Success on the horizon for skilled group of Ottawa Senators prospects

By Kristopher Bras
Photo: This season, two-way centre Robbie Baillargeon of Boston University will improve on the 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists) he had in a limited offensive role in 2014-15. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: This season, two-way centre Robbie Baillargeon of Boston University will improve on the 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists) he had in a limited offensive role in 2014-15. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

It has been an interesting fall for the Ottawa Senators and its prospects, and on the eve of the 2015-16 NHL Season, the final rosters for both the NHL and AHL clubs have been whittled down to a decision or two. Although the final rosters are mostly what those with their ear to the ground would expect, there are a few surprises—and it has been exciting to watch the immediate future for this talented group of youngsters take shape.

At forward, Shane Prince and Matt Puempel’s battle for the final left wing position took an unexpected turn when Clarke MacArthur ran into fellow Senator Mark Fraser and Montreal Canadiens winger Alex Galchenyuk in an exhibition tilt on Saturday, September 3rd. With MacArthur’s history of concussions, there is currently no date for his return—meaning both Prince and Puempel will remain with the club for the time being. 

An injury to Chris Phillips has also had an effect on the opening day lineup. During his rehab from back surgery during the offseason, he cracked a vertebra in his spine, adding another month to his recovery time. That means defensive prospect Chris Wideman will start the season with the club.

Perhaps the biggest story in camp was SHL defenceman Mikael Wikstrand. Not likely to make the big club, Wikstrand returned to Sweden without telling GM Bryan Murray. Although he later reasoned that he was in Sweden to spend time with an ailing family member, it was also reported that he was talking to several SHL teams about the possibility of playing for them—leading to a team suspension, and casting the prospect’s future in doubt.

Despite the question marks surrounding Wikstrand, several things have become all but certain with the 2015-16 season just days away for the hockey club.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Shane Prince, LW, Ottawa Senators (NHL)

Several players arrived in Ottawa with their focus dead-set on the team’s opening on the left side—and Shane Prince had all but won it before MacArthur’s injury later ensured Puempel would also remain. Although much has been made of the fact that Prince would have to clear waivers to return to Binghamton, the young winger has ensured that the team will promote him based on merit alone. During five exhibition games, he led all Senators rookie forwards in scoring with two goals and an assist, and generally looked dangerous on every shift—despite jumping over the boards less often than more experienced teammates.

Offensive Breakout
Max McCormick, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)

Max McCormick suffered some growing pains during his first season of professional hockey, scoring just 10 goals and 10 assists—his lowest total at any level of hockey throughout his career. However, the tough winger was one of Ottawa’s best players during the rookie tournament, and played well during his exhibition appearances. It’s no secret that Senators management likes what this heart-and-soul player brings to the table, and Baby Sens fans will see his offensive game grow this season as he becomes one of the AHL club’s best players.

NHL-bound Prospect
Chris Wideman, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)

Just a few months ago, the Senators were worried that they would lose the 2014-15 AHL Defenseman of the Year to free agency. Now, with Eric Gryba traded to the Edmonton Oilers and Chris Phillips (cracked vertebrae) on the injured reserve, Wideman is a lock to start the season as the team’s seventh defenceman. Given Cameron’s frequent dissatisfaction with Jared Cowen‘s play, Wideman could end up a lineup regular before long.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Thomas Chabot, D, St. John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Chabot is not only the team’s best junior prospect, but its best prospect, period. If the Senators were not already set in the back-end, Chabot would have received serious consideration to get a nine-game audition this fall. The talented two-way defenceman played well in camp, and signed an entry-level contract with the club before rejoining the Sea Dogs.  During exhibition play, Chabot looked very good paired with team captain Erik Karlsson, and finished with two assists in three games. He still needs conditioning, but the Senators are very happy with their first pick (18th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Unsigned for 2016-17
Francis Perron, LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

Although Francis Perron had a breakout season in 2014-15, scoring 76 points in 64 games with the Huskies, he has yet to sign an entry-level contract with the club. Although it’s a bit early to make predictions, both the Huskies and Perron (eight points in five games) are off to a great start this year, and it isn’t inconceivable to picture Perron getting some serious minutes in the playoffs—which can only mean good things for his development curve. It’s a bit far off, but the Senators should sign Perron up in a hurry during the 2016 offseason, and he will likely pull on a Binghamton jersey next fall.

