The Ottawa Senators loaded its AHL affiliate up for bear during the offseason, but the extra help hasn’t translated over to the standings. Now, the Binghamton squad tries to get its season—and its players—back on track.
Several important prospects graduated to Binghamton last summer, and the organization spent a bundle to create a winning atmosphere for its youngsters. Free-agent forwards Eric O’Dell and Zack Stortini were signed, as were defencemen Mark Fraser and Michael Kostka—all with two-way contracts that pay them hefty AHL salaries. The team also paid Cole Schneider a generous sum to keep him on board and added Colin Greening, who is playing out the final season on his disastrous one-way NHL contract.
Those six players alone add up to a tune of $3.6 million—far too much for what has been one of the worst teams in the AHL. It got to the point where Ottawa Head Coach Dave Cameron didn’t want to call a player up from the team during a bout of injuries, simply because he didn’t feel anyone particularly deserved it.
Not all is lost, however. Since December 19th, the team has gone on an 11-7 run. Although that hasn’t been enough to get the team out of last place in the Eastern Conference, many of the team’s younger players are salvaging their season after looking somewhat lost in the first half.
The Senators have had high hopes for Claesson since he tallied 29 points and a plus-37 rating in 2012-13, but his development has flatlined. He has not adjusted to his role as Binghamton’s most relied-upon defencemen well, and has a dismal minus-9 rating. He was called up to the Senators out of necessity in January, but was quickly returned after failing to have an impact.
Ryan Dzingel, LW
Dzingel has produced points at every level of hockey thus far, and he has shown that he can be relied upon to do so in the AHL as well. His 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) are two better than the 34 he had last season, and his one-game call-up to Ottawa shows that the big club has noticed. Still, the NHL Sens are hungry for two-way players at the moment—so others have had longer looks.
Travis Ewanyk could grow into an effective shutdown center, but he has struggled to get the job done in Binghamton. It would take quite the shakedown in Ottawa for Ewanyk to make the team anytime soon. He’s been a physical presence, but is a minus-player nevertheless. His 69 penalty minutes are characterized by poor decisions—not intimidation.
Tobias Lindberg, RW
Tobias Lindberg has played well throughout the season, despite the team’s poor play and shuffling lines. His plus-10 rating is a team-best, and he has 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists) in 31 games, which is solid production for a 20-year-old rookie. Much of Binghamton’s recent hot streak can be attributed to his line with Schneider and Nick Paul—with Lindberg as the mastermind. He is a creative player with smooth feet and a wicked blast.
McCormick has quickly become one of Ottawa’s favourite call-ups, due to his ability to play well in a bottom-six role. Although his offensive statistics haven’t bloomed in Binghamton, he has continued to provide plenty enough jam as a fourth-line checker to keep the play pinned to the other end. He has 12 points in 24 games.
Nick Paul, C
Like the rest of the team, Paul had trouble registering shots—and therefore, goals—in the first half of the season. Since he was joined by Schneider and Lindberg, he has quickly increased his output. He now has 16 points in 42 games, with nine of those points coming in his last fourteen. He needs to keep rolling down the stretch and build on his confidence level.
Matt Puempel, LW
Fortunately for Binghamton, It’s the same old thing for Puempel this season; his 24 points in 29 games is approximate to his production in the past. As tough as this season has been for the team, Puempel is one of four or five players who have kept the team in games. He is also one of the only players who has managed to shoot the puck with much consistency. He hasn’t played well enough in the NHL to force the team to keep him there, but nevertheless, this should be his last season in the AHL.
Buddy Robinson, RW
Robinson’s big 6-foot-5 frame doesn’t move quickly enough to keep up with his top-line contemporaries (Dzingel and O’Dell), but when he does get in front of the net, he can be a pain. The former Jr. A forward seems to have reached his ceiling as a guy who can score about 15 goals as a minor leaguer, but if he gets called up to the big club, it won’t be to score goals. Like McCormick, he could become a dependable fourth-line grinder.
Michael Sdao, D
Sdao has been unspectacular, but he has gotten the job done. He has fulfilled his promise as a seventh-rounder, but there are too many players ahead of him on the depth chart for him to get a shot in the NHL. Sdao will graduate from Hockey’s Future’s prospect criteria in a few months.
Driedger started well, but the steady onslaught of shots against him have inflated his numbers over time. Still, he has managed to post a .500-plus record on a sub-.500 team. He is 11-10-0, with a 3.08 goals-against and .928 save percentage. Greenham is getting the nod during this hot streak, but when he cools off, Drieder should return to starting duties.
Matt O’Connor’s first season has been full of challenges. With an .883 save percentage, he isn’t stopping enough rubber to give a good team a chance to win, let alone a bad one. Still, many of the shots against him have been high percentage ones, so the Senators have to hold their skaters accountable for not protecting O’Connor with more consistency. The rookie netminder has just three wins.
Ben Harpur, D
Harpur was given every chance to succeed in the AHL, but after failing to have a positive impact—and building a team-worst minus-13 rating—Harpur has been assigned to the Evansville Icemen. He has lacked the decision-making ability to take advantage of his relatively good speed (Harpur is 6-foot-6, 214 pounds), and has coughed up the puck generously. He needs more conditioning, but once he falls into step, could be a monster.
Vincent Dunn, LW
Super-pest Vincent Dunn failed to earn a spot in Binghamton this fall. He responded by showing that he is more than just an agitator, scoring 20 points in 34 games with the Icemen. Unfortunately, he is still making poor decisions. He was suspended for a game on Jan. 16 after instigating a fight in the final five minutes of regulation against Toledo the day before. As one of the team’s leading scorers, he needs to be edgy enough to make a difference while staying out of the pressbox.
Alex Guptill, LW
Guptill started the season with the Evansville Icemen. After putting up 13 points in 24 games, he was reassigned to the Manchester Monarchs, where he has five points in six. He had three tests in Binghamton, but he didn’t do enough to gain favour with Head Coach Luke Richardson—and you have to start wondering if Guptill ever will.
Rutkowski is having a good year in Evansville, and he has shown real progress over last season. Once the herd of defencemen in Binghamton is thinned out a bit, Rutkowski could stick—but that won’t be until next season. He has 19 points in 32 games.
World Junior Championships Update
The Senators had five players in the World Junior Championships this year, a few of them in large roles. The most successful of them was standout NCAA centre Colin White, who scored seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in seven games as an alternate captain for Team USA. They went on to defeat Sweden 8-3 in the bronze medal game. Defenceman Andreas Englund was the captain of that Swedish team. Although he isn’t much of a scorer, he was a dominant physical presence throughout the tournament.
Christian Jaros captained the Slovakians, but despite his two points, the team was unable to gain any traction in the tournament. Ditto to Canada, who lost in the quarterfinals to Finland. Canada surprised everyone when it named Thomas Chabot to the team as a first-pairing defender, despite him being a year younger than many in camp. He finished with three assists. Finally, Filip Chlapik joined the Czech Republic, but failed to register a point.
Player of the Month: Francis Perron
Fourth-year Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Francis Perron has slowed down since he started the season by scoring two points per game through November, but he is still out-producing every other Senators prospect, save for perhaps Colin White (Boston College). In January, he had 14 points in 11 games (6 goals, 8 assists). His 75 points are one shy of the 76 he had last season, and he already has more goals (31, as opposed to 29).
Perron may not have the size that teams often yearn for (165 lbs), but when you look at the success guys like Mike Hoffman and Patrick Kane are having this year, it may not be much of an obstacle after all. He will move up on the team’s top 20 list this month.
Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras