The Ottawa Senators' inaugural prospect award winners are a telling mix of talent at varying stages of readiness, with as many as four players expected to make a push for an NHL roster spot next season. Of the recipients, up to eight could be in the professional ranks by October, a good reflection of the commitment the organization has made to build from within. Noticeably conspicuous by his absence, top ranked prospect Mika Zibanejad received serious consideration in four of these categories.
Most Improved Prospect: Mark Stone, RW, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
The Brandon Wheat Kings' captain capped off his outstanding amateur hockey career by being named to the WHL Eastern Conference First Team All-Star team for the second straight season. Stone finished second in WHL scoring with 123 points and won the Brad Hornung Trophy as the WHL's most sportsmanlike player. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native impressed at the WJC, leading Team Canada with seven goals and 10 points while being named one of Canada's three best players. Stone slipped to the Senators in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Draft largely due to his poor skating. He has since dedicated himself to improve his skating and has made considerable gains with the assistance of Marc Power, the respected power skating coach of the Senators. He will continue his development in the pros next season, but it remains to be seen whether it will be in Ottawa or Binghamton.
Best Defensive Prospect: Jim O'Brien, C, Ottawa Senators (NHL)
It's been a gradual yet sustained development curve for the Senators 2007 first round pick who now appears entrenched in Ottawa as one of their primary penalty killers. His season began inauspiciously in Binghamton where he was being groomed as a checking line center and played mostly without offensive wingers. He also suffered a foot injury which kept him out of the lineup for 19 games and stalled his development temporarily. When he returned to the Baby Sens, O'Brien was given power-play time which triggered a scoring tear, leading to an NHL call-up. Since his promotion to Ottawa he's been adept in the faceoff circle, provided more energy and creativity on offense than advertised ,and has consistently played a stellar two-way game. We should expect him to lay claim to the Ottawa checking line center role next season and build on the six point total of his abbreviated NHL season.
Hardest Worker: Stefan Noesen, RW, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Although his great hands and vision get attention based on his scoring totals, Noesen also backchecks effectively and takes care of his defensive responsibilities. Named the CHL Player of the Week in April, the 19-year-old is the definition of work ethic. Slowed by a shoulder injury to begin the season, the Whalers' alternate captain has come on strong in his third season of play in the OHL. The Whalers catalyst likely received extra motivation to perform well this season after being left off the Team USA entry for the WJC. An intense competitor who leads by example, he topped his previous year's point totals with a 38-goal, 82-point campaign which led his club in scoring. In the playoffs he took his game to the next level and proved again to be a clutch performer, managing 15 points in only seven games.
Prospect of the Year: Jakob Silfverberg, LW/RW Brynäs IF (SEL)
Silfverberg's impressive showing in the SEL this season went a long way in showing that he may be ready to contribute at the NHL level. Always considered a strong two-way player, Silfverberg was named Eliteserien MVP and finished second in the league in scoring at the tender age of 21. Noted for his hockey IQ and responsible play, he dedicated himself to attend to his offensive game and was rewarded with a 54-point campaign. He continued his impressive play in the post-season with a 13-goal playoff performance where he led Brynas to capture their first league championship in 13 years. The Senators have penciled him into their lineup for next season where he is slotted among their top nine forwards. While the young Swede could play more physically and look to shoot more often, he nonetheless has the makings of a potentially good NHL player with a long career ahead of him.
Fastest Skater: Shane Prince, LW, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
A quick, agile forward with considerable skill, the 19-year-old Prince tied for first as the Best Skater in the 2012 OHL Eastern Conference Coaches Poll. Gifted with a good set of hands, a fluid skating style, and the ability to get to top speed in a few strides, Prince is an offensive threat both off the rush and on the cycle. He left a good impression at the Senators 2011 training camp and will be looked upon to secure a spot with the Binghamton Senators next season. As with many young prospects he'll need to get stronger in order to be an effective NHL player.
Hardest Shot: Michael Sdao, D, Princeton Tigers (ECAC)
The alternate captain of the Princeton Tigers, Michael Sdao has a howitzer for a shot, which has reportedly been clocked at 97 miles-per-hour. His junior season at Princeton saw him double his point totals from the previous campaign to 20, including 10 goals, and saw him named to the ECAC Second All-Star Team. Booming shot aside, Sdao brings an intriguing mix of physical play, offensive skills and good mobility for a defenseman of his stature.
Overachiever: Mark Borowiecki, D, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
A key member of the Binghamton Senators Calder Cup winning squad in 2010-11, Mark Borowiecki was the top Baby Sens defenseman in 2011-12, leading their rearguards in scoring and representing his team at the AHL All-Star Game. With his understated decision-making a definite asset, the Senators will look for him to continue to build on his solid overall game and push for a roster spot with the big club. His development has been stellar so far and he has already had a two-game call-up with Ottawa just one season removed from NCAA hockey.
Underachiever: Nikita Filatov, LW, Binghamton Senators (AHL)/CSKA Moscow (KHL)
Expected to be a regular in the Senators top six forwards at the beginning of the season, Filatov was given the opportunity to play with quality linemates in Ottawa and simply did not produce, contributing only one assist in nine NHL games. He was sent down to the AHL and played reasonably well in Binghamton, accumulating12 points in 15 games while playing the mature game asked of him. However it did not take long for the dynamic forward to become disenchanted with the organization which led to an ultimatum to the organization to either keep him in Ottawa with the NHL club or he'd push to return to Russia to play in the KHL. The Senators relented and allowed him to join CSKA Moscow where he had a forgettable half-season scoring eight points in 18 games. He recently signed a new contract with Salavat Yulaev of the KHL for the upcoming season, likely precipitating his exit from the Senators' prospect ranks.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Matt Puempel, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Only a year removed from being the 24th pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Puempel is a classic boom or bust pick. Considered one of the top goal-scorers available in last year's draft, Puempel missed much of 2011-12 to injury and suspension, managing only 17 goals and 16 assists in 30 games. After the conclusion of the Petes' season he dressed for nine games in Binghamton and recorded one goal. Far from a complete player, Puempel needs to add muscle, pay attention to defensive positioning, and consistently give his best effort. Next season could go a long way in establishing which end of the risk/reward spectrum he'll end up in.
Breakout Player for 2012-13: Derek Grant, C/LW Binghamton Senators (AHL)
After an outstanding training camp and a very solid preseason, there were high expectations for Grant this past season. A coachable player, the likable second-year pro (counting his mini season last year after signing with the Senators) was sidelined for a lengthy period with a should injury and played with a variety of linemates that he never appeared to find good chemistry with. In all, the wide-framed 6-3, 192-pound forward contributed 23 points and a minus-seven rating on the rebuilding Baby Sens. With more confidence and renewed health there's every reason to expect a 50-point plus season from Grant next year as he looks to become one of the go-to players in Binghamton and position himself as a potential call-up candidate for Ottawa.