karlsson arrived at Ottawa’s training camp after much anticipation. The 2008 first-round pick played well enough for the Ottawa coaching staff to give him a spot on the opening-night roster. Six games into his NHL rookie season, Karlsson has not disappointed, but has allowed some of his bad habits creep back into his game. His decision-making and ability to read the play properly at the NHL level have come into question. Whether or not Karlsson spends the full season with Ottawa or agrees to be sent to the AHL, he remains a key piece of Ottawa’s future.

The Sens opted to draft the best player available in the 2009 draft with their ninth overall pick. They were fortunate to find blue chip prospect Jared Cowen still available when their turn came around. Cowen is the prefect compliment to Karlsson’s scoring skills in that he has the tools and size to become a deluxe shut-down defenseman in the NHL. Cowen was returned to the Spokane Chiefs during training camp. In five games this season, he already has six points and has looked again like the dominant blue liner that he was last season. He will be a huge factor in next year’s training camp and stands a good chance at working his way onto the club.

Another ninth overall selection, this time in 2005, Brian Lee is the most NHL seasoned prospect in the Senators organization. Lee broke into the league during the 2007-08 season with six games. The next season, Lee played 53 games for the team, managing two goals and 11 assists. He played well, but still struggled defensively and was demoted to the minors for a time. Lee began this season with Binghamton, partially due to Karlsson making the team. It is just a matter of Lee growing into a more reliable defenseman before he locks down a permanent roster spot with the Senators. 

Being behind the big three on the team’s depth chart makes Patrick Wiercioch a bit of an unknown quantity to casual observers. Despite not being a well-known prospect, Wiercioch has all the tools necessary to make it to the NHL. Of the top four defensemen on the Sens depth chart, he is arguably the most well-rounded. The knock on him is that he is undersized and requires more work on his skating. Playing with the University of Denver, Wiercioch has time to work on these issues before he makes the jump to pro hockey in a couple of years.

In what was a bit of a head scratcher, prospect Mattias Karlsson returned to the Swedish Elite league this off-season. What makes Karlsson’s bolt from North America puzzling is that after a great AHL season he was considered to have had a strong chance at making the Senators out of training camp. Time will tell if Karlsson returns to North America.

The Senators also have a two blue liners knocking at the door who are currently with Binghamton of the AHL. Tomas Kudelka and Derek Smith are both fighting to get noticed in the minors this season. Of the two, Kudelka has the most experience and should be the first of the pair to be called up.  

Four Ottawa prospects will play in the NCAA this season. They include Ben Blood, Eric Gryba, Mark Borowiecki, and Chris Wideman.

Ottawa defensive prospects playing in Europe include Kirill Lyamin and Vitaly Anikeyenko. Both skate in the KHL and are long-shots at this point.

Goaltenders

The Senators are very thin between the pipes in terms of organizational depth. Brian Elliot made the jump to the NHL last season after performing well in the first part of the AHL season. He played in a total of 31 games for the Senators in his rookie season, posting a respectable 2.77 GAA and managing 16 wins. Despite not proving himself as a true No. 1 goaltender, Elliot managed to impress Ottawa management enough to earn a two-year contract with the club. He will have a better opportunity to develop and learn as the team’s backup behind Pascal LeClaire.

The only other netminder in the Ottawa organization is 2009-draftee Robin Lehner. Taken in the second round, the native of Molddal, Sweden made is North American debut this season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He has garnered comparisons to Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and for good reason. Lehner’s main influence as a player has been his father, who coached Lundqvist in Sweden. The Senators are high on Lehner’s potential and feel that he has enough raw talent to make it to the NHL one day.