Senators junior prospects update

By Jason Menard

One of the lessons learned since the advent of the new CBA is that it’s hard to keep young talent together once it reaches a certain level in the NHL. Some teams, like the Ottawa Senators, have learned that lesson harder than others – but they’ve also shown the foresight to understand that one must replenish from within to succeed long term.

Recent trades have bolstered the franchise’s professional ranks and quality drafting has resulted in a crop of talented players showcasing themselves in the junior ranks. The Senators have five players currently in the CHL, one in the WHL, one in the QMJHL, and three – including their two marquee names – in the OHL.

WHL

Tomas Kudelka, D — Lethbridge Hurricanes
(5th round, 2005)

Kudelka’s initial season on North American soil was a success. Factor that with a solid showing in a brief stay in Binghamton and a positive display during the club’s training and it’s no surprise that the Ottawa Senators extended a three-year contract to the 6’1 rearguard earlier this year.

Kudelka hasn’t rested on his laurels either, as the Czech blueliner has improved in all facets of his game. While a six-goal, 25-assist season was respectable last year, Kudelka is on pace to surpass that this season as he’s already accounted for five goals and 13 assists. More importantly, while the blueliner was passable defensively last season, increased focus on his own end of the ice has left him with a solid +6 plus/minus rating.

The Czech-born blueliner already has had a taste of the professional ranks, having been called up to Binghamton in the American Hockey League last season. The expectations are that he will be extended a similar invite this season once the Hurricanes close up shop for the season.

OHL

Cody Bass, C — Mississauga Ice Dogs
(4th round, 2005)

One could easily forgive Cody Bass – or any of the Mississauga Ice Dogs, for a less-than-stellar performance this season. With ownership questions, fan anger, and an up-in-the-air future, one’s on-ice performance could easily be impacted by this level of distraction.

On the positive side, Bass continues to play and play well. His performance earned an invite to Team Canada’s Summer Development camp, and he already has nine professional games under his belt following last year’s call-up to Binghamton after the Ice Dogs’ season came to an end.

Last year, Bass had his best season of his young career, totaling 41 points and 16 goals in his 67 games. This season has been a bit of a come-down for the 6’ Guelph-born center, as he’s seen his offensive production slip to four goals and eight assists in the club’s 18 games. But the fact that his team has performed so poorly around him hasn’t helped his cause.

Ryan Daniels, G — Saginaw Spirit
(5th round, 2006)

If the Saginaw Spirit have been considered one of the main challengers for the OHL crown, the play of their 18-year-old netminder is a large reason why.

In just his second full season with the club, Daniels has posted an 18-7-0-1 record with a 3.70 GAA and .904 save percentage to help lead the Spirit to a share of first place overall in the OHL, alongside the London Knights (who have two games in hand). In fact, the workhorse Daniels is responsible for all but one game for Saginaw this season.

It’s been a huge jump in the workload for the Scarborough, ON native, as he’s already equaled the number of starts he earned last year. Although the records are comparable, Daniels has been able to knock off almost a full goal from his GAA – a testament both to his continued development and the strength of the club around him.

The goaltender has progressed leaps and bounds since his freshman campaign – one in which he was awarded recognition as the rookie goaltender with the lowest GAA. With a couple more years of eligibility ahead of him, and a club built to make a run at the OHL championship this year, Daniels is shaping up to be a valuable asset for the Senators in the long term.

Nick Foligno, C — Sudbury Wolves
(1st round, 2006)

We all know that pedigree is not a question for the Wolves’ center. Nor will dad’s lessons be forgotten as the elder Foligno serves as Sudbury’s head coach. But the junior Foligno has proven that he’s ready to step out from his father’s famous footsteps and carve a name for himself in hockey rinks across the country.

Nick is on pace to pass father Mike’s accomplishments in his third season with the Wolves. As the son looks to surpass the father (who totaled 47 goals and 39 assists in 67 games in his third season with the Wolves in 1977-78), the younger Foligno is taking on a solid leadership role at both ends of the rink with the current incarnation of Sudbury’s club. Nick has posted totals of 12 goals and 28 assists in just 25 games – a total that’s good for tops on the Wolves roster and 14th overall in the OHL.

The 19-year-old has continues to be a plus player for the hometown club – a feat he’s accomplished in all three years of his OHL career and a testament to his dedication to working at both ends of the rink. Foligno is also relied upon in all game situations, evidenced by his four power-play markers and two short-handed tallies.

This holiday season, Foligno may face off against his potential future teammate Bass, as he earned an invite to this summer’s U.S. junior evaluation camp in preparation for the 2007 World Junior Championships and is almost a shoo-in to be selected to the final roster.

QMJHL

Pierre-Luc Lessard, D — Prince Edward Island Rocket
(4th round, 2006)

Lessard is part of a deep and mobile group of defensemen for the Rocket, a club that transferred from Montreal. And while no one’s making direct comparisons to another Montreal club’s big three on defense, Lessard, alongside Marc-André Gragnani (BUF) and Pierre-Marc Guilbault have combined for a whopping 69 points in the club’s first 26 games leading to a 13-9-0-4 record.

The native of Thedford Mines, QC has accounted for 10 goals from the blue line, a total that leads the defense and is fourth overall on the club. He has complemented that with eight assists. Already Lessard has exceeded his career-high goal total of eight, set last season in Gatineau, and he’s well on his way to topping last year’s total of 32 points.

Lessard has average size and is more likely to beat you with a pretty pass or some deft stickwork instead of riding an opponent into the boards. However, he’s paid more attention to that aspect of his game and owns an even plus/minus rating.

A jack of all trades, but master of none, Lessard is rounding out to be a solid overall blueliner with a knack for chipping in offensively. With the ability to make the smart first pass and the skills needed to skate with the puck, Lessard’s game is even more valuable with the way hockey is played today.


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