Ottawa Senators boast big group of talented forward prospects

By Riley Forsythe

Mark Borowiecki - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Mark Borowiecki is one of several defensive prospects the Ottawa Senators have playing at the AHL level. (Tony Medina/Icon SMI)

The future of the Ottawa Senators looks bright. The Senators are considered to have one of the better pools of young talent in the NHL and, while some top draftees have recently cemented themselves on the Ottawa roster, most notably Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen, there are many prospects on the verge of becoming solid NHL contributors in the near future. The club has quality and various skill-sets in all positions and has worked to draft where they previously had weak depth.

Left Wing

One of the top prospects on left wing is Matt Puempel, a first round pick in the 2011 draft. He spent his first three years of junior playing for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. At the end of last season Puempel suited up for nine games with Binghamton. He will spend another year in the OHL, this time with the Kitchener Rangers, before entering his professional career. Though he is off to an excellent start this season, only time will tell if Puempel's scoring ability will translate to the professional level

Shane Prince is a late-bloomer with skill and speed. Drafted out of the OHL, he will play for Binghamton of the AHL this season.

Andre Petersson is a small, but slick player. He was one of Binghamton's top scorers last season. He needs to work on his defensive game more this season, but should see some time in Ottawa once the NHL lockout ends. 

It is not known whether or not Nikita Filatov will attempt a return to North America. If he does, he should be more mentally and physically mature and should easily be able to find a role in the NHL. That being said, Filatov seems more interested at this point in staying in the KHL.

David Dziurzynski, Cole Schneider, Wacey Hamilton, and Corey Cowick are all expected to play for Binghamton this season. These four are mostly role players, though Cowick and Dziurzynski have shown a little offensive upside. 

Further down the depth chart are Jeff Costello, Brad Peltz, and Max McCormick. Costello is playing in the NCAA this season and Peltz has started the season with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. Both players are a long shot to make this NHL at this point. McCormick, however, has some potential. He is a tough player that has put up good point totals in the USHL and so far in his NCAA career. He will likely spend a few more years playing for Ohio State University.

Center

The Senators have a long list of centermen with varying degrees of skill. Mika Zibanejad tops the list. With Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris already employed in the top two center spots in Ottawa, Zibanejad is expected to switch to the wing. Although a natural center, he has spent time on the wing in Sweden. Zibanejad has spent the last two years playing for Djurgarden of the SEL. He played nine games for Ottawa last season before being returned to Djurgarden. His numbers were not inspiring, though he was playing for a poor Djurgarden team that was subsequently demoted to the second-tier league Allsvenskan. He is expected to spend some time in Binghamton while honing his skills and getting accustomed to North American hockey. He is should fit into Ottawa's top six very soon.

Ontario native Mike Hoffman initially had trouble cracking the CHL. He eventually found a home in the QMJHL. It was in the Quebec league where Hoffman's scoring prowess blossomed. In the 2008-09 season he scored 52 goals in 62 games and eventually helped lead Drummondville to a QMJHL championship. In 2009-10, while playing for Saint John, Hoffman won league MVP, sportsman of the year, and was a CHL finalist for player of the year. Hoffman has spent the last two years in Binghamton and has progressed steadily in that time. He should get some call-ups to Ottawa this season.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a small player with lots of skill. There is always some risk drafting smaller players, but the Senators believe Pageau was worth the risk. He has started the season with Binghamton and will be assessed there to see how he performs against bigger and stronger opponents.

Jim O'Brien is pretty much a lock on Ottawa's fourth line at this point. He has spent his time in Binghamton where he has played well and has not seemed out of place in Ottawa. 

Another player who has battled for playing time in the NHL is Stephane Da Costa. Signed as a free agent in 2011, the native of France he has spent time in the USHL and NCAA. Da Costa played for both Ottawa and Binghamton in 2011-12. He seemed out of place in Ottawa, but put up good numbers to close out the season in Binghamton. With skill and speed on his side, he just needs to get stronger. He should see some NHL games this season.

Derek Grant has seen steady progress and should have a solid year in Binghamton. He has spent time in the BCHL and NCAA. Grant has size and scoring abilities and may make a good bottom six forward in the future.

Pat Cannone played for Miami University before going to Binghamton as a free agent. He has put up good point totals in the NCAA and in his first season in the AHL. Look for him to have another strong season.

Jakub Culek is a Czech player and was originally drafted as a playmaking center with raw skill. He is still a work in progress, but appears to have excellent potential. Culek was returned to Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL after taking part in Binghamton's training camp.

Darren Kramer has started the season in Binghamton. He was a fighter in the junior ranks and is expected to take on a similar role at the pro level.

Ottawa selected Jarrod Maidens in the third round of the 2012 NHL entry draft. Maidens could have been selected much sooner, but he suffered a concussion that ended his draft season early. It seems that Ottawa believed that if Maidens stays healthy, he has enough skill to be a legitimate prospect. 

Other players on the radar, but with limited potential, are Jack Downing, Louie Caporusso, Robbie Baillargeon, and Ryan Dzingel.

Right Wing

The Senators may not be as deep at the right wing position as compared to other positions, but the skill and potential is definitely there. All the right wingers in the system had solid 2011-12 seasons and at this point are expected to develop into good NHL players.

Jakob Silfverberg had an incredible season last year for Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. Coming second in the SEL regular season scoring race, gaining MVP honors for the regular season and playoffs, and winning the Swedish Championship are but a few of the highlights from Silfverberg's successful 2011-12 campaign. He also set a record for thirteen goals during his playoff run, which was last held by Daniel Alfredsson. He is a mature two-way player and it is hoped he will develop into a strong top six forward. Silfverberg is ready to assume NHL duties, but has started the season with Binghamton of the AHL until the NHL lockout is lifted.

Mark Stone is next up when it comes to being ready for the NHL. Stone is coming off a brilliant season that saw him score 41 goals and 82 assists in 66 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL and win a bronze medal with Canada in the 2012 World Junior Championships. Like Silfverberg, Stone has started this season in Binghamton. It remains to be seen if he will join Ottawa when the lockout ends or if he will stay in Binghamton for a while to hone his skills. He projects as a top nine forward.

Born in Plano, Texas, Stefan Noesen rounds up this short but formidable group of right-wingers. A first round pick in 2011, he is considered to be a power-forward type player. Noesen was recently sent back to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL for another season. Still a work in progress, he put up decent point totals in 2011-12 and was an important part of the Plymouth's excellent season last year. 

Defense

The Senators have a good mix of defensemen in the system with different skills and presumed roles. The most notable among their blueliners is 2012 first round pick Cody Ceci, who is very gifted in the offensive zone. He has good size and a hard shot. He will spend this season playing for the 67's where he will fine tune his skills and learn to use his size more effectively.

Two defensive defensemen, Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba, are true physical competitors on the backend. Both took the university route and have been progressing nicely. They are being pushed to take that one final step and, assuming the NHL lockout eventually ends, should both receive call-ups to Ottawa this season.

Patrick Wiercioch left the University of Denver early in order to start his professional hockey career. While he was initially thought of as a top defensive prospect for Ottawa, he struggled early in Binghamton. He has now spent two seasons in the AHL and has been looking more comfortable as of late. Nevertheless, he will need a big year if he wants to return to being a legitimate top prospect.

Fredrik Claesson appears to be in the category of stay-at-home defenseman. He spent two years in the SEL and has started this season in Binghamton. Claesson will need more time to develop. It is yet to be seen what kind of role he will take in the organization.

Lower on the depth chart are four players that have spent time in the NCAA. They include Michael Sdao, Chris Wideman, Ben Blood, and Bryce Aneloski

Sdao, a very physical defender, is in his last year at Princeton University. While he had a good season last year, he seems a long shot at this point to develop into an NHL caliber defenseman.

Wideman was assigned to the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL after Binghamton's training camp. He is on the smaller side but he put up decent numbers in his time playing for Miami University (Ohio). Wideman may be re-called to Binghamton once the NHL lockout is lifted and room is created for him. His potential is up in the air at this point.

Blood is another player that has bounced back in forth between Elmira and Binghamton early in the season. Though, when the dust settles from the lockout, he is expected to be in the AHL. Blood recently finished off his collegiate hockey career playing for the University of North Dakota. He has size, but is not overly physical.

Aneloski is in his third year playing for the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He is a puck-moving defenseman with decent size.

Another defenseman playing at the NCAA level is Tim Boyle. Brother of New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle, Tim is also a tough player with a rangy build. He will be starting his freshman season at Union College this year.

Mikael Wikstrand is another recent draft pick out of Sweden. A mobile defenseman who plays a simple two-way game, he is currently playing his second season for Mora in Sweden's second-tier league Allsvenskan.

Rounding out the defensive crop is another late round draft pick in Jordan Fransoo, who is currently playing for the WHL's Victoria Royals. Fransoo was traded from the Brandon Wheat Kings in the middle of last season. His potential is unknown at this point but he does have pretty good size.

Goaltending

Highly touted Robin Lehner is the only goalie in the system nearing NHL readiness. Ottawa's recent acquisition of Ben Bishop and solid play of starter Craig Anderson will allow Lehner the time to develop a little more in Binghamton before assuming an NHL role. Lehner has shown flashes of being starter quality, but has also struggled at times with temporary lapses. He had a relatively disappointing 2011-12 season, but look for him to bounce back this year with a stronger Binghamton roster.

During the 2012 NHL entry draft, the Ottawa Senators acknowledged their lack of depth at the goaltending position and selected two goalies. Chris Driedger of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen was selected in the third round and Francois Brassard of the QMJHL's Quebec Ramparts was selected in the sixth round. Both Driedger and Brassard enjoyed good 2011-12 seasons for their respective junior teams and have both had excellent starts this year. They have a few more years to develop in the CHL and at this point remain long-term projects. 

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