Senators CHL prospects season review

By Sean Keogh

Remarkably, the Ottawa Senators only had four prospects playing in the CHL this season. Even more curious is the fact that three of those four were Europeans. With the Senators penchant for drafting from all over the world, this is somewhat expected. The graduation of Andrej Meszaros to the NHL and Jeff Glass to the ECHL is another reason the numbers are down. Both were 2004 picks eligible to turn professional early because of late 1985 birthdays. Nonetheless, the Senators have focused on leagues other than the CHL of late. No Senators prospect has played in the QMJHL since Antoine Vermette’s graduation in 2002.

Roman Wick, LW, 20
Drafted: 156th overall, 5th round (2004)

At the end of the 2004-05 season, it appeared as though Roman Wick was a prospect on the rise. The Swiss-born winger had just completed a stellar first season with the Red Deer Rebels. Undeniably skilled offensively but often criticized for being soft before coming over to compete in the WHL, Wick thrived in the extremely physical league. He comfortably led all rookies in goals with 32, assists with 38, and points with 70. A year after being taken in the fifth round by the Senators, Wick had played like a potential steal.

Unfortunately for the young Swiss, the tune has been far different in 2005-06. Even before the season began, the potential for a setback was there. Wick attended both the Ottawa and Binghamton training camps, before being returned to Red Deer without an NHL contract. Because of a late December birthday, Wick returned to Red Deer as an overager and also as an import European. In effect, Wick was taking up two spots for the club, a considerable responsibility that came with great expectations.

Wick started the season very slowly. Through his first 17 games he had only three goals, and had gone pointless in 11 of those games. In concert with Wick’s slow start, the Rebels appeared destined to have their worst season in recent memory. After 23 games with the club and only 17 points, Wick was dealt to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who were determined to improve in the standings.

With the Hurricanes, Wick had immediate success. After going pointless in his first game on Dec. 9, the talented prospect notched seven points in his next two games. Unfortunately he could not sustain the momentum, going pointless in five of his next six games. The rest of the season with the Hurricanes, Wick provided some offense, but nowhere near the explosiveness of last year. He only had one multi-goal game with the Hurricanes, his second game with the club. Overall with Lethbridge, Wick notched 14 goals and 31 points in 38 games.

Wick’s 2005-06 season was no doubt a disappointment. The young prospect had significant expectations bestowed upon him, and his 48 points are far below expectations. In part illustrated by a -19 for the season, Wick’s all-around game has not become a strength either. Particularly unfortunate is the fact that this came in a season where Wick was playing for a contract with the Senators. While an impressive playoff run – the Hurricanes are tied 2-2 in a first round series with Calgary – would improve his chances, at the moment it appears unlikely he will be signed.

John Wikner, LW, 20
Drafted: 284th overall, 9th round (2004)

If there was one prospect that was particularly forgotten among this generally lackluster group of CHL prospects in the Senators organization, it was John Wikner. The Swedish winger opted to join the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL after failing to crack the Elite League in his home country. One of the last picks in the entire 2004 draft, Wikner is not a high-profile prospect. Luckily, he was helped through his first season in North America by his twin brother Fred Wikner (CGY), who came over as well to play for the Prince George Cougars.

Tasked with a more limited role than perhaps expected, Wikner’s only scored nine goals and 22 points on the year. He actually put up nine points in 15 games in October, but only scored one point in six November games before missing almost six weeks due to injury. Unfortunately, upon returning in late December, Wikner went pointless in 15 of his next 16 games, the long exception being a three-point night against Saskatoon. While making the transition to the WHL, Wikner’s offensive ability appears to be limited. It is doubtful the Senators will sign the ninth rounder this summer, therefore allowing him to try to re-enter the draft, and furthermore likely resulting in a return to Sweden next year.

Cody Bass, C, 19
Drafted: 95th overall, 4th round (2005)

What you see is what you get with Cody Bass. To evaluate the Mississauga IceDogs center based on his offensive game would be ignoring the true strengths of his game. The Senators drafted Bass in the fourth round last year even though he only scored 11 goals and 28 points during the regular season. In 2005-06, the 6’0, 193lbs center increased his production marginally to 16 goals and 41 points. The IceDogs were also the league’s lowest-scoring team, to complement the third-worst overall record.

Bass’ game is defined by a superb work ethic, outstanding defensive play and being a constant physical presence. Strong defensive play is rarely rewarded statistically, and it’s hard to think of Bass’ -11 rating on a team that was -107 as a fair recognition of his abilities.

Bass has been recognized each of the last two years in the OHL Coaches Poll. This year, the Owen Sound, Ontario native finished second in both Best Defensive Forward and Best Penalty Killer. Besides his play in the defensive zone, Bass makes his presence felt by hitting everything in sight and playing with energy on every shift. Even with a poor IceDogs team, he played his style all season. As a side effect, he was given 152 minutes in penalties on the year.

The Senators organization is clearly high on the young grinder. After missing the playoffs with Mississauga, Bass was signed to an amateur tryout contract with the Binghamton Senators. He has already suited up for them despite the fact he is not eligible to play for them full-time until 2007-08. Next season, the IceDogs can only improve, and while Bass’ offensive game should also progress.

Tomas Kudelka, D, 19
Drafted: 136th overall, 5th round (2005)

Even before Roman Wick was dealt to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Senators already had a vested interest in following the junior club. Of course the reason was Tomas Kudelka, who after sliding to the fifth round at the draft, opted to come to the WHL this season. Tall but lanky at 6’2, 181lbs, Kudelka has plenty of offensive ability but needs to refine his all-around game. Kudelka’s offensive strengths are good awareness and a willingness to join the rush, aided by his strong skating ability. Although he has a tendency to wander on the ice, his skating allows him to recover well.

For a first season in North America, Kudelka was solid if unspectacular. Overall, the Czech native notched 31 points in 64 games, easily best among the team’s defensemen, complemented by an impressive 77 penalty minutes. Although Kudelka was slow to get going offensively, his 11 points in the same number of games in November shows he made the adjustment reasonably soon. Most of December was spent playing with the Czech World Junior team though. At the WJC, Kudelka logged significant minutes and was impressive overall. Upon returning to Lethbridge though, his offensive production was lackluster despite ample power-play time.

Nonetheless Kudelka’s first season in the WHL was no doubt a success. Although he is certainly capable of improving upon his offensive production, considering the adjustment he did fine. He is eligible to return to Lethbridge next year which would only further benefit his overall development.

Aaron Vickers contributed to this report. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.