Senators 2007-08 junior prospect season review

By Derek Cheng

In 2007-08, the Ottawa Senators had five prospects developing in junior hockey — two forwards, two defensemen, and a goaltender.

Kaspars Daugavins, LW – OHL

Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2006
6’0, 205 lbs.

All signs pointed to Daugavins turning pro in the fall of 2007.  After a strong OHL rookie campaign where he put up nearly a point-per-game for the league’s worst team, he didn’t look out of place while suiting up for 11 games with the AHL Binghamton Senators at the end of the season.  With the baby Senators going through a major off-season overhaul, it seemed the new regime would be filled with young talent, making Daugavins a prime candidate to land a position in the lineup.  But an average showing at training camp coupled with the signing of several AHL veterans, and Daugavins was headed back to the OHL.

The newly-relocated Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors battled their way out of the league basement and back into a playoff spot with Daugavins at the helm.  In 62 games, he more than doubled his previous season goal output, from 18 to 40.  He also put up a team-leading 34 assists for a total of 74 points, 25 higher than the team’s next top scorer.  On a club that was a combined -40 in the season, he was a +11. 

Daugavins’ terrific play earned him an invitation to the All-Star Classic, where he picked up an assist.  In the playoffs, he was once again the team’s top player, registering an assist and tallying two goals, half of the team’s total goals in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Niagara IceDogs.  When his OHL season ended, Daugavins joined Binghamton for a three-game stint and notched an assist. He also suited up for Latvia at the World Championships and the World Junior Championships (Division I) where he powered his country to a gold medal with a 10-point performance, tied for the tournament lead.

Daugavins is already signed to an entry-level contract and should be a regular in Binghamton’s lineup for the 2008-09 season.

Jim O’Brien, C – WHL

Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall, 2007
6’2, 190 lbs.

In his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, O’Brien saw limited ice time on a club that was filled with potential NHL talent.  With many of the top players returning, O’Brien felt that staying with the Gophers was not the best option for his development.  Shortly after being selected 29th overall at the 2007 draft, he signed an entry-level contract with Ottawa, voiding his NCAA eligibility, and giving him the opportunity to further his hockey development at the major-junior level.

O’Brien joined the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL and immediately became one of the club’s top pivots.  He finished the season with 21 goals and 34 assists for 55 points in 70 games.  He also punched in with 66 penalty minutes and a +22 rating as the club rolled to a fourth-place finish.  His season started off rather slowly and his totals at the mid-way point left much room for improvement.  In the second half, he took his game to another level, posting 37 points in the final 37 games.  Though he cooled off offensively in the playoffs, O’Brien still played extremely well, demonstrating his excellent checking and defensive abilities.  He chimed in for eight points in 12 playoff games as the Thunderbirds bowed out in the second round. 

A product of the USA National Development program, O’Brien has excellent potential along with a solid frame.  Possessing exceptional hockey sense and skill, one of his best attributes is his willingness to learn the game and become as complete a player as possible.  Already a terrific two-way player, O’Brien hopes his offensive skill will continue to develop so he can grow into a complete power forward package.

Pierre-Luc Lessard, D – QMJHL

Acquired: 4th round, 121st overall, 2006
6’0, 186 lbs.

A native of Thetford Mines, Quebec, Lessard finished another productive season in the QMJHL, capping off his major-junior career.  Originally a draft pick of the Gatineau Olympiques, he was traded to Prince Edward Island during the 2006 off-season.  He became a staple on the Rocket defense corps, scoring 67 points in 110 games, including 33 points in 40 games in 2007-08 while serving as team captain.  But with his club struggling to find its way into the playoff picture at the mid-season mark, Lessard was on the move again, this time landing with Baie-Comeau in a blockbuster deal.  Lessard finished the season with 49 points in 67 games, sixth best in the league among defensemen.  The second place Drakkar were a favorite to go deep in the playoffs but fell in the first round to Rimouski.  Lessard registered three points in five playoff games.

Drafted in 2006, Lessard must sign with the Senators by June 1 or re-enter the draft.  Though he possesses good skill and abilities, the Senators have a slew of young defenders who play a similar style that are further in their development.

Ryan Daniels, G – OHL

Acquired: 5th round, 151st overall, 2006
6’1, 194 lbs.

Daniels took over as Saginaw’s starting goaltender in 2006-07, playing in 60 of the club’s 68 games.  He didn’t have quite as heavy a workload in his second stint as a No. 1 netminder, but for a second straight season, Daniels posted a save percentage of .907, facing an average of 33 shots per game.  His goals against average dipped slightly but was still a respectable 3.15, 15th in the league.  In 49 games played, he recorded 20 victories, 15 losses, and 10 OT/shootout losses, along with two shutouts.

The Spirit struggled early in the season, occupying the West Division basement for much of the first quarter.  Team defense was not a strong point and Daniels himself was not putting forth his best effort.  Daniels helped to turn the team’s fortunes in December and from there on to the end of the season, he posted some of the best numbers in the OHL, going 15-9-7 with a 3.00 GAA and a .917 save percentage.  His strong play through the second half helped Saginaw earn a playoff berth as the seventh seed in the West.  Unfortunately, his strong play did not carry into the playoffs.  Daniels was pulled from the third game of the opening round after allowing four goals on 16 shots.  He did not start the fourth game and Saginaw bowed out in four straight with Daniels posting three losses, a 4.64 GAA and a .876 save percentage.  It also marked the second straight playoff year he was pulled and did not finish the series.

The Senators will lose the rights to Daniels if he is not signed by June 1.  He is one of only three goaltenders currently in the system. 

Ben Blood, D – USHL

Acquired: 4th round, 120th overall, 2007
6’4, 220 lbs.

Bridging the gap between high school and college, Blood spent the 2007-08 season in the USHL.  The native of Plymouth, Minnesota was Ottawa’s fourth selection in 2007 and at just 19 years of age, already possesses NHL-caliber size.  Blood began the season as a member of the Des Moines Buccaneers, suiting up for 11 games and posting 7 assists, 4 coming on the power play.  His strong play early in the season earned him a spot on the 2007 U.S. Junior Select Team at the World Junior A Championships.  He registered 1 goal and 4 assists in the tournament, helping his country capture the bronze medal. 

When Blood returned to the USHL from the tournament, he was traded from Des Moines to Indiana, where he helped the Ice capture the top spot in the East Division.  He was used as a top pair defenseman and finished the season as the club’s second leading scorer among defensemen with 10 goals and 23 points.  Blood was a power-play specialist, notching 12 points with the man-advantage.  Despite finishing first in the division, Indiana was knocked out in the first round.  Blood struggled through the first two games, but played much better in the final two, picking up a goal and two assists. 

With Blood committed to attending the University of North Dakota in 2008-09, the Senators do not have to sign him until after his senior season.  Given his size and readiness, he may not use all of his eligibility.