Senators Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Nathan White

The Ottawa Senators may be thin on the back end today, but with their top three prospects promising blueliners, Canada’s capital should be well defended in years to come. Swede Erik Karlsson has already arrived, while Patrick Wiercioch and Canadian world junior silver medalist Jared Cowen could be in Ottawa as soon as next season.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Erik Karlsson, D 8.0C
2. Jared Cowen, D 8.0C
3. Patrick Wiercioch, D 7.5D
4. Jim O’Brien, C 6.5C
5. Robin Lehner, G 7.0D
6. Louie Caporusso, C 7.0D
7. Ilya Zubov, C, 7.0D 
8. Jakob Silfverberg, C 6.5C
9. Zach Smith, C 6.5C
10. Erik Condra, RW 6.5C
11. Andre Petersson, LW 7.0D
12. Cody Bass, C 5.5B
13. Mattias Karlsson, D 6.5D
14. Kaspars Daugavins, LW 6.5D
15. Chris Wideman, D 6.5D
16. Eric Gryba, D 6.0C
17. Tomas Kudelka, D 6.5D
18. Ben Blood, D 6.5D
19. Derek A. Smith, D 6.0C
20. Derek Grant C 6.0C

1. Erik Karlsson, D 8.0C
Acquired: first round, 15th overall, 2008

Both Karlsson and the Senators were playing well when he injured his right shoulder in a collision on Feb. 4 after tallying a goal and 11 assists in his first 41 NHL games. In their first game without him, the Sens’ franchise-record 11-game winning streak came to an end. Karlsson is averaging 19 minutes a game, fourth on the team, and fourth among NHL rookies with 40 or more games played. While he’s still feeling his way around the NHL, Karlsson has been a top-pairing player on some nights, and coach Cory Clouston has used him in last-minute situations. A smooth puckhandler with good vision, he’s second only to Filip Kuba in power-play ice time. He has worked hard on his speed to improve his one-on-one coverage, and it’s easy to forget on some nights that he’s 19. He has just 14 penalty minutes, but the 5’11, 165-pound Swede can handle the physical stuff.

2. Jared Cowen, D 8.0C
Acquired: first round, 9th overall, 2009

Karlsson’s partner on the top pair in the years to come could be Cowen. Cowen has eight goals, 25 points and 64 penalty minutes for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL after recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right knee. The 18-year-old was a bit of a disappointment for Canada at the World Junior Championship, and wasn’t counted on for much key playing time until the injury to Travis Hamonic (NYI) made it necessary in the gold-medal game. That didn’t stop the Senators from signing the 6’5, 220-pounder to a three-year, entry-level deal in early February. Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray has said Cowen will be given a shot to make the team next year, but he also emphasized his need to adjust to the speed of high-level forwards.

3. Patrick Wiercioch, D 7.5D
Acquired: second round, 42nd overall, 2008

If healthy, Wiercioch could have played at World Juniors, but Team Canada sent him back to the University of Denver Pioneers because of a lingering left knee injury. The 6’4, 190-pound 19-year-old might have been the extra blueliner Canada needed to win it all. He’s returned to Denver with something to prove, although he’s not scoring at last year’s pace that saw him lead NCAA rookies in goals and earn spots on the All-WCHA Rookie Team and All-WCHA Second Team. The sophomore is third in the WCHA in defenseman scoring, with three goals and 17 points in 23 conference games. He has five goals and 22 points in 31 games overall for the first-place Pioneers, who use him in all situations.

4. Jim O’Brien, C 6.5C
Acquired: first round, 29th overall, 2007

The 20-year-old center is plugging away in his first full season at AHL Binghamton, and has moved up the Ottawa prospect list mostly by default due to the graduation of other prospects. The 6’2, 200-pound American is a gritty two-way forward that can handle the physical game and has four goals and 10 points in 52 games for his efforts, to go along with 37 penalty minutes. O’Brien was a two-time 20-goal scorer for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, so there may be some scoring touch there as he gets used to the pro game.

