Ottawa Senators Depth Analysis, Fall 2011

By John Henkelman
Photo: Tenacious forward Stefan Noesen brings a blend of grit and skill to the Sens organization. (Photo courtesy of Ken Mckenna/HF)

It goes without saying the rebuild of the Senators is well underway. Just two seasons removed from a 94-point season and a playoff appearance, the organization underachieved drastically last season, resulting in many veterans moved out in return for draft picks. The additional draft picks coupled with aggressively signing amateur free agents over the last few seasons have enabled the club to have a wealth of talented prospects. General Manager Bryan Murray and his staff have made mostly favorable personnel decisions and have a solid track record of identifying good prospects with their drafts producing consistently well results.

Future Senators are spread around various leagues with prospects playing at the NHL, AHL, CHL, NCAA and SEL levels. The approach to diversify where their talent pool is developing has served the organization well especially with the urgency to infuse young players into roles sooner than they had previously. The club had tended to let players develop fully in the junior, college, European, and minor pro leagues. More recently players such as Robin Lehner, Patrick Wiercioch, Derek Grant, and Mark Borowiecki were signed and brought into the AHL fold to develop with amateur eligibility still remaining. The organization expanded its breadth of prospects from the OHL to complement their young talent in the QMJHL, WHL, NCAA, and the Swedish leagues. Other than Sweden, which has been a traditional focus of club, the Senators have not dipped into the other European countries under the Murray regime.

Left Wing

Left wing has tended to be a position of weakness in the Sens organization, often made up of converted centers, but that has changed thanks to some new additions on draft day this summer.

Ottawa traded two second round picks to the Red Wings for their 2011 first round pick, the 24th overall, and were able to chose Matt Puempel, arguably one of the top pure goal scorers available among the crop of draft-eligible prospects. The Peterborough Pete star has a great shot, underrated passing skills and an innate ability to create offense. Coming back from off-season hip surgery he’s started out this OHL season strong and will need to work on his skating and strength in order to gain a spot with the Team Canada WJC squad and eventually progress to the professional ranks in the future.

Another new addition to the organization is the speedy Shane Prince, their second round pick from the past draft, who is an excellent play-maker and will look to build on his success from his most recent OHL season with the Ottawa 67′s. The onus will be on him to continue the fine form he had last season and during training camp with the Senators and demonstrate he’s working on becoming a more complete player. Prince will target making the Team USA edition for the WJC this winter and look to make the jump to the AHL next season.

Nikita Filatov was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a third-round pick at the draft and could flourish in a his new environment. Already embarking upon his fourth professional season at the tender age of 22, the talented winger has found it a challenge to produce the offensive numbers expected of him and earn a permanent scoring line roster spot in the NHL. What Filatov brings is an exceptional package of puck skills, skating, intensity and an extra gear. What he’s lacking is strength and with it the willingness to fight through traffic into better scoring areas. Expected to spend some time in Binghamton, he could very well commit to doing what it takes to play at the highest level and establish himself as a legitimate scoring threat with Ottawa.

Binghamton has a full complement of port siders led by Kaspars Daugavins who has shown consistent progression since being drafted by the Senators in the third-round back in the 2006 draft. The solidly-built Latvian can skate, handle the puck and plays inspired hockey at both ends of the ice. Excellent at feeding his teammates, he’s taken steps to shoot more based on encouragement from the organization. Re-signed a one-year contract this off-season, he’s looking for an opportunity to show-case his talent at the next level and should be one of the first left wing call-ups. It remains to be seen whether his ceiling is that of a second or third line NHLer or tops out as a good AHL player.

First-year Baby Sens Andre Petersson and Wacey Hamilton offer contrasting styles although both their games are predicated on speed. Petersson, a fourth-round pick in 2008, plays on the perimeter with his high-end puck skills and will need to add strength and consistency while rounding out his game. On the other hand, the undrafted Hamilton plays with intensity, grit, and has a great work ethic but will need to get stronger and prove he can continue to play his hard-edged style against professional competition.

