As the Senators look to inject more youthful talent into their professional roster, their CHL prospect line will supply at least one high profile future player. Presently the WHL is home to three prospects, two of whom are graduating and still aiming for a chance to hoist the Memorial Cup yet before they move on to the professional ranks, and a fourth is in the QMJHL who could yet prove to be a potential dark-horse.
Jared Cowen, D, Spokane Chiefs
Acquired: 1st round, 9th overall, 2009
The 6’5 228 pound hulking defenseman has improved his game and become a dominant two-way force this season as evidenced by his 18 goal and 30 assist scoring clip in just 58 WHL games. On the attack his blend of skating ability, size and vision allow the Allan SK native to control the flow while his punishing physical style of play in his own end makes it difficult for opposition forwards to establish position or puck control. Named to the WHL Western Conference First All-Star Team, the Chiefs captain has his team into the Western Division Finals and contributed one goal and ten assists in the playoffs to date. Earlier this year at the 2011 WJC, Cowen was among the top defenseman and had the responsibility of the shut-down role while helping Canada to a silver medal.
Given his makeup, the Senators should be able to ease him into their big club lineup next season as a left-shooting third pairing or seventh defensemen which will allow him to adjust his game to the faster pace of the NHL without undue pressure. There is a need for him to improve his puck skills – holding the line and in his transition game – as he moves on to professional hockey but he is both physically and mentally ready. Already signed to a three-year entry-level contract, there could be some seasoning time for him in the AHL with Binghamton depending on how the Senators roster shakes down but the expectation is he’ll be a fixture on the Ottawa blue-line by the end of the season.
Wacey Hamilton, C, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: Free Agent, March 8th, 2011
Ottawa recently signed the mature, well-spoken captain of the Tigers to a three-year entry-level contract thwarting the efforts of at least 10 other organizations. The native of Cochrane, AB was a highly-sought after free-agent center now playing as an overager in his fourth season in the WHL, who chose the Senators based on organizational fit with their rebuild plans in place. Although not without considerable skill and great speed, the attributes this hard-nosed leader exemplifies are work ethic, energy, determination and consistency. He plays with an edge and makes it uncomfortable for the opposition and enamors himself to his teammates and coaches who often look to him to set the tone. Moving on to professional hockey, the 6′ 177 pound Hamilton will need to get stronger and ensure his game has a productive aggression that matches his constitution.
This left-handed shooting center has contributed four goals and seven assists so far in the playoffs as his squad is into play against Kootenay in the Eastern Conference finals. This followed a stellar regular season which saw him post totals of 20 goals and 52 assists along with 113 penalty minutes. Ranked 127 heading into his first year of NHL draft eligibility, the gritty center was passed over in 2008 NHL Draft. The next two seasons with injuries limiting his progress to some extent, he turned in solid if unspectacular campaigns and went undrafted. After attending the Colorado Avalanche training camp last fall on an invite basis, he left a good impression but was among the first cuts and returned to Medicine Hat.
The future for Hamilton in the NHL would be that of a checking or energy line center who also offers considerable natural leadership abilities. Next season we can expect to see him competing for ice time with the Binghamton Senators as he furthers his development against more skilled and sizeable opponents.
Mark Stone, RW, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 6th round, 178th overall, 2010
This season saw this 18-year old power winger finish third in league scoring with 37 goals and 106 points and be named to the Eastern Conference First All-Star Team. In the post-season he added another goal and nine assists in six games before his Brandon Wheat Kings were dispatched from the playoffs. From the beginning of this season the Winnipeg-born Stone has been on fire showing off his natural scoring ability and earning team MVP honors. Selected as an alternate captain this season, he has the willingness and size, 6’3 200 pounds, to get to the high traffic areas and create scoring chances or draws penalties.
The Senators are elated with his progress and will encourage him to work on improving his skating stride which is really his only major flaw. Next season should see him return to Brandon and work on the nuances of him game in order to become a complete player. It would be a good reward to see him earn an invite to the Canadian National Junior Team camp this summer. Long-term he projects as a potential second line NHLer with a nice blend of size and scoring talent any organization can use.
Jakub Culek, LW, Rimouski Océanic
Acquired: 3rd round, 76th overall, 2010
There are seasons for the ages and forgettable ones, the 2011-12 campaign for 6’4 195 pound left-winger would surely fall under the latter. After a decent start to the season, the entire Rimouski team fell into collective slumber in November they were never really able to shake out of. The native of the Czech Republic managed seven goals, 15 assists and a plus-two rating during the regular season and added another two assists in the playoffs before the Océanic were ousted in the first round. Culek plays a responsible two-way game and did end up being selected to the Czech edition at the WJC where he produced one goal and one assist although he was not really a factor in games versus elite competition. Good hands, size, speed, anticipation and the ability to see the ice are the qualities that led the Senators to draft him. While he absolutely has to improve his strength, increase his mobility and use his size more effectively, it was interesting to see him drop the gloves a few times this year and hold his own.
Next season the organization will need to see increased production and overall improvement from this potential late-bloomer and will go a long way to determining whether the Senators will offer him a contract. The rangy winger will be given an opportunity to seize a bigger role with Rimouski and has to step up and make it happen. The talent and character are there, it’s now just a question of whether he’s determined enough to take his game to the next level.