5. Robin Lehner, G 7.0D
Acquired: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2009

The second goalie selected at last year’s NHL entry draft has adjusted nicely to the Canadian major junior game. The 18-year-old Swede won the starting job for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds over incumbent Bryce O’Hagan out of training camp. Lehner had two shutouts in a week in November and was named national goalie of the week by the CHL. He’s in the top 10 in the OHL in save percentage (sixth, .915) and goals-against average (ninth, 2.88), and has become a fan favorite. The 6’4, 224-pounder is cool under pressure and agile for a big man. He has improved his rebound control and is becoming known for his maturity, work ethic and determination.

6. Louie Caporusso, C 7.0D
Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2007

The slick 20-year-old hasn’t been quite as explosive as a junior after posting 49 points in 41 games on the way to a Hobey Baker nomination last year. Caporusso is third on the University of Michigan Wolverines with 30 points (including 13 goals) in 37 games, good for 14th in the CCHA. While the 5’10, 188-pounder has seen a dip in his scoring totals, he’s won faceoffs at a 57.5 percent clip. There’s no question the speedster has offensive skills. Whether he has enough of them is the question, as his size means he probably has to make it as a top-six forward.

7. Ilya Zubov, F, 7.0D 
Acquired: fourth round, 98th overall, 2005

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the 22-year-old to return to the Senators. After making a public trade request in the fall, Zubov returned to Russia, where he’s spent the season in the KHL. He recently moved from Salavat Yulaev Ufa to CSKA Moscow, joining fellow disgruntled prospect Nikita Filatov. Zubov has three goals and six points in 28 games between the two teams. The 6’0, 201-pounder thought he was due for a spot in the NHL after jumping from 38 to 52 points at Binghamton and getting 11 games in the show under his belt. But the KHL detour makes it unclear if and when he’ll be back in the NHL.

8. Jakob Silfverberg, C 6.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 39th overall, 2009

Silfverberg was a secondary scorer for Team Sweden at the World Juniors, but saved his best performance for the bronze-medal game, scoring a pair of goals to help Sweden bring home some hardware. The 6’1, 190-pound 19-year-old has taken a step in his second season with Brynäs of the Swedish Elite League, notching eight goals and 12 points in 41 games. The two-way forward showed he can raise his level of play for the big game, but he needs to work on his shot and physical play to be a more consistent force.

9. Zach Smith, C 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2008

Smith scored his first (and second) NHL goal this season in a cameo with the Senators, and has been a mainstay in his second season in Binghamton. The crash-and-bang 21-year-old has 11 goals and 27 points in 52 games for the B-Sens after nearly making the big club. Smith was a point-a-game player in his fourth and final season with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, but his offense has been inconsistent as a pro. His 88 penalty minutes show he’s not afraid to mix it up when necessary, and having toughness on his resume can only help his chances as a pro. The 6’2, 199-pounder proudly had a black eye in his picture on the team website as evidence. He also got his first NHL fight out of the way on Jan. 9.

10. Erik Condra, RW 6.5C
Acquired: seventh round, 211th overall, 2006

Condra has adjusted well to pro hockey after an outstanding four-year career with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But anything less would be considered a disappointment for a 23-year-old AHL rookie. The 6’0, 195-pounder has nine goals and 30 points in 56 games with Binghamton, good for seventh in team scoring. A character player with good wheels, hockey sense and playmaking ability, Condra still has a shot at the show, but has a few forwards to leapfrog in the Ottawa system.

11. Andre Petersson, LW 7.0D
Acquired: 4th round, 109th overall, 2008

At his best, Petersson is an offensive-minded goal-scorer. He can pass, but doesn’t always remember that, and is inconsistent on the other side of the puck. At the World Juniors, the 19-year-old tied Jordan Eberle of Canada for the tournament lead with eight goals. Petersson was listed at 5’11, 194 pounds on the Swedish roster. If the growth spurt is accurate it could bode well for his development, as physical play and defense have been knocks on Petersson. After a strong performance at the junior level last season, he and his offensive skills have made the jump to the Swedish Elite League, tallying 10 goals and 15 points in 35 games for HV71.

12. Cody Bass, C 5.5B
Acquired: 4th round, 95th overall, 2005

The numbers aren’t flashy for the third-year pro, who has battled injuries and bounced between Binghamton and the big club his first two years. The 22-year-old has four goals and nine points to go with 86 penalty minutes in 44 games for the B-Sens. Despite his lack of contributions on the scoresheet, his feisty style of play could make him a solid fourth-liner in the show someday. Bass, 6’0, 209 pounds, is a solid defensive player and penalty killer who skates well, wins faceoffs and hits, all the tools needed for an NHL grinder.