Free-agent signee David Dziurdzynski and 2009 sixth round draft pick Corey Cowick return to Binghamton for their second campaign, looking to take the next step up in their development. Dziurdzynski offers an intriguing package of size, soft hands and toughness with limited experience while Cowick will look to build on a solid training camp after a tough adjustment to professional hockey last season.

Maxime Gratchev returns to the organization to provide depth after a season with Cherepovets in the KHL. He’ll play in Elmira for the most part, contributing in Binghamton as required.

Notre Dame’s Jeff Costello, OSU’s Max McCormick, and Brad Peltz at Yale are draft picks now playing in the NCAA who are still a few years away from making an impact with the organization.

Darren Kramer is an intriguing 6’2 196-pound prospect playing his overage year with the Spokane Chiefs. Kramer brings a unique combination of physicality, two-way play, and leadership. He sits second on his team in scoring this season and could potentially fill the role Chris Neil currently plays with Ottawa.

Center

Long starved for talent at center, the Senators took steps to add both skill and depth. Seven of their top ten prospects at this position are now in the professional ranks and that doesn’t even include prized center Mika Zibanejad, who suited up for nine games with Ottawa to begin the season before being returned to Djurgården IF. The organization will need some of these players to emerge and become justifiable NHL caliber in order to get the Senators headed back in the right direction in the standings.

Their top choice in this summer’s draft, Zibanejad has done nothing but impress both on and off the ice. Along with his considerable skill and size, he brings a refreshing attitude which rubs off on his teammates. His drive to improve and become the best he can be will likely see him back in the NHL next season. At this point he really needs ice time to work on the finer points of his game such as sharpening his scoring area skills and taking full advantage of his physical style. In-game competition with quality minutes in the SEL should go further in his development than the roughly 13 minutes a game he was receiving in Ottawa. The future looks very good for this Swede who’s already signed and appears ready to play a large role in the organization’s forward progression.

A couple of new forwards made the Ottawa roster as was expected they would including 6’3 Colin Greening who was signed to a new three-year deal after his impressive inaugural pro season. After beginning last season playing left wing on Binghamton’s top scoring line, the Cornell grad made the most of his promotion to Ottawa at the trade deadline and established himself as a dependable player. Greening demonstrated his versatility with good play at center and the left wing with a number of linemates in both scoring and checking roles. A mature individual, he’ll likely settle into a role manning the wing on the second or third line and continue to make his living working the boards and corners effectively.

The fact that Stephane Da Costa made the Senators opening roster should come as no surprise to those who witnessed his deft puck play in pre-season and training camp. The free-agent signee from Merrimack College brings excellent offensive instincts to the organization and should provide scoring from the second line. The biggest question is whether he can overcome his limited size and speed with his quickness and anticipation. So far he’s managed three goals in the first 13 NHL contests this season.

Now into his third pro season, Jim O’Brien has improved considerably and is rounding into the power forward the organization envisioned when they originally drafted him. A straight-line player with a limited offensive potential at the next level, he plays an honest game and uses his intelligence, 6’2 size and strength at maximum effort. He’s looking to parlay another good season with Binghamton into a legitimate opportunity with the big club.

A college free-agent signing that didn’t get the same attention as Da Costa’s could turn out very well for the Senators and the player, one Pat Cannone. The 25-year old completed an outstanding college career at Miami U (OH), where he totaled 133 points over the course of four seasons, and was able to get into a couple of games with Binghamton before becoming one of their Black Aces during the Calder Cup playoffs. A solid two-way player, he’s proven to be durable and has some good offensive upside as evidenced by his six points in nine AHL games this season to date.

There a lot to like about Derek Grant, who was persuaded to sign with the Senators after his sophomore season at Michigan State. He’s been a coach’s favorite on his teams throughout his career, shown the ability to use his size effectively and contributes at both ends of the ice. Grant continues to demonstrate good hands and positioning while playing in all situations. Likely still a season or two away from making a run at the Ottawa roster, he had a good training camp and handled himself well against NHL players.

