Minor-league system for Ottawa Senators rich in offense

By Riley Forsythe

Patrick Wiercioch - Ottawa Senators

Photo: Now in his third year of professional hockey, Patrick Wiercioch has started to blossom into an offensive defenseman. Through 30 AHL games he has nine goals and nine assists. (Jay Kopinski/Icon SM)

In years past, Ottawa's AHL affiliate has been a mixed roster of AHL veterans, free agent signings, and draft picks. This is no longer the case. The Binghamton Senators are stacked with young talent and are among the youngest teams in the AHL.

Binghamton started the 2012-13 season off slowly, but have been on fire as of late. Even with a handful of injuries at any given time, Binghamton has enough depth to put forth a competitive roster each night. Ottawa fans, with renewed optimism after a strong season last year, have plenty to be excited about. Many of the club's promising prospects will be seen in an NHL jersey in the near future.

In net, Binghamton sports one of the best AHL goaltending duos with Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop. Highly anticipated forwards Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone, and Shane Prince are some notable prospects that have joined Binghamton returnees Mike Hoffman, Andre Petersson, Stephane Da Costa, and Derek Grant. On defense, Patrick Wiercioch is seeing a re-emergence of sorts. Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki continue their physical play, and Fredrik Claesson is proving capable in his first season in North America.

AHL

Robin Lehner, G, 21

Lehner was drafted in 2009 as the Senators' goaltender of the future. He has had many ups and downs the past few seasons and projections on him have bounced back and forth between being starting goalie quality and reliable back-up.

Lehner has arguably been Binghamton's best player early in this 2012-13 season. He has been playing with increased confidence and has taken his team on his back. Many people expected a bounce-back year from Lehner with a stronger Binghamton team, but his play so far has exceeded most expectations. Over 20 games Lehner has a record of 13-5-1.

His 1.94 goals against average and .944 save percentage make Lehner one of the top goaltenders of the AHL. Lehner is rarely out of position and has played very consistently. He should continue to work on his emotional lapses and avoid getting into fights unless absolutely necessary. In any event, Lehner is looking more and more like a future NHL starting goaltender.

Jakob Silfverberg, RW, 22

Jakob Silfverberg is finally here and has adjusted well in his first season in North America. His production started off relatively slowly, but he has been on a hot streak lately. Silfverberg has good two-way capabilities, but he has become one of Binghamton's more dangerous offensive threats. His above average hockey sense and creativity with the puck have helped him maintain a role of scorer and playmaker. After 32 games played, Silfverberg has accumulated 13 goals and 15 assists and is leading Binghamton with 28 points. Silfverberg appears to be ready for a top-six NHL role and will challenge for a roster spot in Ottawa when the NHL resumes play.

Mika Zibanejad, C, 19

Unlike fellow Swede Silfverberg, Zibanejad has not enjoyed a kind transition in his first season in Binghamton. Although he has shown flashes of being the player he is capable of being, it appears that the adjustment period to North American hockey will take a little more time. This was to be expected, however, since he is still young. Through 16 games Zibanejad has scored only once and added six assists, good for seven points.

Zibanejad has been suffering various health issues as of late and has been a scratch as a result. 

Mark Stone, RW, 20

Over his 26 games so far this season, Stone has scored six goals and assisted seven times for a total of 13 points. Along with Grant and Dziurzynski, Stone has been asked to play a shutdown role at various times, but has also managed consistent offense. He plays on one of coach Richardson's most reliable lines and plays in many important situations. Stone will likely remain in Binghamton for a while to work on his game even if the NHL lockout is lifted.

Patrick Wiercioch, D, 22

After two seasons of poor defensive play and limited production, Patrick Wiercioch seems to have it figured out. He has shown renewed confidence with and without the puck and his release from the point is more accurate and timely. He also has nine goals this season, more than his previous two AHL seasons combined, and in general, has been the Binghamton Senators best defenseman on many nights. With continued strong play he should get some call-ups to Ottawa when NHL play resumes.

Mark Borowiecki, D, 23

Borowiecki is the heart and soul of Binghamton and has been a workaholic on the back end. He is willing to do whatever it takes to win, including defending teammates when necessary. Though not overly skillful, Borowiecki can help out on offense once in a while. Through 18 games he has one goal and four assists. His 96 penalty minutes make him a team leader in that category. Borowiecki could take a place on Ottawa's bottom pairing in the near term. 

Eric Gryba, D, 24

Gryba is a big body that likes to finish his checks. He has a decent shot from the point but does not use it enough. Many were hoping for big things from Gryba this season, but he has been inconsistent this year. Some games he seems to take a lead role and others he appears plagued with bad decision making. To his credit, however, he has battled a couple injuries this season which has hampered his progress. His potential at the highest level may be that of a depth defenseman.