13. Mattias Karlsson, D 6.5D
Acquired: fourth round, 135th overall, 2003

The other Karlsson returned to the SEL this offseason after an outstanding first full season in the AHL. The 24-year-old Swede may be regretting that decision now, as he likely would have been in line for at least a call-up given the depth problems the Senators have experienced this year. Karlsson, 6’2, 220 pounds, is an offensive defenseman who posted nine goals and 51 points in 73 AHL games last year. He’s notched four goals and 13 points with Timra IK this season.

14. Kaspars Daugavins, LW 6.5D
Acquired: third round, 91st overall, 2006

The 21-year-old Latvian has jumped into the top 20 on the strength of a strong first season in the AHL. Daugavins is fifth on the Binghamton scoring list with 14 goals and 32 points after splitting last season between the AHL and the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL. A point-a-game player in junior, Daugavins has carried his scoring touch over to the pros. He made his NHL debut this season against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14, and competed for Latvia in the Olympics in Vancouver. Although he has just eight penalty minutes, the 5’11, 213-pound two-way forward is tenacious.

15. Chris Wideman, D 6.5D
Acquired: fourth round, 100th overall, 2009

The 19-year-old defenseman is known as a puck-mover. All 26 of his points in 39 games last season were assists. He led the Miami (Ohio) University RedHawks in helpers as they won the CCHA championship on the way to the national final against Boston University. The 5’10, 177-pounder has managed to find the back of the net five times this season, but his overall point total is down to 18 in 36 games as a sophomore. The dip is a bit of a disappointment after his All-CCHA Rookie Team performance, as was his failure to make the U.S. junior team. His size remains a concern when projecting his pro future. However, he continues to enjoy team success, as the RedHawks have lost just two conference games and are ranked No. 2 nationally.

16. Eric Gryba, D 6.0C
Acquired: third round, 68th overall, 2006

The big rearguard has great size: he’s listed at 6’4, 219 pounds and has 93 penalty minutes in 31 games for the Boston University Terriers after racking up 106 in 45 games last year. The 21-year-old has also managed career highs with three goals and nine points in his senior year. Three of those points came in one game in February, however, the Sens didn’t draft him to be a power-play quarterback. He must work on his speed to keep up at the pro level.

17. Tomas Kudelka, D 6.5D
Acquired: fifth round, 136th overall, 2005

Kudelka is a leader on the Binghamton blueline at age 22. He’s second among B-Sens defensemen with 20 points in 54 games, including three goals, and his 81 penalty minutes are the most among rearguards on the squad. Kudelka is a smart, smooth offensive defenseman, but not one-dimensional, as he uses his 6’3, 206-pound frame and long reach effectively. The Czech also continues to improve his decision-making, cutting down on mistakes and giveaways.

18. Ben Blood, D 6.5D
Acquired: fourth round, 120th overall, 2007

Yet another NCAA defenseman in the Ottawa system, Blood is a sophomre with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. His numbers have improved drastically this year with increased ice time, to three goals and 11 points in 34 games. Blood has also shown a willingness to mix it up, tallying 76 penalty minutes along the way. After being the team’s most improved player last season, the 6’3, 220-pounder is playing on the top pairing, and has even seen some power-play time. The 20-year-old recently told Hockey’s Future his confidence is improving as he develops patience and grows more comfortable with the physical game.

19. Derek A. Smith, D 6.0C
Acquired: Free agent, 2007

The other Smith has been a mainstay for the B-Sens, leading the blueline with seven goals and 33 points in 52 games. The 25-year-old also played in two NHL games, going scoreless. Smith is 6’2, 199 pounds and a mobile offensive defenseman who continues to improve his overall game. He could still stand to add more bulk.

20. Derek Grant C 6.0C
Acquired: fourth round, 119th overall, 2008

The Senators see power forward in the 6’3, 190-pound 19-year-old, but he’s a long way away from seeing the big club. Grant was a scoring machine in the BCHL Jr. A ranks, including 60 points in 35 games last season. He’s continued scoring as a freshman with the Michigan State Spartans, who are second in the CCHA behind Miami. He’s second on the team with 29 points in 36 games, including 11 goals. His 18 conference points are tied for fifth among freshmen.