The Ottawa Senators organization is no longer a wasteland for goaltending prospects. Robin Lehner, Chris Driedger, and Marcus Hogberg highlight a deep goalie prospect list with high expectations attached. Sweden remains the European melting pot for Senators prospects, and as usual a crop of under-the-radar NCAA prospects are making a splash.
Top Pro Prospect
Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa Senators (NHL)
Robin Lehner's roster spot in Ottawa was essentially solidified last April, once his counterpart Ben Bishop was shipped to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick. As the undisputed backup, Lehner will look to build on his .936 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average from last year. Behind Craig Anderson, Lehner is a large goaltender at 6'3 and 220 pounds – albeit smaller than Bishop's 6'7 and 214 pounds – but also 22 years of age, compared to Bishop's 26.
Lehner should help the Senators win a chunk of games across the 82-game season. While offering Anderson rest when needed, he can hone his skills patiently until the time is his.
Petersson stumbled last year in the AHL, following a strong rookie pro season in 2011-12. He slipped from 44 points in 2011-12 to only five in 17 games last fall, followed by a hip injury requiring season-ending surgery.
At 23 years old, Petersson sat and watched as fellow prospects earned their first crack with Ottawa last season. A healthy Petersson offers incredible skill, bursts of speed, and scoring ability, but is accompanied by lack of size at 5'9, 172 pounds – similar traits to younger Senators prospects Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Shane Prince. Unsigned for 2014-15, Petersson has to prove this year that he is an NHL caliber talent and deserving of a new contract.
Unsigned for 2014-15
Mike Hoffman, C, Binghamton Senators (AHL)
Mike Hoffman is a speedy, middle-six winger on the brink of making the Senators. Thus far his elite level junior numbers – 98 tallies in his final two QMJHL seasons – have translated into 34 goals in 117 games over his last two AHL seasons with Binghamton. He led the team in points before suffering a broken collarbone before the All-Star game, only to return 10 games into the playoffs.
Like Petersson, Hoffman is 23 years old and competing with a deep list of younger up-and-coming forwards. Unlike Petersson he has consistently progressed in spite of last year's injury. Hoffman was recently assigned to the AHL. He will be among the first players to earn an injury call-up to the NHL. He will have to have a big season in 2013-14 to be re-signed by the Senators.
Curtis Lazar brings grit, physicality and leadership qualities on top of offensive talent. Named assistant captain in 2012-13, his second full season with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, he compiled 38 goals, 23 assists and a plus-25 rating.
As the Senators' 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft, he signed a three-year entry-level contract this September. At 18 years old, with an army of older forward prospects slotted ahead of him on the depth charts, expect another full season of development with the Oil Kings for Lazar.
Standing at 6'0, 197 pounds, his physical presence already offers more than the likes of Pageau, Hoffman, Petersson and Stephane Da Costa. That along with his offensive skill suggest he will make the NHL within a few years.
New team in 2013-14
Vincent Dunn, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Vincent Dunn grew up across the Ottawa River in nearby Gatineau, Quebec, where he will lace up this season playing with the Olympiques in the QMJHL. Traded in June from the Val D'or Foreurs, Dunn joins a team considered favourites to win the West Division and looking to improve upon a second-round playoff exit.
At 5'11, 173 pounds, he plays a grittier style than fellow 2013 draft pick Curtis Lazar despite his smaller frame. His 25 goals, 27 assists put him one point shy of a point-per-game last season with Val D'Or – a notable jump from 13 points in 52 games in his rookie campaign.
Dunn plays an effective "agitator" role and if he continues to post high point totals, he will gradually climb the Senators' depth chart. Assuming he gets comfortable with a deep Gatineau team, expect an even bigger junior season.
Chris Driedger, G, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
The Calgary Hitmen boast one of the WHL's best with Driedger entering his third straight year as starting goaltender. His 36-14-4 record, 2.51 goals against average, and .915 save percentage in 2012-13 were among the league leaders. In the playoffs those numbers catapulted as he carried his team to game seven of the Eastern conference finals.