Shane Prince, C, 20

Prince's rookie campaign this season has seen him play in 24 games so far, in which he has recorded seven goals and four assists. He appears to be progressing as expected. Prince has shown excellent offensive capabilities and playmaking skills on occasion, but has also appeared somewhat timid at times. Adding some more bulk and more playing time should help him gain more confidence.

Mike Hoffman, C, 23

The leading point scorer in Binghamton last year has not impressed much in 2012-13. That being said, he has been playing much better over the last few weeks and is beginning to look like the productive player that he was last season. With all of the new faces in Binghamton, it is expected that there would be an adjustment period for everyone. Hoffman has played in 32 games and has tallied nine goals and 12 assists.

Andre Petersson, LW, 22

Petersson's start to the season can only be described as disappointing. After an excellent first season in Binghamton last year, Petersson's progress appears to have taken a step backwards. Part of it may be explained by a decrease in ice time this year as many young skilled players stepped onto the roster.

Petersson has been out of the lineup since late November with a lower-body injury.

Stephane Da Costa, C, 23

The often injured Da Costa returned to play on December 2nd. In his first game back from a knee injury, Da Costa scored a hat trick and added an assist and has been producing ever since. He has been playing a little better physically, but could still use some bulking up. In only 20 games played so far this season, Da Costa has accumulated five goals and 10 assists.

Pat Cannone, C, 26

Cannone had an excellent rookie year last year and has done what can be expected of him this season so far with limited ice time. In 32 games he has five goals and six assists. Though a reliable and mature player, he is 26 years old and usually has played in a bottom six role this season. Cannone will have to battle for more ice time and step it up a notch in order to get a shot at the big club.

Cole Schneider, LW, 22

The free agent signing out of the University of Connecticut has been a pleasant surprise through 23 games this season, with 12 points through 23 games. Although Schneider has played well when in the lineup, he has been a victim of the stacked Binghamton team. Often there is just no room on the roster and he has a healthy scratch in many of their games.

Fredrik Claesson, D, 20

Claesson has adjusted relatively well to hockey in North America. He started the season in more of a support role, but with recent injuries on defense and the coach's growing trust in his capabilities, Claesson has been logging more important minutes. He has five assists through 27 games.

Derek Grant, C, 22

Derek Grant is amidst a breakout season with Binghamton. After producing 23 points in 60 games last year, he already has 16 in just 32, including 11 goals. Grant, Stone, and David Dziurzynski often play together in a shutdown role and are a trusted line for coach Richardson to put out against the opposition's top talent. Grant has shown the ability to play in a defensive role, but can also find the back of the net. Many people were calling for a breakout season from Grant this season, and while it is still early, that prediction appears to be on track.

Corey Cowick, LW, 23

After splitting the last two seasons between Binghamton and Elmira, the Ottawa native has spent the entire season so far in the AHL. In 31 games with Binghamton this season, he has 11 points. Although he has shown an ability to score, it appears as though he will likely top-out as a bottom-six checker.

David Dziurzynski, LW, 23

Dziurzynski is playing in his third AHL season and has seen increasing responsibilities in that time. Recently, he has been playing on a line with fellow big bodies Grant and Stone.

Dziurzynski and his linemates are reliable as a shutdown group, but have also put up timely offense. Dziurzynski is not shy of getting into the dirty areas and is third on the team in penalty minutes with 70.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 20

Pageau, being small and still relatively young, has been eased into his first professional season with limited ice time. Through 31 games the skilful player has just nine points. It is still far too early to tell if Pageau has an NHL future ahead of him with the obvious size issue. In the meantime, he will need to bulk up and prove he can handle the physical play of pro hockey.

Wacey Hamilton, LW, 22

Hamilton has not played yet in the 2012-13 season due to concussion symptoms. Even when ready to play, he may find himself the odd man out with such a full roster.

Chris Wideman, D, 22

Wideman has been back and forth between Binghamton and Elmira this season. A puck-moving defenseman, Wideman managed five assists in five ECHL games. He is currently in the AHL, where through 17 games he has two assists and eight penalty minutes.

ECHL

Ben Blood, D, 23

Blood has played most of the season in Elmira, though has been called up to Binghamton on occasion. In Elmira he has played 24 games, has 17 penalty minutes and no points. He has played in four games in Binghamton this season.

Louie Caporusso, C, 23

Caporusso is another victim of the lockout and the stacked Binghamton roster. He has been itching for a prolonged chance to prove himself in the AHL after playing the majority of the last season in the ECHL. Through 27 games this season in Elmira he has notched seven goals and 18 assists. At 23 years old and being only 5'10', time is not on his side to prove he can play in higher leagues.

Darren Kramer, C, 21

Kramer has played the majority of the 2012-13 season in Elmira. Though he is known mainly as a fighter, he has managed to put up some offense. Through 11 games in Elmira he has six points and 60 penalty minutes.

Brad Peltz, LW, 23

The former seventh rounder has appeared in 12 games with Elmira and has scored twice and assisted twice. Though he could get a shot in Binghamton in the future, he is not expected to reach the highest tier of hockey.

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