Senators AHL prospect update

By Sean Keogh

The Ottawa Senators prospect pipeline is running dry in the AHL at the moment. What is unusual is how few of the quality prospects were actually drafted by the team, with Arttu Luttinen and Jeff Glass being the only such notable players in Binghamton. The vast majority of players were signed as free agents by the club, although Josh Hennessy and Michal Barinka were acquired through trade.

There is a possible correlation between a lack of top prospects provided by Ottawa and the struggles of the squad in Binghamton. The “Baby Sens” are currently last in the Eastern Conference, and third to last in the league overall, having given up the most goals in the league, despite average offensive production.

Goaltending

With the club sitting last in the league in goals allowed, the first place to look at is naturally goaltending. Last season, Billy Thompson was expected to start, but very quickly lost the job to Kelly Guard. History has somewhat repeated itself this year, as Guard has slowly lost playing time to Glass, although Guard also spent some time on the bench in Ottawa when Ray Emery was hurt.

After a solid month of October when he posted a 2.64 GAA and .909 save percentage, Guard began to struggle through November. The low point was an embarrassing 10-4 loss on Dec. 16 in Rochester, where he played all 60 minutes. Guard through 17 games has a 5-10-1 record with a 3.76 GAA and .875 save percentage.

Guard’s counterpart, the 21-year-old Glass, has shown improvement of late with increased playing time. His 4-8-1 record, also in 17 games, and 3.71 GAA and .893 save percentage don’t suggest he is much of an improvement over Guard. That being said, he was strong in five of the six starts, including a stellar 36-save victory over Toronto.

Ultimately while neither is an elite prospect, Glass is two and a half years younger and has a higher upside. The ideal situation would see Glass continue to build on the consistency he has showed in December as the starter. If Binghamton has any hope of turning it around for a playoff push, they will need some consistent goaltending, which so far this year Guard has proven incapable of providing.

Defense

Although the club’s goaltenders have struggled, the defense has not thrived either. Veterans Jamie Allison, Tomas Malec and Andy Hedlund have led the blue line, but along with inconsistent defensive zone coverage, the defensemen have provided little in the way of offense.

The top blue line prospect to have played in Binghamton this year was Barinka. A fourth-year AHLer with 34 games of NHL experience, the former Chicago Blackhawks prospect was also supposed to be a top contributor. Unfortunately, Barinka’s biggest flaw, consistency, hampered him to begin the year again. He recorded only two points in 17 games, with 22 penalty minutes.

Barinka’s season in Binghamton seems to have come to an end though. The 22-year-old blueliner left the club to return to his native Czech Republic for family reasons. As a result, the organization suspended Barinka in order to retain his rights while he plays for a club team back home. It remains to be seen when he will return to North America.

Getting a chance to play top four minutes in Barinka’s absence has been Charlie Cook, signed in the summer after a rookie season with the Philadelphia Phantoms last year. The undersized Cook put up offensive numbers in college, and has some offensive upside. A Cornell University alumnus, he has put up nine points in 24 games so far.

To begin the year, Neil Petruic and Neil Komadoski were expected to fight simply to stay in the line-up. With Barinka’s departure, both have played regularly. Petruic has improved and may be able to contribute more offensively. Komadoski has shown limited improvement as well, but continues to struggle with speed.

Forwards

The top prospect in Binghamton is without a doubt Hennessy, who was acquired along with Barinka in the Martin Havlat trade this past summer. In his rookie professional season last year, Hennessy led the Cleveland Barons in scoring with 63 points. With a lack of offensive talent on the club, the expectations going into the campaign for the 21-year-old Hennessy were significant.

So far this season Hennessy has produced at nearly the same level as last year. The Massachusetts native has put up 23 points in 29 games, and has played his best hockey of the season in recent weeks. The speedy two-way center was even rewarded with a two-game call-up to Ottawa.

The top-scoring prospect on Binghamton though has actually been Andrew Ebbett. A rookie who played the last four years at the University of Michigan, Ebbett was signed as a free agent by Ottawa this summer. The 5’9, 172-pound 23-year-old has truly been a pleasant surprise, registering 27 points in 28 games. He is tied for fourth among AHL rookies in scoring. Not simply an offensive producer, Ebbett is a hard-working center who plays in all situations.

The other biggest surprise this season has been Danny Bois. A former Colorado third round pick and captain of the OHL’s London Knights, Bois was another free-agent signing. A fiery agitator who only scored six points in his first AHL campaign two years ago, he showed significant improvement last year. This season, Bois has put up 10 goals and 17 points in 22 games this season, and even earned himself a one-game call-up to Ottawa. He has emerged as one of Binghamton’s most valuable players this season, and a player capable of pushing for regular NHL duty next year.

The only other notable forward prospect in Binghamton is Luttinen, another rookie AHLer. A stocky Helsinki, Finland native, Luttinen was one of the top scorers in the Finnish Elite League last year, but hasn’t provided quite as much offensive punch as was hoped this season. After getting off to a hot start with eight points in his first 10 games, he has slowed down. In 26 games, he has put up 15 points, and may require more development time in Binghamton than was expected.

Three other forward prospects have played for Binghamton this season. Ryan Vesce was an all-star last year as a rookie with the Springfield Falcons, but has only put up 18 points in 29 games thus far this season. He was signed by Ottawa in the hopes that he would provide more offense than he has.

Third-year forward Grant Potulny, 26, had a breakout campaign last season, but has not taken another big step forward. He is nonetheless a valuable checking line player and a key contributor on the penalty kill for Binghamton.

One player who was considered to be a wild card for Binghamton this season was Bobby Robins. He showed some raw potential late last year after graduating from college, but this year, he has failed to contribute offensively. He only has three goals in 29 games this season.

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