Pulling out of the NHL’s period of inactivity, the Ottawa Senators stable of prospects is strong, well-rounded and deep, although it could look very different in just a few months. With as many as six of the club’s top ten prospects heading into Ottawa’s training camp with a good chance at a roster spot, this list could look very different next spring. For now, it remains quite similar to last time, with the influx of four 2005 draft picks being the primary cause of movement on the list.
Top 20 at a glance
The Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade per HF Criteria. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.
Key: Rank (former rank), name, position – age
1.(1) Antoine Vermette, C, 23
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: Top six forward
After a successful rookie season in Ottawa in 2003-04, the NHL’s work stoppage pushed Antoine Vermette back to the AHL this past season. The versatile youngster got off to a slow start, but was strong in the second half, particularly once the NHL season was cancelled. Vermette finished the year with 28 goals and 73 points on a stellar Binghamton team. The speedy Vermette continued to play the all-round, hard-working game that made him an immediate fan favorite in his first season in Ottawa. The Victoriaville Tigres alumnus is now done with the AHL, and should play a more significant role in Ottawa this coming season.
2.(2) Ray Emery, G, 22
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: Starting goaltender
Although the 2004-05 season was easily Ray Emery’s weakest in the AHL, it also appears to be his last. Over the summer, the Senators let Martin Prusek move on, giving Emery the tough task of backing up future hall of famer Dominik Hasek. Considering Hasek’s fragile nature, the Cayuga, Ontario native could see stretches of nightly action sooner rather than later. On the verge of graduating, Emery is the best goaltending prospect to ever come through the Senators system. Though his flaws have been well documented, Emery is a big piece of the puzzle for the future of an organization that has never had a homegrown starting netminder.
3.(3) Andrej Meszaros, D, 19
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: Top pairing blueliner
John Muckler must still be searching for an answer as to how he was able to nab Andrej Meszaros 23rd overall in the 2004 draft. Though there are areas of his game that will need to be refined, Meszaros appears to have all the skills one could possibly want in a blue line prospect. Thick and swift, the talented puck mover is very advanced in his overall game. After one stellar season with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, he has a contract with Ottawa and is turning to the professional ranks. With only five returning blueliners, Meszaros has a strong shot at breaking camp with the big club. Otherwise, he is primed to inherit the top position as Vermette and Emery officially graduate.
4.(4) Patrick Eaves, RW, 21
Grade: 7.5B, Projection: Top six forward
Patrick Eaves’ junior year at Boston College was nothing short of fantastic. An NCAA East First Team All-American, and the Hockey East Player of the Year, Eaves made the decision to leave school early to join the Senators organization. When the club made Eaves their first round selection in 2003, there were major concerns about the Boston College player’s health. Although he is coming off two relatively healthy seasons, adding more bulk to his slender frame would still be desirable as he embarks on his professional career. The Calgary born Eaves is not simply an offensive forward, and in fact it is his hard work, tenacity and positional versatility that could earn him a spot in Ottawa this fall.
5.(NR) Brian Lee, D, 18
Grade: 8.5C, Projection: Top pairing blueliner
The Senators first round pick from this past July’s entry draft debuts at No. 5 on this list, although he could top the list by year’s end considering the four players ahead of him could all graduate. Tall but lanky, Brian Lee is another talented and well-rounded blueliner that fans can look forward to seeing in Ottawa. Considering he has yet to even start his college career, which he will do this year at the University of North Dakota, it is safe to say Lee is a few years away from the prime time. With his experience at the World Juniors under his belt, he should not be too overwhelmed in his freshman season with the Fighting Sioux.
6.(5) Alexei Kaigorodov, C, 22
Grade: 8.0C, Projection: Top six forward
Russia’s refusal to sign the IIHF/NHL player transfer agreement this summer is perhaps the only reason Alexei Kaigorodov is not in Ottawa for training camp this year. Coming off a sensational season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk which raised him to superstar status in the Russian Super League, Kaigorodov might have been able to earn a spot on a scoring line with the Senators. Instead, the gifted playmaker who has been mentioned in the same breath as Pavel Datsyuk and even Igor Larionov, will try for an encore performance. There are still definite flaws in Kaigorodov’s game, most notably his penchant for avoiding the physical aspects of the game, but he may not be able to sufficiently address them until he comes over to North America.