Offensively-gifted Mike Hoffman is looking to build on the momentum he had from the Binghamton championship playoff run. A great stick-handler with a deadly shot, he was buried on the depth chart for much of last season and when he did get opportunities was often found on the wrong end of the plus minus ratings. While some attention to improving his defensive play is required, there is no denying his natural ability to deliver on the score sheet and he’s had a much better start to his second AHL season.

First-year pro Louie Caporusso, Ottawa’s third-round pick in 2007 draft, will need to adjust to the size and pace of the pro game. After a stellar college career as one of the leading scorers at Michigan, he’s caught in the numbers game and will need to push his quickness, scoring ability and determination to the limit in order to move up from Elmira to Binghamton.

Jakob Silfverberg was signed to a three-year entry level contract this off-season and there was speculation he would come over to North America. The 21-year old Swede indicated his plan was to play one more season with Brynäs IF in the SEL to further develop physically and mentally. He’s a strong skater, a sound two-way player and working to improve his offensive skill-set where he currently sits tied for second in club scoring.

The development of Jakub Culek has not gone exactly as expected to date for the Senators third-round draft choice in 2010. 6’4 and with good playmaking ability, he simply has not produced as expected with the Rimouski Oceanic and will need considerable improvement of his skating to play professionally. Now into his third season playing in the QMJHL, he has a long way to go to becoming an offensive center with six points in his first 13 games this season.

Another prospect playing in the QMJHL is the Gatineau Olympiques’ diminutive Jean-Gabriel Pageau who was chosen in the fourth round of the 2011. The speed, puck-skills and competiveness are there, he’ll just need to overcome his challenged size and strength as he moves to professional hockey next season.

2011 seventh round draft pick Ryan Dzingel is beginning his freshman season at OSU off in the right direction with seven points in the first seven games placing him second in team scoring. He’s expected to continue to develop in the CCHA and will try to follow the track to success of some of the previous Senators seventh round picks.

Right Wing

The Senators have an interesting mix of prospects on the right wing with two players signed to one-way contracts and looking to build on their previous NHL season.

With half an NHL season under his belt, Bobby Butler is looking to further define his role within the organization this season as a winger on one of the top two scoring lines. A natural goal scorer with a lethal shot, he brings speed, skill, good playmaking ability along with an innate feel for getting himself open in high-percentage scoring spots. Butler would help himself considerably by getting stronger and will look to improve on his 21 points in 36 games he dressed for Ottawa last season.

Erik Condra will get the opportunity to showcase his talent at the NHL level again this season. Another player who impressed after his promotion at the trade deadline last season, he’ll be counted on to add to his point total of last season. The speedy winger is able to consistently blend his game with new linemates and makes use of his exceptional hockey sense, impressive playmaking ability and strong board play to create scoring opportunities.

Fresh off a break-out season in the WHL, Mark Stone had a very good training camp and pre-season with the Senators and was signed to an entry-level contract. The 6’3 200-pound Stone has continued his stellar play with Brandon this season and is erasing doubts that his skating will hold him back from excelling at the next level. He provides leadership, toughness, good hands and determination and will expect to play in Binghamton next season.

Adding raw skill, tenacity and speed to the organization, 2011 first-round pick Stefan Noesen will continue to develop in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers. His keys for improvement are mental toughness and polishing his offensive game. He’ll look to gain a forward spot on the USA entry at the WJC which will offer him the opportunity to test his competitiveness and measure his current talent level versus the best junior aged players.

2010 fourth-round pick Marcus Sorensen, the speedy, diminutive forward, plays with Skellefteå, though mostly with the J20 SuperElit. He will need a couple of more seasons to grow and round out his game before a move to North America is considered.

The Roman Wick experiment may be over for now. After improving noticeably over the course of the past season in Binghamton, the Swiss native has signed with Kloten and returned to the Swiss A league club for the current season. Their fifth round pick in 2004 had been given a seven game audition with Ottawa at the end of last season to showcase his excellent one-on-one ability and outstanding offensive skills but was not able to properly adjust his game to the physical style of play.