Another step forward is expected for Driedger. If he can perform this fall, he will be in legitimate discussions to make Team Canada's World Junior squad. While Driedger has proven ability, the added incentive could help him raise his stock to new heights.
Top Amateur Prospect
Ryan Dzingel, C, Ohio State University Buckeyes (Big 10)
A seventh-round pick of the 2011 draft, Dzingel is a skilled playmaker with a capable shot, whose assists always outweigh his goal totals. He plays alongside fellow Senators 2011 draft pick, sixth-rounder Max McCormick in Ohio State. As co-captain, Dzingel led the Buckeyes in scoring last year with 38 points, posting a team-high 16 goals.
Dzingel's playmaking abilities are his strengths. With the puck he can create scoring opportunities for linemates McCormick and Tanner Fritz, and he will be relied upon if Ohio State has any chance of success. He still has two seasons to develop physically, although at 6'0, 197 pounds, he is a good size by NHL standards. He can skate well and he can create offense, but he is not known for being physical.
Freshman to Watch
Robbie Baillargeon, C, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Baillargeon joins Boston University after a nearly point-per-game season split between the Indiana Ice and Omaha Lancers in the USHL. Not particularly big at 5'11, 173 pounds, he is an agitator who can rattle opponents.
If Baillargeon can translate his strong skating ability and tenacity into a better two-way game and increase his size, those are qualities the Senators will be looking for in players down the road – especially with a plethora of other offensively gifted forward prospects in the mix. Expect Baillargeon to flourish offensively in the NCAA.
Unsigned for 2014-15
Jeff Costello, LW, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
Entering his senior year as captain of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Costello will aim to repeat his breakout junior year production of 11 goals, 19 assists in 30 games. His leadership qualities, work ethic, and clutch scoring make him a valuable asset to any hockey club. As a 6'0, 210-pound two-way forward, his qualities and offensive numbers – if he can repeat them – bode well for his chances of earning a contract offer.
Top European Prospesct
Marcus Hogberg, G, Mora IK (Allsvenskan)
Hogberg offers a set of skills reminiscent of fellow Swedish Senators prospect Robin Lehner, although at 18 years of age has yet to prove his worth. Listed at 6'4, 194 lbs, his size gives him tremendous upside. He plays a compact butterfly style, with his rebound control considered an area for improvement. Overall his game is sound for a new draft pick, and his calmness in the crease suggests he will not crack under the pressures of a new environment in North America, whenever he decides to switch.
As one of the top European goalies in his draft year, Hogberg already earned a professional debut in three games with Linkoping in Sweden's SEL last season. This season he is on loan to Mora IK of Sweden's Allsvenskan league.
Unsigned for 2014-15
Mikael Wikstrand, D, Mora IK (Allsvenskan)
Hockey fans in Sweden are likely beginning to recognize 19 year-old Mikael Wikstrand, an exciting defenseman with offensive upside. He is 6'1, 185 pounds, can distribute the puck well, shoot with accuracy, and boasts a solid defensive game. He represented his country in the 2013 World Junior Championship where he notched four assists, offering the hockey world a glimpse of his game. Wikstrand enters his second season with Mora IK in Sweden's Allsvenskan.
Tobias Lindberg, RW, Djurgardens IF (Allsvenskan)
Lindberg remains a hard prospect to get an accurate read on. He has good size at 6'2 and 187 pounds at 18 years old, but his numbers vary greatly due to his time spent between Djurgardens under-18, under-20 and men's team over the course of the 2012-13 season. In two games with Sweden's under-18 national team he posted two goals and a helper.
Lindberg begins the 2013-14 season with Djurgardens under-20 squad, but will soon join the men's team permanently. For a physically mature youngster, this could be the year he stands out.