There is still an obvious lack of elite level talent in the Ottawa Senators prospect pool. The latest edition of the Senators Top 20 features a number of young players that exhibit the qualities necessary to support the current superstars in the future.
Though there are few new additions to the list, there were some drastic changes. Most notable is a new top prospect. Josh Hennessy, reigning No. 1 prospect since March 2007, yields his crown to Nick Foligno. The rest of the list is full of familiar names including a goaltender making a return appearance after a brief hiatus.
The Senators have had the luxury of keeping a very close eye on many of their prospects through 2007-08. Ten of the top 20 youngsters played professional hockey in the Senators farm system with a handful making appearances with Ottawa.
Top 20 at a glance
1. (2) Nick Foligno, LW
2. (3) Brian Lee, D
3. (5) Ilya Zubov, C
4. (8) Kaspars Daugavins, LW
5. (1) Josh Hennessy, C
6. (6) Jim O’Brien, C
7. (7) Brian Elliott, G
8. (14) Peter Regin, C
9. (10) Alexander Nikulin, C
10. (4) Igor Mirnov, C
11. (9) Kirill Lyamin, D
12. (11) Ruslan Bashkirov, LW
13. (13) Tomas Kudelka, D
14. (19) Erik Condra, RW
15. (15) Louie Caporusso, C
16. (16) Cody Bass, C
17. (17) Vitaly Anikeyenko, D
18. (12) Shawn Weller, LW
19. (NR) Jeff Glass, G
20. (20) Ben Blood, D
Key: Rank (rank change), name, position, grade
1. (2) Nick Foligno, LW, 7.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 28th overall, 2006
In his first professional season, Foligno played more games than any other Ottawa Senator rookie. On a team where there hasn’t been much room for youngsters to develop in recent years, he found ways to contribute. Playing in 44 games with Ottawa, Foligno produced six goals and three assists, along with 20 penalty minutes. He has made four separate trips to Binghamton and will likely finish out the season there, helping the club in its push for the playoffs. He has tallied 18 points through 27 games, including seven points in his last five games since being reassigned.
Foligno’s style of play allowed for him to be cast in various roles according to the club’s needs. He saw time as a fourth line grinder, had an opportunity to be a secondary offensive forward, and filled in as a top-line winger. Averaging just over nine minutes of ice time per game, Foligno also had a chance to play on the club’s second power-play unit. He has the potential to develop into a gritty top six two-way forward. He will turn 21 on Oct. 31.
2. (3) Brian Lee, D, 7.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 9th overall, 2005
A top-ten pick in 2005, Lee is in his first pro season and has emerged as a reliable puck-moving defenseman. After spending the entire season with Binghamton, an injury to veteran Wade Redden gave him a chance to play in the NHL. In his first game, he logged nearly 20 minutes of ice time and showed poise beyond his age. GM Bryan Murray gave him a huge vote of confidence and he has been in the lineup since. He is expected to remain with Ottawa for the remainder of the season.
In Binghamton, Lee was a top pair defender, logging quality minutes in all situations. He produced 25 points in 55 games and his strong play earned him a spot on the Planet USA All-Star team. Lee battled several injuries throughout the season, including a deep ankle bruise that kept him out of the lineup for over a month. The Minnesota native is the highest draft pick on this list and the top defenseman. He turned 21 on March 26.
3. (5) Ilya Zubov, C, 7.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 98th overall, 2005
Rising up two notches is the immensely talented Zubov. The native of Chelyabinsk made his way over to North America during the off-season after signing a three-year pact. He has spent the season developing in Binghamton and has made great strides. He played his first NHL game on Jan. 15, logging just under 15 minutes.
In 70 games with Binghamton, Zubov has registered 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points, good for 10th among rookies. Zubov plays as a second or third-line winger and gets plenty of powerplay time where he can showcase his tremendous puck-handling abilities. He has notched six goals with the man advantage. Though highly skilled offensively, Zubov does need to work on the defensive side of the game and play without the puck. He is among the team’s worst with a -12 rating. Zubov has the potential to be a top-six offensive forward, but if he can’t break the NHL with his offensive skill, he likely won’t make it at all as his abilities are not suited for grinder or energy roles.
4. (8) Kaspars Daugavins, LW, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2006
It came as a bit of a shock when Daugavins was sent back to his junior squad after training camp, but with all the veterans slotted to play in Binghamton at the beginning of the season, ice time would have been hard to come by for the feisty Latvian. As it turns out, going back to the OHL was probably best for his development. He became a leader and primary offensive player for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. In 62 games, he led the club with 74 points, including 40 goals, nearly doubling the next best sniper. He posted the majority of his goals at even strength, scoring just nine on the power play. He was also a solid +11 on a club that went -40 during the season. Daugavins’ strong play earned him a trip to the OHL All-Star game.
After posting three points in four games, the Majors were eliminated from the OHL playoffs. This gives Daugavins an opportunity to rejoin Binghamton for a second stint. A passionate player with tremendous vision, he could develop into a solid top-six forward with offensive upside.
5. (1) Josh Hennessy, C, 7.0C
Acquired: Trade with Chicago 2006 (San Jose – 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2003)
Hennessy is Ottawa’s last remaining asset from the Martin Havlat trade. It was hoped that he would fill a fourth-line center role this season and develop into a top-six forward in the future, but he seems to have hit a plateau in his development. The 23-year-old hasn’t shown a great deal of improvement over his AHL career and his production has steadily declined since his rookie season. Through 70 games with Binghamton, he’s produced just 20 goals and 28 assists. He is also a team-worst -14.
Hennessy was called to the AHL All-Star game, where he picked up an assist for Planet USA. He had two brief stints in the NHL but averaged just 3:45 in ice time over five games. Drafted in 2003, Hennessy is in the final year of his entry-level contract. Though he is a hard worker with good puck skills and hockey intelligence, he needs to show more consistency and improve his defensive play if he hopes to have a career in the NHL.
6. (6) Jim O’Brien, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall, 2007
O’Brien joined the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL after signing an entry-level contract with Ottawa. The 6’2, 184-pound Minnesota native has been the club’s top pivot, seeing ice time in all situations. He recorded 21 goals and 34 assists in 70 regular season games, good for sixth among WHL rookies and fourth on his club. He had an excellent +22 rating and he amassed 66 penalty minutes. It took some time for O’Brien to really get his offensive game going. After posting just 18 points in his first 33 games, he really caught fire in the second half, scoring 38 points over the next 37 games. As the playoffs roll along, O’Brien continues to be productive. Through six playoff games in the first-round matchup versus Kelowna, he has posted four assists.
With a projectable frame, terrific hockey sense and a willingness to block shots, O’Brien already plays an excellent two-way defensive game. The Senators hope his offensive skills will continue to develop and that he can grow into a power forward.
7. (7) Brian Elliott, G, 7.0C
Acquired: 9th round, 291st overall, 2003
In his first pro season, Elliott has developed into a reliable goaltender. He covers a lot of net with his 6’2, 206 lbs frame, but his best asset is his quick reflexes. Competing with Jeff Glass for the starter role for most of the season, Elliott has emerged on top and has earned the bulk of the playing time since February. He has started all but three games in March and has helped put Binghamton within reach of a playoff spot. His save percentage is a sturdy .915, he has a 2.83 GAA overall, and has an 18-19-1 record.
Earlier in the season, when Ray Emery was still recovering from injury, Elliott was given his first NHL start on Oct. 10. He stood tall stopping 29 of 30 shots to earn his first career victory. A former Wisconsin Badger, Elliott signed an entry-level contract in March 2007 after four years of NCAA hockey. He is the top goaltender prospect in the Ottawa system.
8. (10) Alexander Nikulin, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 122nd overall, 2004
Nikulin signed with Ottawa in the off-season after spending three years in the Russian Super League and has developed well in his first season in North America. The native of Perm, Russia did not speak much of any English when he arrived and has been fortunate to have fellow countryman Ilya Zubov to help him. He has emerged as one of Binghamton’s top offensive threats and is ranked fifth among rookies in scoring with 47 points through 67 games. He holds a respectable +3 rating, one of the better ratings on the club.
Playing a responsible two-way game, Nikulin has been cast everywhere from the first to the third line. Early in the season, he earned a recall to Ottawa and filled in for two games seeing limited ice time. Nikulin is a very skilled player with a great work ethic. At 6’1, 198, he is not particularly big, but uses his size well. He may require at least another season of grooming in the minor leagues before getting a shot at being an NHL regular.
9. (14) Peter Regin, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2004
One of the highest risers on the list, Regin rockets into the top ten after a breakout season in the Swedish Elite League. In his third campaign with Timra, he nearly doubled his offensive output from the previous year, tallying 12 goals and 19 helpers for 31 points in 55 games. He was ranked third on his club in scoring. He marked five of his 12 goals on the power play and also notched three game-winners while firing a team-high 128 shots on goal.
Regin continues to elevate his game in the playoffs. He is one of the club’s offensive leaders with two goals and nine points through 10 games. He is a +2 so far in the playoffs after going -6 during the regular season. Hailing from Herning, Denmark, Regin possesses tremendous offensive skill. He is one of Ottawa’s most intriguing prospects but will need to get stronger and pay more attention to the defensive side of the game before he can step into the NHL. He remains unsigned but has expressed interest in moving overseas.
10. (4) Igor Mirnov, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 67th overall, 2003
The Senators continue to be patient with Mirnov, who has now spent five seasons in Russia since being drafted in 2003. After breaking out in 2006-07, he has struggled mightily this season. He got off to a rough start as he scored just four points though the first 15 games and was a healthy scratch on a few occasions. He had many disagreements with the coaching staff and after 24 games and just six points, he was finally moved to Magnitogorsk. The move presented a new challenge for Mirnov, who was used to getting a lot of ice time playing on a young club. Metallurg was one of the top teams in the Super League and the roster was full of veterans. He finished with nine goals, 15 points and a +4 rating in 23 games.
Magnitogorsk is through to the Super League semi-finals and Mirnov has three goals and four points in 13 games. He is also a -5 in the playoffs and has not been overly impressive. Mirnov will turn 24 in September and remains unsigned.
11. (9) Kirill Lyamin, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2004
Lyamin is another one of several Russian prospects who has not made a trip to North America. That’s unfortunate, because his hard-hitting physical and aggressive style of play is well suited for the NHL. At 22 years of age, it’s possible he could step right into a role as a stay-at-home defender. His career in the Super League has been consistent defensively, but he has yet to produce much in terms of offensive numbers, though this is not part of his game. In 40 games this season with Khimik, he notched one goal and six assists along with 77 penalty minutes and a -10 rating.
Lyamin was moved to Khimik after spending his entire Russian career in the CSKA Moscow system. His club was recently eliminated from the Super League playoffs. Lyamin’s game is built on solid defense and physical play, but he does have some untapped offensive ability including a hard slap shot and underrated passing abilities.
12. (11) Ruslan Bashkirov, R, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 60th overall, 2007
After posting 67 points in 64 games as a rookie with the Quebec Remparts in 2006-07, the Senators took a chance on Bashkirov in a year when drafting Russians was unappealing due to the lack of a transfer agreement. The fact that he had been playing in the QMJHL was the main reason why Murray was willing to gamble. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out as anticipated. Bashkirov went home to Russia, signing a five-year contract with Khimik Mytischi. The chances of him resurfacing in North America seem to be slim.
It has not been a good development year for Bashkirov, who failed to crack the lineup with Khimik. He wound up in the Russian Second League playing for Crystall Electrostal, posting just four goals in 12 games, scoring two goals in the final series. He was loaned to Khimik-2 for the High League playoffs and helped the club capture the championship. Bashkirov still has a great deal of potential. His skill has not diminished, but his decision to return to Russia will greatly impact his development.
13. (13) Tomas Kudelka, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 5th round, 136th overall, 2005
It’s been a difficult year for Kudelka. The native of Zlin, Czech Republic expected to be part of Binghamton’s top six, but was unable to hold a spot in the lineup. He went up and down between the Senators farm club and the Elmira Jackals in the ECHL all season long. He has not let this hinder his development though. Kudelka played a strong game with Elmira and improved on his weaknesses, namely his defensive zone play and play without the puck. Natural offensive skill is his trademark and only defensive lapses are holding him back at this point. His offensive abilities were quite evident in the ECHL, where his totals were five goals and 14 assists in 23 games.
Kudelka was recalled to Binghamton and will likely remain with them for the rest of the season. His AHL numbers have not been stellar, just one goal, one assist through 29 games, but he has shown a very good attitude towards improvement. He turned 21 on March 10 and should earn a permanent spot with Binghamton next season.
14. (19) Erik Condra, R, 7.0C
Acquired: 7th round, 211th overall, 2006
Condra moves up five spots on the list after another strong performance at the University of Notre Dame. He was not able to improve on his career highs set last season, but he has proven himself to be a consistent offensive threat and a responsible forward. Through 41 games, he registered 15 goals and 23 assists to lead the team with 38 points, the third consecutive season he has lead the Fighting Irish. Nine of his 15 goals were came during special-teams play, including a team-leading three short-handed markers. He held a respectable +6 rating and had 26 penalty minutes.
An alternate captain for Notre Dame, Condra remains unsigned. He is eligible to play one more season of NCAA hockey. He has added size and much needed strength and is now listed at 6’0, 202. An intelligent playmaker with terrific foot-speed and excellent vision, Condra has developed into a solid prospect for Ottawa.
15. (15) Louie Caporusso, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2007
Caporusso has had a strong freshman year with Michigan and holds his spot on the list. At 5’10, 180 lbs, it was anticipated that the Woodbridge, Ontario native might have some difficulty adjusting from the OPJRA, where he was an offensive wizard. He has developed nicely with the Wolverines, compensating well for his lack of size and showing that his tremendous offensive skill could translate to the next level. Caporusso has registered 12 goals and nine assists along with a +13 rating on a very deep Wolverines squad.
The diminutive high-scoring forward was a special recommendation of Ottawa Director of Amateur Scouting Frank Jay. Turning just 19 years old this coming June, there is plenty of development time ahead for the flashy forward. With so much offensive firepower, the Senators can afford to wait and let Caporusso develop at his own pace. He has the potential offensive skill to become a top-six forward.
16. (16) Cody Bass, C, 6.0B
Acquired: 4th round, 95th overall, 2005
Bass was recalled to Ottawa on New Year’s Eve 2007 and has not looked back since. He was left off the AHL clear-day roster and will remain on the NHL roster for the rest of the season. He has earned a spot as part of the team’s fourth line grinding trio. An ankle injury in late January forced him to sit out 28 games, but he returned, seemingly without missing a beat. He brings the same level of intensity and energy to every game, and every shift. A tireless worker and excellent grinder, Bass has picked up two points in the 18 NHL games, including his first career goal on Jan. 5 versus Buffalo. He has averaged just under five minutes of ice time.
Bass was once the heart and soul of the Mississauga Ice Dogs. He plays a very gritty game and has drawn comparisons to defensive forwards such as Kris Draper. His offensive potential is somewhat limited, but he does posses a hard shot. He started the season with Binghamton, playing 24 games and producing eight points.
17. (17) Vitaly Anikeyenko, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 70th overall, 2005
The defensive-minded Anikeyenko continues to develop in the Russia. He started the season with Yaroslavl but after he was unable to the role of a top-six defender, he was loaned to Novokuznetsk where he garnered significantly more ice time. After playing 10 games and recording two points, he returned to Yaroslavl and played his way into a primary defensive role with the club. He played a total of 40 games with Yaroslavl, producing four goals and 13 points. The total 15 points on the season were a career best. His club has advanced to the Super League finals and will play Salavat Yulaev for the championship.
Anikeyenko remains unsigned and has spent his entire career in Russia. He is another prospect the Senators are waiting to see on North American ice for the first time. A solid skater who plays a tough game, Anikeyenko has good NHL potential because of his size, now listed at 6’4, 217 lbs. He also possesses decent offensive potential including a rocket shot from the point.
18. (12) Shawn Weller, L, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 77th overall, 2004
After a brief stint in Elmira, Weller found a permanent spot with Binghamton and has developed nicely into an energy forward. In 53 games, he has notched seven goals and seven assists for 14 points. His numbers have not mirrored the stellar production he had with Clarkson last season, but it was expected that the 6’2, 205-pound forward would take some time to develop his offensive game at the professional level. Somewhat alarming is his plus/minus rating, which currently sits among the club’s worst at -13.
Weller’s offensive game was on full display during his stint in the ECHL. He recorded nine points in 10 games, including a four-point effort. He signed with Ottawa after his junior year at Clarkson and will turn 22 in July. Though he was a top-line player in college, Weller will likely develop into an energy forward and penalty killer.
19. (NR) Jeff Glass, G, 6.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2004
Making a return to the list is goaltender Glass. After a dismal 2006-07 season, he has rebounded nicely and posted excellent numbers in the first half of the season before leveling out over the second half, eventually losing the starter role to his counterpart Brian Elliott. Glass holds a 2.80 GAA with a .915 save percentage and a 14-16-4 record. The former World Junior gold medalist appears to have regained his confidence and has re-established himself as a prospect.
One of the main knocks on Glass this season has been his inability to maintain consistency. He lost the No. 1 goalie position late in the season after a tough month of February where he was pulled in five straight starts. His NHL potential is limited, but he could develop into a good depth goaltender. The 22-year-old is in the final year of his entry-level contract.
20. (20) Ben Blood, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 120th overall, 2007
Holding a spot on the list is the lanky 19-year-old Blood. Ottawa’s last selection in 2007, Blood has spent the season in the USHL after two years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He started the season with Des Moines, posting seven assists and a +1 rating in 11 games. In late November, he was moved to Indiana where he finished the season. His totals came to nine goals and 13 assists over 54 games. He recorded five goals and 11 points on the power play, but was a team worst -11.
With his club finishing first in the East Division, Blood should acquire some good playoff experience before moving on to the University of North Dakota next season. At 6’4, 220 lbs, he already possesses the size to play in the NHL. He is a solid one-on-one defender and possesses soft hands, poise with the puck and an excellent shot. Blood is a long-term project, but could develop into a solid top four defender with leadership qualities.
Missing the cut
Eric Gryba, D, 6.5C – The big rugged defenseman played his sophomore year with the Boston University Terriers.
Colin Greening, C, 6.5C – The alternate captain at Cornell had a breakout year, leading the Big Red in goals and points.