Success at AHL level suggests help is on the way for Ottawa Senators

By John Henkelman
Photo: Robin Lehner has had an up and down rookie season at the North American professional level. He looks to have found his groove however and is currently one of the top goaltenders in the AHL playoffs. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Ottawa Senators have taken major strides to rebuild their farm system and inject some much needed young talent into their organization. Their commitment is already paying dividends as the Binghamton Senators finished in fifth place in the East Division with a 42-30-3-5 record making the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06 and are awaiting their opponent in the Calder Cup Finals after a remarkable performance to date in the playoffs. The B-Sens are receiving significant contributions from many of their NHL-ready prospects who are buoyed by the presence of some key AHL veterans in their Calder Cup playoff run.

The ECHL Elmira Jackals participated in the Kelly Cup playoffs after a 32-30-7-3 regular season and were eliminated in four games by the Greenville Road Warriors in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal best-of-five round. The season saw a few Senators prospects suit up for the Jackals notably Corey Cowick and Mike Hoffman.


Forward

Jason Bailey, RW, 23

Bailey’s aspirations of becoming a key member of the Ottawa organization are slowly dissipating. The one-time third round draft choice of the Ducks back in 2005 has not done enough to earn meaningful ice time, scoring two goals in 43 games this season in Binghamton while becoming a regular in the press box. The 6’1 210-pound Ottawa native scored two goals and an assist in the eight games he suited up with Elmira. His size, work ethic and puck-handling ability themselves have not allowed him to crack the playoff lineup and his chances of being offered a new contract this off-season by the Senators are minimal.

Bobby Butler, RW, 24

One of the last cuts when Ottawa’s training camp broke, this 24 year-old first-year pro has put together an impressive season highlighted by his natural scoring ability and offensive instincts. Butler was leading the AHL in rookie-scoring until his first of many recalls to Ottawa this season and finished with 10 goals and 11 assists with Ottawa in 36 games along with 22 goals and 11 assists in the 47 games he suited up with the B-Sens. Now into the Calder Cup playoff finals he’s added another 10 goals in 17 games so far. His potential high-scoring skill-set sets him apart from most of the current prospects in the Ottawa system, it will remain to be seen if he’s able to score on a consistent basis in the NHL and round out his overall game.

Pat Cannone, C/RW, 24

The 24 year-old co-captain of the U. of Miami (Ohio) signed a one-year entry-level contract with Ottawa after completing his senior season. Cannone totaled 14 goals and 23 assists for the RedHawks this season playing with Senators 2009 draft pick Chris Wideman. The 5’11 192-pound native of Bayport N.Y. played at a high level at Miami where he demonstrated exceptional playmaking ability and a solid work ethic to go along with his good offensive instincts. After signing he suited up for two regular season games with the B-Sens where he cashed in one goal and added an assist. He’ll be competing for roles with a group of prospects next season in Binghamton and could just be one of those unheralded types who make an immediate impact.

Corey Cowick, LW, 21

A physical and talented player as a junior, the 6’2 201-pound Cowick has experienced a rough transition to professional hockey. With considerable toughness to complement his work ethic, the Gloucester ON native split this season between Binghamton and Elmira, scoring a single goal and three assists in 30 AHL games and another five goals and nine assists in 31 ECHL contests while amassing 96 penalty minutes between the two leagues. He’ll need to continue to play on the edge while working hard to improve his skating and defensive awareness in order to advance in his personal development and warrant more ice time next season in Binghamton.

Erik Condra, RW/LW, 24

The hockey IQ just oozes from this industrious second-year Senator and he’s quietly built on a great first season in Binghamton with 17 goals, 30 assists and a plus-20 in just 55 games in the AHL campaign just completed. Condra did not appear out of place after his promotion to Ottawa, adding another six goals and five assists in 26 NHL games. Along with Butler he’s part of the core of B-Sens’ prospects who are leading the team towards their Calder Cup goal adding four goals and nine assists in 17 games. We should expect this underrated right winger to be competing for a spot on the Ottawa roster this fall, bringing his exceptional playmaking skills and overall clutch gamesmanship with him.

Kaspars Daugavins, LW, 23

Solidly-built and with good offensive skills, this native of Latvia has increased his effort level and made the most out of this campaign finishing with 19 goals and 35 assists after an unremarkable start. He’s continued to remain hot in the playoffs netting 10 goals and adding seven assists in 17 contests with Binghamton. The timing of his improved play could not be better as the left winger’s completing the final year of his entry-level contract. Given the improvement Daugavins has shown, it would be a surprise if Ottawa doesn’t offer him a new contract and he comes to camp this fall aiming for a position high on the depth chart as one of the first call-ups.