7.(6) Brandon Bochenski, LW, 23
Grade: 7.5B, Projection: Top six forward
The book on Brandon Bochenski is incredibly simple: he scores. The former NCAA West First Team All-American led all AHL rookies in scoring last year, has had success at every level, and yet continues to be doubted. The questions are now whether or not playing with AHL MVP and budding NHL star Jason Spezza, was the reason for his success last year. Lacking superior size and strength, or blazing speed, Bochenski relies on a fantastic shot, superior hand-eye coordination and a natural knack for finishing plays. It’s possible that he could land a spot back alongside Spezza in training camp, but another year in the AHL would be good for his development.
8.(7) Igor Mirnov, LW, 20
Grade: 7.5B, Projection: Top six forward
While Igor Mirnov’s 2004-05 season with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League appears at first glance to only be a marginal improvement over the previous year, when considering how the additions of NHLers such as Pavel Datsyuk, Maxim Afinogenov and Alexander Frolov limited his ice time, it was a success. Mirnov is a gifted offensive player with a dangerous shot and overall skills, who has returned to his club team for the season. With more responsibility, he could be primed for a breakout campaign, forcing Ottawa to work to get him over to North America next summer.
9.(11) Christoph Schubert, D, 23
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Second pairing blueliner
What a difference a year can make. At this point last year, Christoph Schubert was preparing for his third year in the AHL, with only his potential keeping him on the radar screen. Now, after his breakout campaign with Binghamton, he heads into training camp in Ottawa with a job to lose. The big German rearguard has solid puck skills and a willingness to get physical. Schubert has significantly cut down on his mental errors, and last year showed he is capable of dictating play from the back end. Unless he falters in camp, he will be on the third pairing in Ottawa with former Binghamton teammate Brian Pothier this year.
10.(8) Kirill Lyamin, D, 19
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second pairing blueliner
There were many young Russian players who were victims of the influx of NHLers into the Russian Super League last year. In many ways, Kiril Lyamin was one of them. After playing 30 games with CSKA Moscow in 2003-04, the Moscow native did not even play once last year. It is not for a lack of ability though. Big and strong with a good overall skill level and strong hockey sense, Lyamin has already started playing back with his Super League team this year. The hope is that he can rebound from a difficult year, although his arrival in North America has likely been pushed back.
11.(12) Jeff Glass, G, 19
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Starting goaltender
While many Senators prospects had banner years last season, nobody accomplished quite as much as Jeff Glass. The 2004 third round pick came out of nowhere to backstop Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. The rest of the year, he was busy dominating the WHL, being named not only the top goalie in that league, but the entire CHL as well. A self-described hybrid goaltender who loves to play the puck, Glass appears to be on the same fast-track that took Ray Emery from an unheralded fourth round pick to the club’s goaltender of the future. This year, he could either play in the AHL, ECHL or even return to junior as an overager.
12.(10) Billy Thompson, G, 22
Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Backup goaltender
This past year, Thompson was more than simply Ray Emery’s caddy, even getting stints as the starter while Emery battled inconsistency. He had a 19-8-2 record, .920 save percentage and 2.44 goals against average for Binghamton. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native gets the most out of his ability, although his upside is limited. This year will be vital for Thompson though, as he gets his first real chance as a starter in the AHL.
13.(9) Jan Platil, D, 22
Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Third pairing blueliner
After a strong start to the season with Binghamton, Jan Platil looked to be turning the corner. Unfortunately, he did not keep up the momentum and was inconsistent in the second half of the season. The tough as nails blueliner has trouble handling the puck, and struggles when he plays out of control. He is penciled in to play a top four role in Binghamton this year, and a Schubert-like breakout year is a possibility. Platil’s upside may be more limited than originally thought, but he has the ability to play in the NHL, and could get a call-up even this year.
14.(16) Roman Wick, RW, 19
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second line scorer
Switzerland has yet to produce an NHL forward, and Roman Wick is at this point, perhaps their best bet. While many Swiss players have failed because of the physical North American style of game, Wick made the move this past year to come over and play in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels, under the tutelage of demanding Coach Brent Sutter. The move paid off, as Wick led all WHL rookies in scoring with 32 goals and 70 points. The lanky winger has an array of fancy moves and a high overall skill level. While Wick has a way to go before he’s ready for the NHL grind, he thrived while taking the first step. He is expected to play this season back with Red Deer.
15.(NR) Ilja Zubov, C, 18
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second line center
While Russia’s refusal to sign the IIHF/NHL agreement has an effect on Kaigorodov and Mirnov in terms of when they come over, it had a different impact on Ilja Zubov. At the 2005 draft, almost all the NHL’s teams were reluctant to select Russian players, which allowed the Senators to grab Zubov in the fourth round. Yet another natural offensive talent that the organization was able to pick up in the middle rounds, Zubov will have plenty of time to develop in Russia. He has begun playing this season with Moscow Spartak, and should play a key role for his country at the World Junior Championships.
16.(14) Philippe Seydoux, D, 20
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third pairing blueliner
While Wick is probably Switzerland’s best positional prospect at this time, Philippe Seydoux is not far behind. The native of Bern has played the last three years with EHC Kloten, improving each season. He notched nine points in 28 games this past season. Entering his fourth season with his club team, he should take on an even greater role. An uncharacteristically tough Swiss blueliner, Seydoux’s physical enthusiasm has also led to injury woes. He will need to prove in the AHL at some point that he can effectively play his style of game against tougher opponents, without succumbing to the injury bug.
17.(NR) Cody Bass, C, 18
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third line player
There are only a couple players in the Senators organization that are as safe bets to make the NHL as Bass, and that is why the organization traded for a fourth round pick on draft day to select him. There is a lot to like about the Mississauga Ice Dogs forward. Already considered perhaps the best defensive forward in the OHL, Bass has all the tools to one day be an outstanding role player in the NHL. While his offensive skills are limited, this year he will be the Ice Dogs’ top forward, and has a chance to surprise in that regard.
18.(NR) Vitaly Anikienko, D, 18
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third pairing blueliner
The club’s second selection in the 2005 draft is their fourth new player to crack this list, in large part due to the fact his stock fell, rather than rose, over the course of the year. Ottawa drafted him in the hope that the questions that arose this year about the former highly-touted youngster were ill-founded. An impressive physical specimen that is decent in most areas of the game but not exceptional in any, he is in many ways a project. He will develop his game in Russia, where he is starting the season with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Super League.
19.(15) Alexander Nikulin, C, 20
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Scoring line player
Like Wick and Zubov above him, Alexander Nikulin is a talented forward who the Senators simply could not pass on in the middle rounds of the draft. After being selected in the fourth round in 2004, Nikulin had a good season with CSKA Moscow of the Russian Super League, despite the club having several locked-out NHL players. He should easily improve upon his totals of six points in 16 games this year with the club. Decently sized, offensively talented and very intelligent on the ice, he should score well in the Super League. Considering the talent Ottawa has though, it is possible he could be reluctant to come to the NHL.
20.(17) Shawn Weller, LW, 19
Grade: 6.0C, Projection: Third line forward
The 2004-05 season was a turbulent one for Shawn Weller. The alumnus of the Eastern Junior Hockey League had his arrival at Clarkson University delayed because of paperwork problems, but soon after was playing for the United States at the World Junior Championships. The rest of his season was inconsistent, as he totaled only three goals and 14 points in 33 games as a freshman. It is too early to know whether Weller’s disappointing year was simply a result of coming from a weak league, or whether playing against weak competition in that league made him look more talented than he really is. He has returned for his sophomore year at Clarkson, where he will have a few years to develop his offensive game.
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