Ottawa Senators continue history of developing stars in Sweden

By Kristopher Bras
Photo: Marcus Hogberg and Linkoping HC are battling high-scoring Skelleftea AIK in the SHL semifinal. (Courtesy of Sparta Prague/Champions Hockey League)

Photo: Marcus Hogberg’s Linkoping HC is battling high-scoring Skelleftea AIK in the SHL semifinal. (Courtesy of Sparta Prague/Champions Hockey League)

 

The Ottawa Senators became a competitive hockey team in the late nineties thanks in part to a handful of Swedish forwards that included Daniel Alfredsson, Magnus Arvedson, and Andreas Dackell. Now, the Senators have another trio of players developing in Sweden—and all three of them are exceeding expectations this year.

Although Andrew Hammond is the hero right now, Ottawa’s current surge in the standings can also be attributed to the play of countrymen Erik Karlsson and Mika Zibanejad—who spearhead the team’s next great generation of Swedish players (along with Robin Lehner). The Senators also have three players in the Swedish Hockey League who presumably hope to join them in North America before long.

Although the team has more players in the NCAA than in the SHL, their prospects overseas will have more clout when they finally get to Binghamton—and beyond that, Ottawa. Save for a few bright spots, the organization’s collegiate prospects have had a tough go of it this season—and will be hard-pressed to score contracts with the NHL club in the long run.

Europe

Marcus Hogberg, G, Linkoping (SHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 78th overall, 2013

With just one high-profile game to his credit (during the 2013-14 World Junior Championships) Hogberg is not exactly a household name in North America—but that could change in the near future. Sens brass have to be chomping at the bit to get Hogberg into a Senators uniform after watching him backstop Linkoping to a fourth-overall finish in the SHL this season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 27 regular season games, despite playing behind veteran David Rautio for much of the season. Hogberg should land in Binghamton next year.

Andreas Englund, D, Djurgarden (SHL)
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2014

Finishing at a minus-13, Englund had a rough season in Djurgarden—but his talent is undeniable. He logged big-time minutes during the preliminary round of the SHL playoffs, but his solid play was not enough to help Djurgarden into the quarterfinals. Englund is signed through 2015-16, so Senators fans will have to wait to see him play for Binghamton. By that time though, the bruising stay-at-homer could be ready for an audition with the big club.

Mikael Wikstrand, D, Frolunda (SHL)
Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2012

It has been more of the same for Wikstrand in Frolunda this season—slick skating, offensive prowess, and plenty of proof that when he arrives in Binghamton next season he will be one of the club’s better defenders. After the injury bug hit Frolunda’s blue line hard, the elite two-way rearguard played on the team’s top pairing, scoring 20 points in 46 games. In the playoffs, he has averaged over 24 minutes per game while helping Frolunda to the league semifinals—where they are currently deadlocked with Vaxjo at a game apiece.

NCAA

Kelly Summers, D, Clarkson University (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 189th overall, 2014

The jump from Jr. A to NCAA Div. I was tough for Summers. Although he had worked to increase his foot-speed, it was evident that he needed to get faster to keep up with opposing forwards. After contributing just one assist in his first fifteen games, he got his first big break on Dec. 30, when he scored two goals against the AIC Yellow Jackets. Summers finished the season with six goals and four assists—solid numbers for a freshman defender. If he keeps improving over the next few years—and Clarkson has a history of providing players with the right environment to do so—Summers will be a steal at his draft position.

Robbie Baillargeon, C, Boston University (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 136th overall, 2012

Baillargeon had 27 points as a first-line centre with BU last year, but with the arrival of Jack Eichel, he has had to settle for a back seat this season. While Eichel has received the bulk of the playing time down the middle, Baillargeon has had to adjust to being used sparingly. As a result, he has just 15 points through 28 games and a disappointing .388 win percentage on faceoffs. Senators fans should not be too concerned with this—Baillargeon’s experience this season will help him adjust to life in Binghamton in a few years, where he will likely start out in a bottom-six role. BU will play in the Frozen Four in April, which will be a good experience for the young centre.

Quentin Shore, C, University of Denver (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2013

Shore had a strong junior year at the University of Denver, achieving a career-high 26 points—despite playing in a second-line role. His 10 goals include three game-winners, and he was a dominant .536 in the faceoff circle. Shore will finish his degree next season, and should make the Binghamton Senators out of college in 2016.

Chris Leblanc, RW, Merrimack College (Hockey East)
Drafted 6th round, 161st overall, 2013

Since the Senators selected Leblanc in the sixth round in 2013, it has not been pretty. A torn ACL cut Leblanc’s 2013-14 season short, and after knee surgery and a long summer of rehabilitation, he struggled to find his stride this year. With just 9 points in 27 games, Leblanc failed to match the numbers he put up in four fewer games the year prior. He failed to have an impact in the Hockey East playoffs; he was held off the scoresheet through three games. He was finally scratched during Merrimack’s elimination game against Boston University, who feature fellow Sens selection Robbie Baillargeon—and a kid named Jack Eichel.

Tim Boyle, D, Endicott College (Club)
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2012

When the Senators took Tim Boyle in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, they had high hopes that he would follow in his brother Brian’s footsteps and become an impact player in the NHL. Unfortunately, that dream has all but evaporated for Boyle, who spent the 2014-15 season playing club hockey at Endicott College. Though he had a decent 11 points in 19 games, club league statistics are an unreliable metric. Boyle will get the chance to show that he still has potential next season, when Endicott College joins the ECAC as a Div. III hockey program.

Prospect of the Month – Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond

Andrew Hammond - Ottawa SenatorsDuring his fairy tale run with the Ottawa Senators, Andrew Hammond has proven every analyst who has ever called him an “AHL-at-best” goaltender dead, dead wrong (including myself). And although he is a bit old for our prospect criteria, given his extenuating circumstances, exceptions have been made.

Called upon to fill in when both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner were sidelined with injuries, Hammond has gone 15-1-1 to start his career. Along the way, he tied an obscure record held by Frank Brimsek, who started his career by allowing two or less goals in his first 12 starts. Hammond’s 1.85 goals-against and .938 save percentage have the Senators back in playoff contention.

His nickname “The Hamburglar” (after the McDonalds character) has partnered with his incredible record to create a fan and media frenzy. Fans, who shout “robble robble” after his saves, have littered the ice with hamburgers in the late stages of recent games.

 

Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras