Ottawa Senators prospects ascend depth chart

By Kristopher Bras
Nick Paul - North Bay Battalion

Nick Paul is having a career year with the North Bay Battalion, which bodes well for Sens fans. (Image courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

The Ottawa Senators might not be playoff bound, but nevertheless it is an exciting time for the organization—and the youth movement is in full swing.

With several players graduating to the NHL this season—and  the big club taking on a new head coach in Dave Cameron—the door is wide open for Ottawa’s depth prospects to assert themselves. Some have responded to the challenge well, while others have faltered.

Although the Senators might lack a legitimate top-line talent below the NHL level, they do have an abundance of players who could develop into consistent second line/pairing contributors. And as the few veterans who remain in Ottawa leave the lineup in the coming years, more of the team’s depth prospects will get that much-desired phone call.

When the time comes, it might be difficult for Sens brass to decide who to bring up—the best kind of predicament for any team executive.

Here are the top 20 prospects in the Ottawa Senators organization.

1. (1) Curtis Lazar, C, 7.5 B
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2013

Lazar has had a hard time scoring goals in the NHL this season, but he is still one of the hardest workers on the ice—and he creates solid scoring chances. Everyone in the room knows that it is only a matter of time before he starts producing, and the coaching staff will make sure he gets there. Because of that, Lazar is still the best prospect in the organization.

2. (11) Nicholas Paul, LW, 7.0 B
Trade with the Dallas Stars, July 1st, 2014

Moving Paul up the depth chart this quickly might seem like a knee-jerk reaction to his World Junior Championship performance, but make no mistake—his rating here is warranted. Paul was underrated when he was drafted into both the OHL and the NHL, but this year he has demonstrated the potential to grow into an effective second line scorer. He may need a few years in Binghamton to develop, but there is no denying his talent and desire.

3. (4) Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 6.5 B
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2011

Although Pageau lacks the size and skill to become a permanent second line centre at the NHL level, he has the attitude and the work ethic to stay in the conversation. New Ottawa head coach Dave Cameron took a liking to Pageau’s feisty game when he was called up to fill in for Lazar’s WJC absence. When Lazar returned, Pageau stayed in the lineup—increasing his likelihood of fulfilling his potential.

4. (NR) Chris Wideman, D, 6.5 B
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2009

Wideman has flourished in Binghamton, where he has shown that he still has plenty of upside. Although he might not have the size of an elite defender, his brief call-up in January showed that his number is the first on the list if a rearguard gets hurt in Ottawa. His steady improvement and leadership skills ensure that he should be a nice second pairing puck-mover somewhere down the line.

5. (9) Fredrik Claesson, D, 6.5 B
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2011

Management took a liking to Claesson during camp, but there were just too many defenseman in camp for him to stick. That said, he is still an NHL-ready prospect—and it is only a matter of time before he gets the chance. Like Wideman, he will never be a starter, but he has the drive to fulfill his potential to become a second-pairing stalwart.

6. (8) Shane Prince, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2011

Prince has responded well to having an expanded role in Binghamton this year, and there have been reports that he has brought a better attitude to the rink. While leading the team’s offense on the top line, he has also played responsibly in his own end. The Ottawa Senators showed their faith in Prince when they called on him to suit up for his first NHL game on Feb. 16 to replace an injured Chris Neil.

7. (2) Matt Puempel, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2011

Puempel has had a difficult time putting the puck in the net. Although he leads the team in shots-on-goal, he has only converted on 8.5% of them—and stands to finish with fewer than he scored last year. He also had a tough time in his own zone, and has the worst plus/minus rating on the team. Still, he has done a better job of distributing the puck, and has fit in on the powerplay. Puempel’s challenges this year are just a hiccup—he is still one of the organization’s better prospects.

8. (6) Andreas Englund, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2014

Englund is a bruising stay-at-homer whose style of play would be a nice fit with the team that the Senators are building right now. Due to a wealth of talented young defenseman in the system, it is extremely uncertain when he will get his shot—by no fault of his own. Englund played well at the World Junior Championship, and has transitioned from J20 SuperElit to the SHL seamlessly.

9. (15) Ben Harpur, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 108th overall, 2013

Big Ben Harpur is having a standout season in the OHL. Currently playing for the Barrie Colts, he has taken great strides both defensively and offensively—almost doubling last year’s scoring totals. He still makes his coaches squirm on occasion due to poor decision-making, but as he spends more time in the back end he will develop better instincts (Harpur was a forward for years).

10. (14) Tobias Lindberg, RW, 7.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 102nd overall, 2013

Lindberg was a question mark going into this season because it was unclear how well he would adjust to the North American game. Happily, the move has been a resounding success. Scoring at well above a point-per-game clip, Lindberg has helped the Oshawa Generals to a league-best record and should get a nice, long playoff as a reward. The Sens brass have to be happy about this one.

11. (NR) Cole Schneider, RW, 6.0 B
Free agent signing, 2012

Schneider just continues to impress. The big winger will never be a top-line scorer in the NHL, but he has the work ethic to fulfill his potential as a career bottom-six workhorse who can chip in the odd goal. Schneider does a great job controlling the corners and makes the most of his scoring opportunities. He might need another year in Binghamton, but he will get his opportunity with the Ottawa Senators eventually.

12. (3) Chris Driedger, G, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 76th overall, 2012

It’s been a tough year for Driedger. Although he started the year in Binghamton, it quickly became apparent that he was not ready to play at the AHL level. After 30 games with the Evansville Iceman, it has not gotten much better for him—he has let in an average of 3.5 goals-per-game on the worst team in the ECHL. He still has several years to develop—but this season cannot have been good for him.

13. (5) Ryan Dzingel, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2011

Dzingel has shown flashes of what caused the Senators to take him in the 2011 draft, but for the most part he has failed to build on the momentum he picked up in his last few years with Ohio State. That said, he has finished more of his chances as the season has progressed. He still has the potential to make the big club, but he is years away.

14. (10) Mikael Wikstrand, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2012

Wikstrand is having a good year with Frolunda of the SHL, who are the second-best team in the league. He is 14th among defenseman in scoring with 16 points, and looks like he is ready to make the jump to the North American game—which should happen next fall (he was obligated to play in Sweden this year unless he made the big club).

15. (12) Vincent Dunn, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 5th round, 138th overall, 2013

Dunn’s scoring is down as a member of the Rimouski Oceanic, where he has had to be satisfied with second-line duty. He will benefit from moving to the AHL next season. By the time Chris Neil is ready to leave the Ottawa Senators, this chippy sparkplug could be the guy who steps into his skates.

16. (NR) Kelly Summers, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 7th round, 189th overall, 2014

The jump from the CJHL to Div. I hockey wasn’t kind to Summers, but after a slow start he began to pick it up in December. He was originally projected to go far higher in the draft than he did, but scouts became concerned that he wasn’t facing a high enough level of competition in the CCHL. Summers is getting that in the NCAA now—expect him to climb the depth chart quickly as he continues to improve.

17. (13) Marcus Hogberg, G, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2013

Hogberg finally stuck with Linkoping of the SHL for good this year, and has rewarded them with a solid .914 save percentage, and an average of 2.42 goals against. The Senators organization is short on goaltending depth below the NHL level, so Hogberg could arrive in Binghamton as early as next year.

18. (7) Alex Guptill, LW, 7.0 D
Trade with the Dallas Stars, July 1st, 2014

Though he has shown flashes of talent, Guptill has not produced at the AHL level. He has been a healthy scratch at times due to his inability to finish plays or take advantage of top-line minutes that were essentially gifted to him by coach Luke Richardson. He falls by many positions on this list because too many players are developing faster than he is—simple as that.

19. (18) Buddy Robinson, RW, 6.0 C
Free agent signing, 2013

Robinson could develop into a bottom-six power forward. He is frequently trusted with big minutes, and is always one of the hardest workers on the ice. Given Ottawa’s current mandate to build big, the 6’5” giant is on the inside track to head upstairs for a cup of coffee.

20. (NR) Quentin Shore, 6.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2013

Shore is having another strong year at the University of Denver, increasing his goal-production and improving his play inside his own blueline. He makes this list for the first time, leapfrogging a few players who have had disappointing seasons.

 

Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras