February Senators Roundtable

By Scott Petersen

Again, our panel of pundits have pored over stats, prospect reports and generally wracked their brains to come up with the following analysis. This month, sitting in at the Roundtable are:

Scott Petersen : Fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, freelance writer, as well as editor of the Hockey’s Future Senators page.

Sean Hatchard: Fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, summer sports reporter at the Moncton Times & Transcript and freelance writer for Hockey’s Future.

Sean Keogh: More frequently known as ‘Hossa’, Keogh is moderator of the Hockey’s Future Message Board and a knowledgeable fan of the Senators.

Nick Quain: Also better known as his alter-ego, ‘Dr. Sens(e)’ is one of the main contributors to the Message Board and brings a logical look to Senators situations.

Each writer’s response is noted by his initials:

1. The Jason Spezza Saga: It’s apparent the Senators are moving happily along without the help of Spezza in their overly talented lineup. And, when an injury does happen, first dibs on call-ups go to Brad Smyth and Toni Dahlman.

Is this the best move for the team, or are the Sens simply avoiding the hullaballoo that would surround another Spezza call-up?

NQ: The Senators have the best record AND are the highest scoring team in the league. Why do they need to rush a player up to the pro team – strictly an offensive player for that matter – when all of their centers are playing very well, both as individuals and within Martin’s system? Calling him up and shifting one of the centers to the wing just to give him ice-time doesn’t make sense for the team’s on-ice success. Neither does putting him on the wing to play dump and chase on the fourth line.

SH: The Senators are moving happily along without the help of Spezza and there is no reason why they should change their lineup. Why change something that isn’t broken? Spezza can play 20 minutes a game in the AHL, improve his defensive play and be counted on as an impact player. Leaving him in the AHL is the best move for the team right now as their record and recent play clearly shows.

SK: I think if Spezza comes up to the NHL again, it’s to stay. Now that he’s comfortable in Binghamton, let him stay there until he’s coming to Ottawa for good. The Senators brass has been fantastic in comfortably making moves for Spezza on the basis of what’s best for the player and not what the media and/or fans think should happen.

(b) Should Spezza spend the rest of the year in the minors regardless of what happens at the NHL level?

NQ: Unless one of the scoring line centers get injured for more than a week, then I don’t think Spezza should be recalled. He is developing nicely in Binghamton, scoring at a torrid pace, fighting his own battles, learning the system, and perhaps most importantly, building up confidence. However, if the Senators do need a scoring center for a period, Spezza is the obvious answer in terms of who can help the team the most in that role.

SK: No. I think if a centre gets hurt, Spezza should come up. I also wouldn’t be opposed to having Spezza come up to the NHL for good later in the season if he continues to progress. I would like to see Spezza play in the NHL again this year as long as he deserves it.

SP: I say keep him in Binghamton. Let him experience the full ride of an AHL season with all of the ups and downs right on into the playoffs. Unless swamped by injuries to key offensive cogs who can’t be replaced with experienced vets at the deadline, Spezza (and ultimately the Senators) will be better served by a full AHL season ahead for the Wonder Kid.

2. Prospect Synopses: Quick snippets on the futures of the following prospects in the Sens’ system:

(a) Antoine Vermette:

NQ: A little over-hyped to date. He isn’t Spezza and doesn’t have that type of upside. He has great wheels and some skill but think Guy Carboneau, not Simon Gagne.

SP: His speed and leg strength are keys to at least a Todd Marchant type role in the NHL. However, some maturation and adjustments in the minors will help more of that “Q” offence shine through.

SH: Among fastest skaters in organization, Vermette has adjusted to life in the AHL quite nicely. He might take a little longer to develop but he will definitely be a keeper once he gets there.

(b) Simon Lajeunesse:

SP: Running out of chances in organization, but more due to organizational depth than poor play. Is still a keeper, but hard to gauge his potential in limited role.

SK: An inconsistent, but talented goaltender, Lajeunesse’s career has been about ups and downs. He’s a butterfly goaltender with NHL potential, but most likely as a back up.

SH: If it wasn’t for Ray Emery’s rookie heroics, it would be Lajeunesse who would be the Sens’ goalie of the future. His biggest battle is playing time in this organization.

(c) Julien Vauclair:

NQ: A solid and unheralded prospect. Probably not top-four potential, but could become a valuable role player. The Sens can afford to be patient with him.

SK: “The Swiss Laukannen” has good skating skills, decent size and good offensive instincts. After a strong rookie campaign, Vauclair’s struggled a bit this year. May never get a legitimate shot in Ottawa.

SH: Ottawa’s most underrated defensive prospect. He’s just all-around solid. He plays a consistent two-way game and should make the jump to the NHL soon, though maybe not in Ottawa.

3. Grading the Beef: Here are the averaged grades assigned by our panel on Ottawa’s top 20 prospects based solely on their performance so far this year. Accompanying them is a small bite of information on each one.

Spezza: A. Leads Binghamton in points and will earn his pay at the Corel Centre soon enough.

Vermette: B+. Nobody questions his speed or defensive awareness, only his scoring potential.

Gleason: B. Slow start, injury, hurt progress after strong rookie tournament with Sens.

Emery: A+. Clearly for real. Heroic effort thus far for Binghamton.

Lajeunesse: B-. Needs playing time to prove worth.

Klepis: B-. Talented, had decent WJC, but might have been better off in the WHL.

Laich: A. At the WJC, he showed he will score the types of goals this team needs.

Kaigorodov: B. Comparable to Klepis, decent WJC, having a strong year in Europe.

Schubert: B. Has rebounded nicely and has the most upside of the defensive prospects in Bingo.

Vauclair: C+. Still solid pro, but stalled a bit in first half.

Thompson: C. Finding out what it’s like to play for weaker team. Expected more in this situation.

Langfeld: C-. Stopped improving at AHL level, needs to use body more.

Pothier: A. Couldn’t have done much more with hand he was given.

Bala: D. Falling off radar screen with poor year. Turning invisible quickly.

Watson: C+. Has not thrived this year. Not much in hands department.

Giroux: C. He isn’t really taking the next step. Grit lesson needed.

Chouinard. B-. He’s all but gone from the Ottawa system, but has played very well all things considered.

Bochenski: A. Lighting up NCAA, scoring over a goal a game as a sophomore. Has size too.

Platil: B. Has been great in Barrie of the OHL this year, very under-rated.

Dahlman: B-. Dime-a-dozen player needs to stand out more from the pack.

4. Role Play Scenario: GM John Muckler has talked his way into several potential deals that should, conceivably, strengthen the Senators for the short term. However, he watches the Senators coasting past opponents and wonders if he should tamper with a team that is often dominating on the ice. He turns to you as assistant GM for advice, knowing his own butt is on the line for any move he makes to tamper with the roster. So: (a) pull the trigger now (b) play the waiting game or (c) “dance with the girl that brought you” — and ride the team you have as far as it will take you. What do you recommend and why?

NQ: I’d say go with option “B” in terms of playing the waiting game. First off, the team is playing great – no need to panic and make a rushed move now. There is still six weeks until the trade deadline. Second, the type of player Muckler needs – most likely a physical left winger of the likes of Jason Wiemer, Adam Graves or Scott Thornton – will become much more available in early March when several teams give up on their playoff aspirations. Finally, if there isn’t a “good move” to be made, this team can win as is.

SH: Muckler should follow the Scott Petersen coined “dance with the girl that brought you” term if he wants his team to have any short-term success. At the present moment, the Senators are one of the top two or three teams in the league. Their roster is very solid. Why mess with the chemistry of a team that is on a roll? You only have to look at past deadline deals to see that they haven’t worked out for this club (Trading away Ron Tugnutt and Janne Laukanen for Tom Barraso, bringing in Mike Sillinger and Eric Lacroix and last year’s mistake of dumping fan favourite Andre Roy for Juha Ylonen). It is obvious that this formula has not fixed Ottawa’s playoff jinx. So try something different and play the team that is winning right now.

SK: As the assistant GM, I would advise Muckler to (b) play the waiting game. The team, despite a few bad games before the all-star break, has been nothing short of fantastic all year. However, it is not perfect, nor is it unbeatable. Deadline deals are something this franchise has pulled before, and should again. They won’t acquire Alexei Kovalev, but if a gritty forward or two becomes available, especially somebody with a Cup ring, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the deal to strengthen the club. This team has so many great elements, but I worry that if Mike Fisher and Zdeno Chara go down due to injury, do we have guys who can replace some of the essential elements those guys brings. A centre that can win a face-off in the clutch would be ideal too.

5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Sens’ group of prospects? (Basically, where are they looking good for the future, and where do they need to upgrade?)

NQ: I think the strength of the organization is in its overall balance, as the Sens are well stacked at every position and don’t have any glaring gaps. They have arguably the best young talent in the game within their system.

Two things that are missing however: a power-play quarterback and a real power forward prospect. The Sens get by right now because of the overall offensive balance from the blueline, but I really don’t see a great offensive defenceman in the system, even at the NHL level (Redden et al are really better at relaying the right transition pass than creating offence on their own). Gleason will be more of a two-way guy and doesn’t have the offensive instincts to be a true PP QB.

In terms of a power forward, it would be nice to have a large winger with a nasty disposition that is being developed internally. They take so long to develop, that ideally you have one in the system at all times.

SP: The goaltending log jam of talent will easily provide the Sens’ crease presence for the future. If you want a weakness in net, you’re looking at the lack of positions available within the system. It’s already led to a Jani Hurme trade and there should be more house clearing ahead. Problem is, how do you get an accurate read on everyone when you can’t properly test and develop them with everyday ice time.

The defence is full of steady players for the future both at the NHL level and in the system. the Sens have few worries here in the short term.

On offence, offensive studs past Spezza and maybe Vermette are hard to come by. There are few high-risk, high-reward picks of late, and a greater number of safe picks. With the depth they have and a likely lower draft pick coming up, the next entry draft could provide the perfect opportunity for the Senators to take a gamble in the boom or bust category and unearth some diamonds.

SH: Both Ottawa’s goaltending and defensive prospects are rock solid right now. Emery, Lajeunesse, Chouinard and Thompson should provide a strong backbone in net for the future. Meanwhile, Volchenkov, Pothier, Vauclair, Schubert and Gleason (if you believe he belongs in this group) are the organization’s strongest point. It would be hard to find another NHL club with so much young depth on the blueline.

However, the weakeness lies with the future forwards. Besides Spezza and Vermette, the Senators are very weak when it comes to having young, offensive talent in their system. There seems to be an influx of third-line role players who are sound defensively, but have limited offence (Toni Dalhman, Chris Bala, Chris Kelly, Josh Langfield, Brian McGrattan) There are not enough players who will be expected to fill the net. Klepis and Laich are two other names to watch for in the future, but they will have to max their potential to be top producers in the NHL.

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–If you have comments, questions or ideas for future topics on the Roundtable, please contact the editor at scott_e_petersen@hotmail.com.