David Dziurzynski, C/LW, 21

This 21-year-old raw prospect’s play has improved as the season has progressed allowing him to finish the regular season with six goals and 14 assists in the 75 games he played. His 6’3 205-pound frame and soft hands are assets he’ll need to rely on in his development into a legitimate power-forward prospect. The playoffs has seen him dress for 12 games and chip in with two helpers as he’s been caught in the numbers game with a group of players returned by Ottawa for the B-Sens playoff run. Dziurzynski has earned the trust of Coach Kleinendorst and will be looked upon to play a larger role with Binghamton next season in his remarkable climb from Tier II junior hockey obscurity to a potential position in the NHL.

Colin Greening, C/LW, 25

When the season began, Ottawa knew they had a solid all-round player in Greening and he’s clearly met their expectations and then some. Drafted as a center, the Cornell grad has shown his versatility by playing both his natural position and left wing while tallying 15 goals, 25 assists and a plus-12 in the regular season with Binghamton. Along with a number of his fellow prospects, he earned time with the big club, suiting up for 24 games with a six goal, seven assist and plus-2 stat line. Recently rewarded with a three-year one-way contract, his physical play, size and strength on the puck will be needed as Ottawa looks to improve next season and will expect him to play a significant role in this.

Mike Hoffman, C/LW, 21

The slick stick-handling Hoffman has undergone a challenging welcome to professional hockey this season stuck behind many prospects in the organizational depth chart. Although he recorded seven goals and 18 assists with Binghamton, his team worst minus-22 underlines the attention he needs for better defensive awareness and strength to win puck battles. The former QMJHL MVP has fared better in the playoffs potting a goal and eight assists in 13 games and an even plus/minus. While he’s yet to score at the frequency he’s been accustomed to, the Kitchener ON native does have a great shot and will need to come to camp stronger and make a determined effort to become a more complete player as he fights for an expanded role in Binghamton next season.

Jim O’Brien, C, 22

It has taken some time for their first round pick in 2007 to develop but this season has seen him begin to realize his potential as a complete power-forward tripling his goal output to 24 while adding 32 helpers and a stellar plus-17. The 6’2 200-pound center has taken on the checking duties on their opposition’s top line in the playoffs chipping in two goals and three assists along the way. His improved play garnered him a six game audition in Ottawa where he won 50 percent of his face-offs and was able to gauge where he was relative to the talent and the improvement required for him to take a step up to the next level. The training camp this fall will be hyper-competitive at the center position with much for O’Brien to gain with a strong showing.

Zack Smith, C, 23

Character, grit and tenacity are the attributes which Smith embodies and will keep him in the NHL. Ottawa recently signed him to a two-year one-way contract which means he is definitely in their plans for a roster spot next season. The 6’2 199-pound forward played 55 NHL games this year providing some much needed toughness as evidenced by his 120 PIM as well as four goals and five assists. A key contributor to the B-Sens playoff success, he’s totaled six goals and 11 assists including one hat-trick after a regular season in Binghamton which saw him score seven times and setup five more in 22 contests. Next season will be a good opportunity for him to make a bigger impact on the ice with additional responsibilities.

Roman Wick, RW, 25

Wick’s one-on-one skills set him above most of the other Sens prospects in that regard. What he needs to do is round out the rest of his game which showed considerable improvement over the course of this season. The 25 year-old Swiss native had an expected period of adjustment to begin with in the AHL and came on strong in the second half finishing with 20 goals, 22 assists and a solid plus-10. He’s shown signs of adding a physical element to his repertoire and received a brief seven game call-up to Ottawa late in the season. Wick has added three goals and five assist to the balanced scoring attack the B-Sens have exhibited in the playoffs. Signed to a one-year contract, his desire to play in the NHL will be a key as he and the organization will need to agree on a new contract with the likelihood of him continuing his development next season in Binghamton.

Derek Grant, C, 20

Signed to a three-year entry level contract after his sophomore season at Michigan State, this 6’3 190-pound center produced one goal and five assists in 14 games in Binghamton at the end of the season after leading the Spartans in scoring. The Abbotsford BC native suited up for the first round of the AHL playoffs against Manchester contributing a goal and an assist before the return of the Ottawa Senators call-ups squeezed him out of the lineup. Grant has demonstrated that he has a complete game and uses his size well to protect the puck. Next season should see him competing with fellow prospects Dziurzynski, Hoffman, Cannone and Wacey Hamilton along with veterans for ice time and roles with the B-Sens forwards.

Defensemen

Mark Borowiecki, D, 21

This Clarkson junior was recently signed to a two-year entry level contract as Ottawa continues to restock their farm system. The 21-year-old came off a three goal, 11 assist campaign in the ECAC where he captained the Golden Knights and led them in penalty minutes with 67. At a solid 6’1 and 198-pounds, this hard-nosed defensive defenseman brings leadership and competes on every shift making him very uncomfortable to play against. The Kanata, ON native has a good shot and can move the puck as well but it’s his tenacity that stands out. He’s been eased into the Binghamton lineup playing nine regular season games and has played a larger role in the Calder Cup playoffs chalking up two assists and a plus seven rating in 15 games. Borowiecki will continue his development next season with the B-Sens and it would not be a surprise if he received a call-up opportunity if he keeps up to his present level of play and the need arises.


Eric Gryba, D, 23

The toughness on the Binghamton blue line has been supplied by the 6’3 214-pound Gryba who has adjusted well to professional hockey over the course of this, his first season as a pro. The BU alumni still needs to improve his defensive zone coverage and work on his foot speed but has the ability to turn the tide of a game with his physical play. A willing fighter, his 133 PIM ranked him second on the squad and he managed to record three goals and four assists for good measure. Recently returned from a high-ankle sprain, his physical presence was welcomed in the series against the Charlotte Checkers where he also contributed an assist. He needs some more seasoning before he’s ready to compete for spot with the big club and filling the defensive role of one of the top tandems in Binghamton should be his goal for 2011-12.

Geoff Kinrade, D, 25

Kinrade has proven to be one of the mainstays on the B-Sens blue line this year and is the best skater of the group. The Nelson BC native moves the puck well, has excellent hockey sense and the ability to join the rush. The 25-year old produced six goals, 19 assists and a plus 12 in 78 AHL games and another goal and four assists in the playoffs to date. Although his has decent size, his strength specifically against bigger forwards, should improve. That said, he’s solid in his own zone and has worked hard to improve his defensive coverage. At this point he is caught in the numbers game and really needs the opportunity to have an expanded offensive role. He becomes a restricted free-agent this summer and the Sens will need to establish where he fits into their plans. Will they be confident that Kinrade can be one of their power-play point men next season in Binghamton or choose an alternate player?

Craig Schira, D, 23

Schira was one of three returnees to the B-Sens blue line from the previous campaign and while the 6′ 196-pound Spiritwood SK native has not matched his point production he has improved his decision-making and positioning turning into a plus player. The 23-year-old former Vancouver Giant was mentored by Andre Benoit for much of the season and posted a three goal, 10 assist, plus-six stat line adding one assist in seven playoff games. He has some offensive upside and a good first-pass. We can expect him to compete for playing time in Binghamton next season where he’ll need to improve his strength and skating to earn a promotion opportunity to the NHL.

Patrick Wiercioch, D, 20

Another first-year pro who’s had to endure some growing pains during his initial campaign, Wiercioch has come a long way and finished the season with four goals and 14 assists in 67 games. His improved play earned an eight game audition with Ottawa late in the season where he acquitted himself well with two assists and an even plus/minus. The lanky 6’4 192-pound blueliner will need to continue to get stronger and another year in Binghamton with added responsibility will go a long way to his long-term development. His skating skills and overall offensive ability are obvious; it’s the mental elements of his game, specifically his decision-making, which need improvement for him to progress further.

Goaltending

Robin Lehner, G, 19

Although this season has not gone exactly as planned for the Senators goalie of the future, he’s making the most of it with a quietly-impressive 10-8-2, 2.70 goals against average and .912 save percentage season in 22 regular season AHL games. The 19-year old Swede was expected to split the load in Binghamton and get in a few games with the big club. The excellent play of Barry Brust garnered him the starting job for most of the season while injuries and the unsettled goalie situation pressed the 6’3 220-pound Lehner into eight NHL games until Ottawa was able to acquire Craig Anderson. At times exposed for his over-aggressiveness in the NHL, he held his own for the most part with a 3.52 goals against average, a .888 save percentage and notching his first NHL win versus the Islanders in his first start. A confident goaltender with considerable skill, he has seized the B-Sens starting role during the Calder Cup playoffs with a sparkling 10-2 record, two shutouts, a .932 save percentage and a 2.41 goals against average. This hybrid goalie should only get better next season with the B-Sens starting role his to lose and the expectation he will see some NHL action again and target the 2012-13 campaign for a backup role in Ottawa.