Offensive Breakout
Gabriel Gagne, RW, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)

Although Gagne has not yet played due to a charley horse suffered at the Senators rookie tournament, when he finally gets into some games for the Tigres, he will be an offensive catalyst. Gagne fielded some criticism for his intensity and consistency during his draft year, and the 35-goal scorer will be on a mission to prove that he is indeed a top-tier NHL prospect. QMJHL goalies beware—you will be seeing quite a bit of this 6-foot-5 monster of a sniper in the coming months.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Colin White, C, Boston College (Hockey East)

Colin White is Ottawa’s best amateur and centre prospect. After spending the past few years with the U.S. National Team Development Program, White will join Boston College as a freshman this season, and will be a difference-maker for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. NCAA rules prohibited him from attending Senators camp, but make no mistake—his 200-foot game and penchant for raising his play at key moments will be appreciated when they finally arrive in the Canadian capital.

Offensive Breakout
Kelly Summers, D, Clarkson University (ECAC)

It took a few games for Summers to adjust to the collegiate hockey circuit last season, but once he found his legs, he was one of Clarkson’s better defencemen. His five powerplay goals were tops among all skaters in 2014-15, so his great shot from the point should make plenty of attempts this season. In Clarkson’s first game of the year, a 4-3 win versus McGill, Summers was all over the ice—leading the team with six shot and scoring his first goal of 2015-16.

Bounceback Prospect
Robbie Baillargeon, C, Boston University (Hockey East)

When Robbie Baillargeon made Hockey East’s All-Rookie Team in 2013-14, it was beginning to look like he could be a steal at his draft position (5th round, 136th overall, 2012). Unfortunately, the arrival of Jack Eichel in 2014 meant that Baillargeon was pushed off of the team’s top line, and struggled to provide the team with secondary scoring. Although he had fewer opportunities to put his offensive skills to work as a result, he was still a force defensively, helping the team win the Hockey East Championships and advance to the Frozen Four Finals. He should get more face-offs in the other end this season, and his stats will reflect that.

Edit: Baillargeon also suffered from mononucleosis last winter.

Unsigned for 2016-17
Quentin Shore, C, University of Denver (NCHC)

Quentin Shore has quietly developed into a fairly consistent performer for the University of Denver since the Senators drafted him in the sixth round (168th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, even getting a turn with Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships along the way. This season, it’s time for him to put it all together and show the Senators that he deserves a contract. Depending on what’s happening in Binghamton later in the season, he could be a late-season addition after he finishes his degree in Colorado.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Andreas Englund, D, Djurgardens IF (SHL)

Andreas Englund is a bruising stay-at-homer with a decent first pass and dangerous open-ice hitting ability. He doesn’t have much offensive upside, but with Chabot and Wideman in the system, that probably doesn’t matter much—the Sens will count him to be their shutdown guy. Mobile two-way defencemen are getting serious play in the NHL right now, so this prediction could have gone to Wikstrand. Unfortunately his recent team suspension has called his commitment to playing for the Senators into question, and made his immediate future uncertain.

Unsigned for 2016-17
Marcus Hogberg, G, Linkoping HC (SHL)

Although Matt O’Connor is widely considered to be Ottawa’s shiny new goaltender of the future, the team still has Marcus Hogberg quietly developing over with the SHL’s Linkoping HC, and he has become one of Sweden’s finest young goaltenders. Unfortunately, Matt O’Connor’s signing puts Hogberg’s future with the team into doubt. Hogberg is off to a fantastic start in 2015-16 with a 3-0-1 record, 1.96 goals-against, and .918 save percentage. The Senators would do well to lock this asset down.

 

Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras