Ottawa doesn’t have any prospects in the OHL or WHL right now, which is probably why the system is underestimated so often. The team’s biggest stories and best players are all found in the QMJHL, NCAA, and SHL.
Three Ottawa Senators—Quentin Shore, Christian Wolanin, and Colin White—made an appearance at the Frozen Four, while Gabriel Gagne and Francis Perron faced off at the QMJHL finals. Perron went on to play in the Memorial Cup championship game.
At the World Junior Championships, several Senators prospects took on leadership positions. Andreas Englund captained Sweden, Christian Jaros led Slovakia, and Colin White was an alternate for Team U.S.A. Although Thomas Chabot wasn’t given a letter, he was a team leader on the top defensive pairing.
Hardest Worker: Andreas Englund, D, Djurgardens (SHL)
When the Ottawa Senators drafted Andreas Englund 40th overall in 2014, team brass cited attributes like leadership and work ethic, and with good cause. Two years later, Andreas Englund is one of the best defensive defensemen not playing in North America. Sweden named him the captain of their U20 team at the World Junior Championships, hoping that his relentless spirit would rub off on his teammates. The team failed to medal, but Englund was a defensive stalwart. He was also an alternate for Djurgardens in the SHL, where he had his best season yet.
Hardest Shot: Ben Harpur, D, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Although Harpur isn’t necessarily known as a shooter, he wins this by default. The Senators have a fair number of offensive weapons, but none of them have a particularly blistering shot. Harpur can fire it pretty hard though, and as he ages and fills out, his shot will grow fearsome.
Best Defensive Prospect: Thomas Chabot, D, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
A quick, two-way defenseman, Thomas Chabot had a tremendous year and easily justified his 2015 draft position at 18th overall. He enjoyed a position on Team Canada’s top pairing at the World Junior Championships, and was particularly effective during the playoffs for Saint John, scoring 21 points in 17 games. If he returns to the Sea Dogs next season he will be a force, but he may have instead earned himself an extended look in Ottawa this fall.
Fastest Skater: Miles Gendron, D, University of Connecticut (Hockey East)
Miles Gendron may not be the best defensive prospect in Ottawa’s system, but he may be the fastest. That’s a heavy statement, considering that the Senators also have Chabot. Gendron will have to fine-tune other aspects of his game and gain some weight in order to have a future in the NHL, but for now, he is a raw boom-bust talent who could improve drastically, since he actually grew up playing forward.
Prospect of the Year: Francis Perron, LW/C, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Francis Perron might not be the best prospect in Ottawa’s system, but he deserves recognition for a tremendous season. A small forward with average foot speed, Perron is all hands and instincts. He had 108 points in 62 regular season games, and he led the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to its first-ever QMJHL championship with 33 points in 18 playoff games. The Huskies advanced to the Memorial Cup finals, losing by just a goal to the star-studded London Knights.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Colin White, C, Boston College (Hockey East)
Colin White has a bright future both with the Senators, and with the U.S. National Team. When the Senators selected him at 21st overall last June, many of the team’s fans had no idea who White was. They do now. Many already speculate that if the draft was redone, White could go much higher. He made a seamless transition from the U.S. National Team Development Program to the NCAA, scoring 43 points in 37 games for Boston College (Hockey East). He also won a gold medal as an alternate captain at the World Junior Championships, where he had three goals and four assists.
Most Improved Prospect: Ryan Dzingel, LW, Ottawa Senators (NHL)
When Dzingel joined Binghamton a year ago, he was undisciplined and didn’t play to his strengths nearly often enough. Still, he was no slouch, with 34 points in 66 games. Although his improvement this season may seem subtle (36 points), he played 22 fewer games in Bingo due to a promotion to the NHL. Dzingel was often pushed around in Binghamton last season, and was prone to frustration penalties. This season, he started using his speed to play a more effective north-south style, and used his speed to protect the puck and become a solid possession player. That’s why Ottawa called him up, and that’s why he had success when he got there. He could start the year with the big club this fall.
Overachiever: Max McCormick, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Max McCormick might not have the offensive potential of Dzingel, but he is a stubborn competitor who is highly valued by the club. His 20 games in Ottawa this season were a surprise to all, and although his call-ups resulted from injuries he was one of the team’s best possession players. He continued to make headway offensively as well, improving by 10 points in Binghamton despite participating in fewer contests.
Underachiever: Mikael Wikstrand, D, Farjestad (SHL)
Mikael Wikstrand may have had a good reason to stay in Sweden this season, but the fact remains that he has never been to keen on playing hockey in Binghamton. Wikstrand left Ottawa in the middle of training camp without letting them know, causing the team to suspend him indefinitely. It was later revealed that his brother was sick with leukemia, but the Senators refused to lift his suspension due to the circumstances of his departure. Wikstrand made his intentions clear recently when he signed a four-year contract with Farjestad. The Senators retain his rights, but the perception is that he is turning his back on what would have become a lucrative NHL career.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Gabriel Gagne, RW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Given that the Senators are unlikely to re-sign Alex Chiasson this summer, many are turning a nervous eye toward Gabriel Gagne, who could either be the team’s next underachieving beanpole or a dominant scoring star. Gagne failed to win any followers this season, with just 28 points in 34 games—mediocre production for a player of his potential. However, most insiders attribute his play (which was nevertheless terrific at times) to an early-season injury during Ottawa training camp and a mid-season trade. He looked much more effective during the playoffs, scoring 11 goals (22 points) for the Cataractes during their run to the QMJHL finals.
Follow Kris Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras