The Binghamton Senators will have a dramatically different look to their squad this year. The theme will be youth and talent with a realistic goal of earning a playoff spot for the first time since the lockout season which had Jason Spezza and other young Ottawa Senators gaining additional seasoning in the AHL. 2009-10 saw the team finish in fifth place in the East Division with a 36-35-0-9 record which left them five points shy of the last playoff spot.
Along with coach Don Nachbaur, who resigned to lead the Spokane Chiefs, captain Denis Hamel and alternative captains Jeremy Yablonski and Martin St, Pierre, who was their leading scorer and tenth overall in AHL scoring, will not be back. Other key players who have moved on are four-year Binghamton forward Josh Hennessy, veteran defensemen Drew Bannister and Tomas Kudelka and goaltenders Andy Chiodo and Chris Holt.
We can expect this squad to have many first-year pros which will bring some much-needed enthusiasm and skill along with the potential growing pains of inexperience to the organization. The outlook is very good; the key will be how quickly this team finds its chemistry.
With Hamel, Hennessey and St. Pierre no longer in the organization the baby Sens will look for scoring up front from Corey Locke who signed for two years and had previously played in the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens organizations after his stellar junior career in Ottawa. Locke has proven to be a dynamic scorer and leader at the AHL level for the past six seasons. After Locke, it gets interesting as to who gets the remaining center spots; the competition should be tough as there is both talent and depth. College captains Bobby Butler from UNH and Cornell’s Colin Greening along with former QMJHL player of the year Mike Hoffman will be looking to grab the second and third line center positions with the likelihood all seeing some time on wing as well. Former first-round pick Jim O’ Brien has the inside track on a center role and heart and soul player Cody Bass will bring his grit and toughness to the checking unit.
Baby Sens returnees Ryan Keller and Kaspars Daugavins should look to provide goals from the wings and build on their previous season’s totals. Roman Wick, a 2004 draftee who played in the Swiss A-league the previous four seasons, will be expected to bring some offense and along with second-year pro Erik Condra should fill winger scoring roles on the top three lines. An interesting new face will be promising power-forward David Dziurzynski, a BCHL alum, who is making the jump to the pros directly from Tier II junior hockey and will look to refine his raw skills. Jason Bailey and Tim Spencer are back and bring toughness and size up front.
Winger Corey Cowick, who makes the jump from the 67s, Justin Donati, Andrew Sweetland and Yannick Tifu from the ECHL Elmira Jackals, will be in the mix in Binghamton pushing for roster spots to open the season or as recalls for players promoted or injured.
Zack Smith will likely stick with the big club this year and is not expected back. Locke, Keller, Butler, Bass and heavy-weight Francis Lessard are still in the Ottawa camp but will be sent down to Binghamton to begin the season barring any injuries to forwards ahead of them on the Senators depth chart.
Collegiate defensemen Eric Gryba from Boston University and Patrick Wiercioch from Denver; both were high-draft picks by Ottawa and will look to immediately contribute in the AHL. Gryba brings size and a physical presence while Wiercioch is more of a two-way player with good puck skills, size and power-play point capability. They will be joined by returnee Derek Smith, the slick-skater who led their defense in scoring last year, AHL-veteran and puck-moving defenseman Andre Benoit who comes over from the Hamilton Bulldogs, and improving two-way, second-year pros Craig Shira and Geoff Kinrade. Journeyman defensive-defenseman David Hale will be in this group if Ottawa decides to go with six defensemen. This will be a very talented unit which could be joined by Brian Lee who is currently fighting for the last roster spot on the big club created by the injury to Filip Kuba.
Pint-sized offensive-dynamo Patrick Coulombe and hulking Brennan Turner will likely be the first call-ups should any injuries open up spots on the Binghamton blue line.
At this time Wiercioch and Lee are in the Ottawa camp with Wiercioch likely to begin the season in Binghamton. Cowen would return to his junior club in Spokane if he doesn’t stick with Ottawa. There are different scenarios that will play themselves out yet.
Goaltending also figures to be strength for the team this year. Returnee Mike Brodeur has good size, quiet movement, experience and excellent positioning. Underrated Barry Brust joins the Senators organization and brings NHL and minor-pro experience.
Organizational goalie-of-the-future Robin Lehner, a Swede who played well for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL last season, is still junior eligible but will almost assuredly start the season in the pros and considering the inconsistency of the organization’s goaltending situation in the NHL, could see some time with the big team.
The team will be led by first-year head coach Kurt Kleinendorst and assistant Steve Stirling. Kleinendorst spent the previous year with the US development program and was hired by Tim Murray, the general manager. He has previous head coaching experience in the AHL with the Lowell Devils.
Lehner stopped all 24 shots he faced while playing the entire game against the Leafs for his first NHL shutout and performed well against the Buffalo Sabres in his second start. He is a large presence in net and is fast for a goaltender of his size.
Butler has displayed his overall skills which includes scoring, back-checking and physical play. He scored on a penalty shot against Montreal where he faked and shot past Carey Price and has been around the net for much of the pre-season. Hoffman has also looked solid while gaining confidence over the course of the pre-season and building on the good play he showed at the London Rookie Tournament. Butler is fighting for one of the last forward spots on the big club while Hoffman has been ticketed for Binghamton.
Cowen has shown poise and is a big, physical presence on the ice. He’s contributed on the penalty kill and provided some big hits. Wiercioch had a goal against the Sabres on a shot from the blue line and has held his own, showing steady progress in the main camp after a strong performance in London.
Article was written by John Henkelman.