The Ottawa Senators went on a fantastic playoff run in 2013, but the most surprising aspect of their success was that it came a season or two earlier than expected. Much of their success can be attributed to the emergence of many top prospects who made an impact in the 2012-13 NHL season.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Mika Zibanejad, C/W
2. Jakob Silfverberg, LW/RW
3. Robin Lehner, G
4. Cory Conacher, LW/RW
5. Stefan Noesen, RW
6. Chris Driedger, G
7. Patrick Wiercioch, D
8. Cody Ceci, D
9. Matt Puempel, LW
10. Mark Stone, RW
The Ottawa Senators have a skilled young team with talent at every position. Injuries caused several starters to miss large portions of the season, including top-line center Jason Spezza, number one defenseman Erik Karlsson, and starting goaltender Craig Anderson. Their absences however allowed for many young players to take more prominent positions and gain experience that should benefit their long-term development.
Many of the veteran players in Ottawa are nearing the ends of their fine hockey careers, which will leave a large gap in the team's collective NHL experience. The team also leans heavily on players such as Karlsson and Spezza, and needs more offense from their top-six forwards.
The Senators have numerous promising forward prospects including Jakob Silverberg, Mika Zibanejad, Cory Conacher, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, all who played significant roles for Ottawa in the playoffs.
Farther down the pipeline, Stephen Noesen and Matt Puempel are promising offensive weapons slated to begin their professional careers in the fall, while Mark Stone and Shane Prince completed successful rookie AHL seasons this year.
On the defensive side, Patrick Wiercioch has been steadily developing into a solid two-way defenseman who looks to be a reliable middle-pair blueliner. Eric Gryba, a strong and punishing defender, played in thirty-seven games for Ottawa this year, including four playoff games. Prospect Cody Ceci, an offensive defenseman, has shown a lot of promise too.
Robin Lehner is one of the game's top goaltending prospects, and the current backup to Senators starter Anderson. Lehner played in 12 regular season games and stopped 93.6 percent of opponents' shots. Ottawa has another talented netminder in Chris Driedger, a third-round pick from 2012 who finished 36-14-1-3 with the Calgary Hitmen and was one of the top goaltenders in the WHL.
Though Ottawa does not have many major organizational weaknesses, they will be faced with the task of replacing several top prospects who are close to being full-time NHL players. Among those in the system close to graduation are Zibanejad, Silfverberg, Conacher, and Lehner.
The organization has several promising goaltending prospects, but they do not have a great deal of depth at the position. Beyond Driedger the Senators have Andrew Hammond, a 25-year-old who recently completed a successful four-year collegiate career at Bowling Green, and Francois Brassard, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.
Along the blue line, only Ceci shows true promise as a dangerous offensive defenseman, and after the top few defenders the organization starts to show some strain. Fredrik Claesson plays a stay-at-home style and Mark Borowiecki has some two-way skill, though not a ton of offensive upside.
The Senators hold the 17th, 78th, 102nd, 108th, 138th, 161st, and 168th picks in the 2013 NHL Draft.
General Manager Bryan Murray has been running the team since 2007, and has led the Senators through six drafts and 41 draft picks. With such an extensive history, draft trends become more apparent, and more instructive.
The clear tendency involves country of origin. During Murray's tenure, every selection has come from either North America or Sweden. No Russians, Finns, or Czechs have been drafted, though nine selections were made on players from Swedish hockey leagues. The Canadian major junior leagues and the USHL are all equally represented. Murray has drafted some non-Swedes, including Jakub Culek and Ruslan Bashkirov, but both players had been skating in the QMJHL during their draft years.
As for position tendencies, Murray appears wary of drafting goaltenders in the early rounds. The Senators have drafted three goalies under Murray, with none selected in the first round and only Lehner in the second. There is no clear tendency between forward and defense however as the team looks for the best available player.
Ideally, the Senators want someone who can play both ends well, as current defensive prospects Ceci and Wiercioch are considered more offensive-minded defensemen. Mirco Mueller, Shea Theodore and Bigras all improved their draft stock, but Bigras has the better two-way game and plays close by in Owen Sound. If there is a forward with good offensive upside that is available with the 17th pick – perhaps Andre Burakowsky, whose father played for the Senators in the 1990's – then Ottawa may take him. But with a wide cast of forward prospects breaking through this season and in the near future, the more pressing need is defense.