Ottawa continues to mine Europe and NCAA for talent

By John Henkelman
Photo: Defenseman Ben Blood is one of several NCAA prospects the Senators have signed over the past few weeks to an entry-level deal. (Photo courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)

The Ottawa Senators continue to make extensive use of the NCAA and SEL to develop their young talent. This past season four of their prospects suited up in the top Swedish league and two of their blue chippers – Mike Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg – should push for roster spots in Ottawa next season.

NCAA players Ben Blood, Cole Schneider, and Chris Wideman have already signed entry-level contracts and are embarking on their professional careers with the Binghamton Senators after they recently completed their college seasons (and careers). In total the Senators had nine of their prospects playing in the US College ranks during the 2011-12. The remaining European and college prospects are likely more potential depth players at this point with the organization looking to unearth the next Colin Greening, Erik Condra, or Daniel Alfredsson.

Europe

Fredrik Claesson, D, Djurgardens IF Stockholm (SEL)
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2011

The first blueliner chosen by the Senators in the 2011 draft, Claesson brings a solid, stay at home defensive skillset to the organization. A regular on the Djurgarden IF blue line as a junior-aged player, he's contributed a respectable one goal and six assists in 47 regular season SEL games where he placed second on his squad with a plus eight rating. Along with teammate Zibanejad he tasted gold at the WJC with his Swedish countrymen. The Senators will look for him to work on his puck-handling and improve his offense as he continues on his development path. Another season with Djurgården with increased responsibility would likely benefit him the most in the long-term.

Jakob Silfverberg, LW/RW, Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2009

The Golden Helmet award winner as the MVP of the SEL this season, Silfverberg created some controversy last fall when he spurned the Senators intentions to have him play in North America and instead got the organization to agree to return him to Brynäs IF on loan. The talented two-way winger not only led his club in scoring but finished second overall in the league with 54 points, including 24 goals in the regular season. The reason Silfverberg wanted to invest one more season into developing in the SEL was his feeling that he needed to grow tougher both physically and mentally. Always commended for his attention to defense, strong skating and good hockey sense, his mature decision about his development looks increasingly better as time goes on. In 14 Eliteserien playoff games so far, Silfverberg has nine goals and seven assists.

Signed to a three-year entry level contract, the Senators will look for him to push for a roster spot next season with Ottawa.

Marcus Sorensen, RW, Boras HC (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 4th round, 106th overall, 2010

Sorensen signed a two-year contract with Skellefteå of the SEL in April 2011 and was loaned to Borås HC in the Allsvenskan (Swedish second division) where he was able to play in the top six instead of skating on the fourth line in Skellefteå. The swift skater with soft hands was able to put up eight goals and nine assists in 29 games with Borås coming off an injury-plagued 2010-11 season. The surprising statistic was the 55 penalty minutes which betray his 161 pound size but underline his willingness to play physically.

Simply put he has to get stronger and will look to make in impact in the SEL this coming campaign with his intense style of play. The Senators realized they had a long-term prospect on their hands when they drafted him and will need to come to a contract agreement this summer with Sorensen in order to retain him moving forward.

Mika Zibanejad, C, Djurgardens IF Stockholm (SEL)
Drafted 1st round, 6th overall, 2011

Their first of three Senators first round picks this past summer, expectations were high for Zibanejad and an outstanding training camp and pre-season where his offensive skill and intensity were displayed did nothing to dispel this. He began the season with Ottawa where after nine NHL games playing mostly on the bottom two lines, the organization decided to loan him to Djurgården IF. In the SEL he scored at a point every two games playing in a more defensive role this season. Physically mature at 6'2 201 pounds, he plays with a chip on his shoulder and with a high motor. His smooth passing skills, great shot and overall offensive arsenal should continue to improve as the quality of his line-mates do. A key member of the Swedish gold medal winning squad at the WJC, the Senators will expect him to continue his tenacious style of play with them next season in the NHL.

NCAA

Bryce Aneloski, D, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 196th overall, 2010

The two-way defenseman with good puck-moving skills led Nebraska-Omaha defensemen in scoring during his sophomore season with six goals and 14 assists. A power-play general with the ability to get his shot through from the point, Aneloski will return to the Mavericks for his junior season where he can work to further develop his offensive game while continuing to improve his skating and strength.

Ben Blood, D, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA)
Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, 2007

Finally signed to a two-year entry level contract after rebuffing the Senators in previous attempts, the 6'3 227-pound Blood has joined Binghamton for the tail end of their season. The big, physical defenseman raised his point production to 21 points for his senior season at North Dakota, finished second on the Fighting Sioux with 73 penalty minutes, and was named to the WCHA Third All-Star Team. His puck-handling and mobility have improved considerably and combined with his solid defensive zone coverage gives him a good opportunity to win a spot on the Baby Sens defensive corps next season.

Jeff Costello, LW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2009

The second-year Fighting Irish brings much-needed size and aggressiveness to the Senators prospect forward ranks. Costello is a hard-worker who uses his 6' 205 pound frame to his physical advantage by gaining position in the front of the net and controlling the boards. He managed five goals and seven assists in 28 games this season, though was sidelined twice with injuries and missed a fair amount of games as a result. He will look to improve on his production and continue to play with the temperament that allowed him to finish third in team penalty minutes despite suiting up for only 28 contests.

Ryan Dzingel, C, Ohio State Buckeyes (CCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2011

One of two Senators prospects to debut for OSU this season, Dzingel dazzled in his first year with the Buckeyes where he tied for the team scoring lead with 24 points. The talented playmaker's 17 assists led his squad and are a direct result of his on-ice vision and ability to create on the offensive end. He will need more seasoning and add strength to his 5'11 185 pound frame as he continues his collegiate career.

Max McCormick, LW, Ohio State Buckeyes (CCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 171st overall, 2011

McCormick was named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team after a 22 point season which placed him tied for third in Buckeye scoring despite missing some games to injury. A solid two-way player with a high hockey IQ, the Wisconsin native will look to build on his freshman totals while adding strength and working on his offensive array of skills. An aggressive player, he displayed good discipline this past season garnering only 31 penalty minutes.

Brad Peltz, LW, Yale Bulldogs (ECAC)
Drafted seventh round, 190th overall, 2009

The sophomore suited up for nine contests with the Bulldogs netting his first career NCAA goal in a non-conference game Bentley in January. Peltz is an offensive winger who handles the puck well and is a fast skater. Tapped as a long-term project when he was drafted, Peltz needs a lot of work on his overall game and will continue to develop in the ECAC over the next two seasons where the Senators will keep tabs on his progress.

Cole Schneider, RW, Connecticut Huskies (Atlantic Hockey)
Signed as a free agent, March 14th, 2012

The Senators signed the 6'2 185 pound undrafted Schneider after his sophomore season at UConn where he led his team in scoring with 23 goals and 22 assists and earned a place on the AHA First All-Star Team. A sharp-shooter with a good feel for the game who understands what's required to have success, he also provides a consistent threat with the man advantage controlling the play on the half-wall. Since joining Binghamton, he's chipped in with two assists in 11 AHL contests. Next season should provide a better gauge of where Schneider sits relative to the Senators prospects.

Michael Sdao, D, Princeton Tigers (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 191st overall, 2009

The super-sized defenseman completed his breakthrough junior season at Princeton where his improved puck skills and attention to offense was noticeable. Sdao, at 6'4 220 pounds has always been an intimidating presence for opposition forwards. This season he raised his point total to 20 to lead Tigers defensemen in scoring and was named to the ECAC Second All-Star Team. More impressive were his 10 goals which where mostly the result of his hard, accurate shot.

Chris Wideman, D, Miami Redhawks (CCHA)
Drafted 4th round, 100th overall, 2009

Wideman is a skilled, mobile defenseman who was signed after his Miami RedHawks concluded their season. His composure and skill with the puck contributed to another season where he led his club's blueliners in scoring with four goals and 20 assists. While he has excellent hockey sense and offers leadership abilities he will need to get stronger in order to handle physical forwards at the next level. The right-handed shot does have an underrated defensive game and may yet get some AHL game time in this season with Binghamton.