Defense

The emergence of the young defense corps in Ottawa represents a major component needed to get back to winning hockey. As a group, they offer good puck-moving skills, defensive shutdown ability and physical presence. Some of their top prospects are already getting their feet wet in the NHL this season while their second tier group are honing their skills with Binghamton and will be pushing for roster spots with Ottawa in the coming seasons.

Smooth-skating David Rundblad brings his high-end offensive skills to North America this season and has made the Ottawa roster out of training camp contributing three assists in his first 11 NHL contests. He has excellent passing skills, good stick-handling ability and natural offensive instincts. Areas he will need to improve are defensive positioning and overall strength. The Senators could have a dynamic one-two punch from the back-line with Rundblad and fellow Swede Erik Karlsson.

After nearly making the big club last season, Jared Cowen has won a spot and dressed for all 13 games so far. Poised beyond his years and with excellent mobility for his 6’5 220-pound size, he’ll be counted on to patrol the Ottawa blue line for the foreseeable future. Cowen has potential shut-down capabilities, is a willing hitter and will work on making life miserable for opposition forwards. A defensive defenseman at this point, he has good skating and puck-handling skills which could manifest consistently on the scoreboard in time.

Looking to improve on a challenging first season in professional hockey with Binghamton is Patrick Wiercioch. The 6’4 192-pound two-way defenseman turned pro after his sophomore season at Denver and improved gradually over the course of the season learning to use his puck skills and size to his advantage. Wiercioch will be given the opportunity to play the power-play point this season and play major minutes in all situations. He’ll need some more seasoning and has to work on his strength and skating to have success on the next level.

Mark Borowiecki has made a good impression with the organization in a short period of time. Signed to a pro contract after his junior season at Clarkson, the tough, smart defender became a regular on the Binghamton backline for their AHL playoff run. In addition to his solid defensive play, he makes good decisions with the puck and has leadership qualities which could land him an NHL role as a third-pairing defenseman in the future.

Another developing defensive defenseman is fan and team favourite Eric Gryba, the Baby Sens rookie of the year last season. Originally a third-round pick of the Senators back in 2006, the 6’3 214-pound BU alumni has size, tenacity and leadership working for him. Improvements in skating, lower-body strength and agility would enable him to move to the next level.

Now a third-year Baby Sen, Craig Schira has decent passing skills and puck-handling ability but will need to make advances in his skating and strength to keep from getting passed by the next wave of defensemen expected to graduate to the pro ranks next season.

Josh Godfrey, a former second round pick of the Washington Capitals, and Bob Raymond are depth defenseman who have some offensive upside and will likely spend time in Binghamton and Elmira this season.

A quartet of Senators draft choices which include Chris Wideman, Ben Blood, Bryce Aneloski and Michael Sdao are continuing their development as US collegians this season. Wideman and Aneloski are offensive puck-movers while Blood and Sdao are known for their size and toughness.

Fredrik Claesson and Jordan Fransoo are two 2011 draftees currently playing in the SEL and WHL respectively who are still a few years away from impacting the organization.

Goaltending

The Senators have an excellent prospect in Robin Lehner getting closer to a full-time position in the NHL. Depth after him is a necessity as there are current no draft picks or other signees in their system.

Last season was a success for the 6’3 220-pound Swedish netminder. The organization chose to have him play at the AHL level rather than return to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL with the plan for him to at least share starts to further his game. A butterfly goalie with great quickness has impressive lateral mobility, he made the most of his opportunity and led the Baby Sens to the league championship with some outstanding clutch goaltending. He’s a confident individual who plays angles well and challenges shooters but will need to become more consistent tracking the puck and improve his rebound control. Lehner has also been praised for possessing an even keel, particularly for a goaltender. The Senators will prefer to ease him into their NHL lineup occasionally this season with an eye on a permanent promotion next year provided he proves he’s ready.

Related Articles