Creative forwards dominate CHL prospect pool for Ottawa Senators

By John Henkelman
Photo: Stefan Noesen is one of two first round picks by the Senators currently plying their trade in the CHL. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

In sharp contrast to recent years, the Senators are now investing heavily in the CHL pipeline with eight prospects currently developing, including seven forwards. These potential NHLers offer a variety of attributes and will be looked upon to contribute at the professional level as early as next season with the reality one or two may be ready for the NHL the following season. The organization has diversified among the leagues with three prospects in each of the OHL and WHL and two working on their craft in the QMJHL.

OHL

Stefan Noesen, RW, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 1st round (21st overall) in 2011

The second of their three first-round picks in this summer’s draft, Noesen had a shoulder injury earlier in the season which contributed to his slow start but has really started to turn it on of late. An excellent skater, his aggressive style of play coupled with his high hockey IQ and good puck skills make him a handful for opposition defensemen. The Plano, TX native is fourth in Whaler scoring at this point in the season with six goals and 17 assists in 20 games. Noesen uses his 6’1 193-pound size effectively and will look to earn a roster spot as a power forward on the U.S. WJC team.

Still very raw at this point, he plays with a high energy level and he just needs to further refine his offensive play to take his game to the next level. The long-term future for him appears to be a top nine winger who can contribute in a multitude of ways. Ottawa will closely monitor his development over the remainder of junior hockey career.

Shane Prince, LW, Ottawa 67’s
Acquired: 2nd round (61st overall) in 2011

Adding to the mix of talented forwards in the Senators organization, the 5’11 185-pound silky-smooth left winger has continued to build on his impressive showing at the Senators development and training camps. Playing on the 67’s top line, he has 11 goals and 18 assists in just 18 games and has already earned OHL player of the week honors in late October. Sidelined early in the season with a shoulder injury his offensive instincts will likely garner him a position on the U.S. team at the WJC. Increasing his strength will go a long way in his development and coupled with his skating and high-skill level would make him demon in the offensive zone.

The N.Y. native has shown the determination necessary to succeed and should push for a scoring role with Binghamton next season. He continues to impress the Senators organization with skill level and ability to find chemistry with his line-mates and create offense.

Matt Puempel, LW, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 1st round (24th overall) in 2011

A true scorer, Puempel has the natural ability to find the back of the net and currently leads the Petes in goal scoring with 15 goals. The 6′ 190-pound winger’s 26 points are tops on his team and he’s at a solid plus-six rating, playing in all situations. His play-making is underrated and is derived from his ability to see the play develop and anticipate where the holes in the defense will be. Puempel dressed for one game with the OHL squad in the Subway Super Series and finished with a minus-three rating and two penalty minutes while being held off the score sheet. Team Canada is expecting him to compete for a spot on their WJC roster next month in Alberta.

With the proper development, the Essex, ON native could turn out to be one of the top NHL scoring prospects from the draft this past summer. The Senators will look for him to continue to raise his intensity level while adding muscle and working on his foot speed over the course of the next couple of seasons as he readies himself for his professional career.


WHL

Jordan Fransoo, D, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 7th round (186th overall) in 2011

A defenseman with size who does a little bit of everything, Fransoo is an extremely good skater with four assists and 16 penalty minutes in Brandon’s first 24 games. Along with teammate Stone, the 6’2 Saskatchewan native suited up for the WHL in the Subway Super Series and had an even plus/minus rating versus the Russian Selects. The Senators realize he’s a raw prospect who will develop slowly and fill out in order to become the feared physical defensive presence they envision. There is a lot to like about Fransoo, who plays a pivotal role in the Wheat Kings’ blue line as part of their shutdown pairing, including his work ethic, competitiveness and willingness to drop the gloves.

Quietly going about his business, he’s a great kid who will need to work on honing his skills over the remainder of his junior hockey career. He’ll need to build on his first NHL training camp experience and work on playing a solid game in his own zone while looking to contribute offensively. The long-term prospects for the Saskatchewan native are that of a mobile defensive defenseman.

Darren Kramer, LW, Spokane Chiefs
Acquired: 6th round (156th overall) in 2011

The Senators added some toughness to the organization when they chose the 6’2 196-pound left winger from the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs in the most recent NHL draft. The hard-working 20-year old was named the Chiefs’ team captain and has nine fights and 61 penalty minutes this season to date after leading junior hockey last season with 47 fights and 306 penalty minutes. There is more to his game than just pugilism; he’s the consummate leader and is demonstrating he can show up on the stat sheet in the scoring column as well, with nine goals and six assists in 17 games to begin this campaign. His determined play has endeared him to his coaches, teammates and fans.

Kramer will work on further rounding out his game this season after coming away from the Ottawa training camp with a clear message to work on his puck skills, skating and positioning. With improvement in his overall game, he’ll target a spot on the Binghamton roster next season and look to potentially fill a role similar to Chris Neil in the future.

Mark Stone, RW, Brandon Wheat Kings
Acquired: 6th round (178th overall) in 2010

The strapping 6’3 200-pound Stone is continuing to build on his impressive resume this season as he currently leads the WHL scoring race with 55 points, including 23 goals, and a plus-23 rating in 26 games so far this season. Named WHL and CHL player of the week in early October the Wheat Kings’ captain had a goal and an assist and was named the WHL Player of the Game in a 7-5 loss to the Russian Selects in the recent Subway Super Series. The 19-year old power winger is expected to represent Canada at the WJC next month in Alberta. Size, soft hands, and a driven work ethic contribute to his success as he consistently provides offense by getting to scoring areas and making things happen.

Stone has noticeably improved his skating over the summer working with the Senators skating coach. In Brandon he’s been given ice time in all situations and is turning into a complete player. Long-term he projects as a potential second or third line NHL winger with the ability to score and play various roles.

QMJHL

Jakub Culek, LW, Rimouski Océanic
Acquired: 3rd round (76th overall) in 2010

After a forgettable sophomore season in Rimouski, the lanky forward has begun the current campaign with five goals, 11 assists, 21 penalty minutes and a plus-six rating. With good speed, excellent puck skills, a 6’4 195-pound frame and strong two-way play the talent is there, he just has to put it all together. There are some areas of his game he needs to address which include adding strength and increasing his mobility. Culek has shown a willingness to fight when need be but has to work on making better us of his size along the boards and front of the net. He should get an opportunity to audition his skills again with the Czech Republic entry at the WJC where he will look to find the chemistry with his teammates which eluded him at last year’s tournament.

The remainder of this season will determine whether he remains a Senator prospect and is offered a contract by the organization. At this point he’s more suspect than prospect but the makings are still there for him to be a physical play-making forward who can be effective at both ends of the ice.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 4th round (96th overall) in 2011

Pageau has gotten off to a great start this season with 18 goals and 31 points in just 17 games to date with the Olympiques. Named their team captain, he continues to put his excellent skating, great work ethic and anticipation on display. The native of Ottawa may not impress many with his 5’6 164-pound size, but his ultra-polished puck skills and highly-competitive spirit more than make up for it. The speedy center played both games for the QMJHL in the Subway Super Series setting up one goal and finishing with an even rating. Unfortunately he’s now expected out for a month with a broken finger sustained recently, which may curtail his WJC Team Canada aspirations.

The future is bright for this junior star who offers a dynamic two-way game, leadership, and the ability to come through under pressure. The Senators front office has praised Pageau for his superior hockey sense. The organization will be very interested to see how his game translates to the professional level next season.