Senators Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By Josh Chenoweth

While the Senators may not have a cupboard filled with top-end prospects, there have been significant improvements in the depth of the talent Ottawa has on the horizon. Several prospects are in the midst of having strong seasons, and as a result, their stocks have risen.

There has been a great deal of movement throughout the Senators list, and a new player has claimed the title of top prospect.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Erik Karlsson, D 
2. Brian Lee, D
3. Brian Elliott, G
4. Ilya Zubov, F
5. Peter Regin, C
6. Patrick Wiercioch, D
7. Jim O’Brien, C
8. Louie Caporusso, F
9. Zach Smith, C
10. Cody Bass, C
11. Vitaly Anikeyenko, D
12. Erik Condra, RW
13. Kirill Lyamin, D
14. Jesse Winchester, F
15. Mattias Karlsson, D
16. Andre Petersson, LW
17. Josh Hennessy, C
18. Kaspars Daugavins, LW
19. Igor Mirnov, C
20. Tomas Kudelka, D

1. (2) Erik Karlsson, D
Grade: 8 C (7.5C)
Acquired: 2008 draft, 15th overall

Karlsson is having a stellar season. Everyone knew that the slick Swede had solid offensive skills, but after an outstanding showing at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa, there is no doubt that Karlsson is Ottawa’s top prospect. Karlsson was named to the tournament all-star team, and named the best defenseman overall.

Back in the Swedish Elite League, Karlsson’s play has improved noticeably. Receiving decent time on the power play, though limited in other situations, he has scored five goals to go along with five assists in 44 games. Most of his points have come in the latter half of the season. It is a far cry from when he was demoted to the farm club when he was struggling early in the year.  He played seven games in the Allsvenskan, with one assist.

Karlsson’s strengths include his amazing skating ability, and offensive awareness. However, he could stand to be more cautious in his decisions with the puck while skating through the neutral zone. He will also need to fill out his 5’11, 165 lbs frame in order to make the jump to the NHL. While he is probably another year away from the NHL, Karlsson’s future looks very bright.

2. (1) Brian Lee, D
Grade: 7.5B (7.5B)
Acquired: 2005 draft, 9th overall

Lee’s season has been an interesting one. He struggled in the beginning of the year while playing in Ottawa, receiving little in the way of quality ice time. This resulted in him being sent to Binghamton to gain more experience, and improve his play. Since his recall to Ottawa, Lee has been a different player. He has used his foot speed and passing abilities to his advantage far more often. Many nights he has led all Ottawa players in ice time, or at least been near the top in that category. His improvement to his shot, one of the weaknesses in his game, has earned him his first two NHL goals.

While Lee will most likely never be a top-pairing defenseman, he is showing that he can be a solid top-four man, and contribute offensively with his smart passing, and solid hockey sense. He has also improved his defensive zone coverage significantly, though he could stand to add a bit more muscle to his frame.

3. (3) Brian Elliott, G

Grade: 8.0D (7.0B)
Acquired: 2003 draft, 291st overall

Senators GM Bryan Murray said in the summer that he wanted to see how Elliott would do after about 30 games in the AHL before making a decision on whether or not to call him up to the NHL.  After 30 games, compiling a record of 18-8-1 with a .926 GAA, Elliott was called up when the struggling Martin Gerber was sent to the AHL, and he hasn’t looked back since. For a time, Elliott assumed the mantle of No. 1 goalie in Ottawa, though a recent string of sub-par performances have put him back in a competition with Alex Auld for the title.

Elliott has shown in the AHL that he can be an elite goalie, and that he can shake off bad games with ease. While he has experienced some bumps while in the NHL this season, he has also shown flashes of being a legitimate No. 1 goalie in the league. His positioning and competitiveness are both top notch. With his great attitude and dedication to training, Elliott should be a major contender for the starting role in Ottawa for the 2009-10 season.

4. (7) Ilya Zubov, F
Grade: 7.5C (7.0C)
Acquired: 2005 draft, 98th overall

After struggling in his first season in North America, Zubov spent the summer of 2008 in Ottawa training with NHLers such as Chris Neil and Chris Kelly in order to improve his lackluster endurance. It has paid off for him handsomely as Zubov now leads the Binghamton Senators in scoring with 39 points in 41 games, a noticeable improvement on the 38 points in 74 games he scored last year.

With his great speed and offensive ability, Zubov has been one of Binghamton’s best players all season long. His solid play resulted in a 10-game call-up to Ottawa where he notched his first two points in the NHL, both assists. Still, like most young forwards, improvement in his play in his own zone is a necessity. Even so, Zubov should challenge for a regular spot on the Ottawa roster next season. If he does not get a spot on the team next year, bolting back to Russia could become an issue.

5. (8) Peter Regin, C
Grade: 7.5C (7.0C)
Acquired: 2004 draft, 87th overall

While Regin struggled with injuries in the beginning of the season, since returning he has been one of Binghamton’s best forwards. The slick, two-way center has scored 10 goals and 22 assists in 43 games to go with his team-high +10 rating. His strong play resulted in a six -game call-up to Ottawa, where he notched his first NHL goal.

To take the next step and become a regular in the NHL, Regin needs to bulk up this offseason. If he does, expect to see him on the opening-night roster for Ottawa.  His hockey sense, skating, and skills are all strong, it’s just a matter of making sure his body can deal with the rigors of a full NHL season.

6. (13) Patrick Wiercioch, D
Grade: 7.5C (7.0C)
Acquired: 2008 draft, 42nd overall

One of the highest risers on the list this year, Wiercioch has been quite the success story this season. Originally intent on attending Wisconsin beginning in 2009-10, after another year in the USHL, Wiercioch was offered a spot at the University of Denver for this season, and took it. In 28 games, Wiercioch has compiled 11 goals and 30 points, leading Denver’s blueline in scoring while holding his own in the defensive end. He is also fourth in overall scoring among defensemen in the NCAA.

Wiercioch’s strong season resulted in an invitation to Team Canada WJC selection camp. While he failed to make the cut, the fact that he was invited when he went into this season on hardly anybody’s radar is a solid accolade on its own. Wiercioch is still at least another year away from turning pro, and needs to fill out his 6’4, 180 lbs frame. He could also stand to work on his skating stride, but that could simply be him adjusting to playing in his body after having a major growth spurt just before he was drafted. Expect to see Wiercioch seriously contend for a spot on Team Canada’s blueline for the 2010 WJC.

7. (7) Jim O’Brien, C
Grade: 7.0C (7.0C)
Acquired: 2007 draft, 29th overall

After a solid rookie campaign in the WHL that saw him finish with 21 goals and 55 points, O’Brien went into this season with the expectations of being one of Seattle’s go-to players offensively. While O’Brien has been consistent, scoring 51 points in 54 games, he’s hardly been spectacular offensively. He has however maintained his excellent two-way play, as shown by his +12 rating, the second highest on his team.

O’Brien earned a spot on Team USA’s WJC roster, playing mostly on the third line. He showed excellent speed, and a lethal slap shot, while playing well in his own end. O’Brien will turn pro at the end of Seattle’s season, and should spend the 2009-10 season in Binghamton honing his skills. At this point, O’Brien seems more likely to turn out to be a Mike Fisher type player: and excellent third liner who’s rock solid in his own zone, while showing some scoring touch. Second-line potential is still there, but it seems unlikely that he’ll reach that level.

8. (17) Louie Caporusso, F
Grade: 7.0C (7.0C)
Acquired: 2007 draft, 90th overall

Another high climber on the top 20 list, Caporusso has been exceptional in his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. With many of the team’s veterans leaving after last season, there was an offensive void left on Michigan’s roster, and Caporusso has filled it with no difficulty. Currently sitting at second in the NCAA in goal scoring with 22, and tied for sixth overall with 40 points, the small, speedy forward has been named to the preliminary list of candidates for the Hobey Baker award as top NCAA player.

There is a good chance that Zubov and Regin could join the NHL full time next season, and Caporusso could fill one of their spots among the top six forwards in Binghamton for 2009-10. There is no doubt his offensive skills could be put to good use.  Still, another year in the NCAA is not out of the question.

9. (NR) Zach Smith, C
Grade: 7.0C (6.5C)
Acquired: 2008 draft, 79th overall

Senators GM Bryan Murray was very high on Smith, taking the 20-year-old in the third round of the 2008 draft when he began to worry that another team might snatch him away. Murray’s faith in Smith has been justified thus far. Smith was essentially the final cut from Ottawa’s training camp, and started the year in Binghamton on a scoring tear. He’s cooled off considerably, but Smith has still managed to score 37 points in 57 games, while amassing 98 penalty minutes, many of them from fighting majors.

Smith earned a one-game call-up with Ottawa earlier in the year, and could challenge for a full-time spot in the NHL next season. His feistiness, and willingness to crash the net would be welcome in Ottawa. However, with Zubov and Regin ahead of him on the depth chart, Smith may have to play another year in the AHL before getting his chance.

10. (11) Cody Bass, C
Grade: 6.5B (6.5B)
Acquired: 2005 draft, 95th overall

Bass was expected to be in Ottawa’s starting line-up this season, anchoring the fourth line. An injury prevented him from playing, and then Bass became a victim of the numbers game, as there was no room for him on the Ottawa roster. It resulted in his demotion to Binghamton. There Bass played major minutes on the penalty kill, and provided a physical edge for Binghamton. He was eventually recalled to Ottawa, but sustained a season-ending injury.

Bass has shown what he can bring in the NHL: a physical, defensive forward who is excellent on the penalty kill, and has speed to burn. He’ll never be confused for a scorer, but he can chip in occasionally. He’s also shown that he can up his game when called upon, as he was one of Ottawa’s best forwards in their brief 2008 playoff run. Hopefully he can recover from his injury in the offseason, and be ready for full-time duty in Ottawa next season.

11. (NR) Vitaly Anikeyenko, D
Grade: 7.0C (6.5C)
Acquired: 2005 draft, 70th overall

Anikeyenko returns to the Senators top 20 after some time. For a while it seemed like Anikeyenko had stalled in his development, but this past season with Yaroslavl of the KHL has shown what he can bring to the ice. He has 10 points in 39 games, solid numbers for a young defenseman in a very defensive league. His overall play has improved significantly over the past two seasons.

As with most Russian prospects, the question of whether or not Anikeyenko will ever come over to North America remains to be seen. He probably would not allow himself to be sent to the AHL, so he would need to be guaranteed a spot on the Ottawa roster to even consider coming across the pond. Even if he were to be guaranteed a roster spot, he may not see the point in coming to a league where he has no experience, and being signed to a restricted rookie deal, when he is comfortable in a league that pays comparable salaries to the NHL.

12. (14) Erik Condra, RW

Grade: 7.0C (7.0C)
Acquired: 2006 draft, 211th overall

Condra has been a model of consistency while playing for Notre Dame in the NCAA. He’s led his team in scoring in each of his first three seasons, and is in the midst of doing so once again. Condra has also been a leader for the Fighting Irish, being named captain in this, his senior year. Using his speed and hockey smarts, Condra has 10 goals and 32 points in 33 games this season.

After having such consistent success at the NCAA level, it would be surprising to not see Condra turn pro after his season at Notre Dame comes to a close. Depending on how far both Notre Dame and Binghamton’s respective playoff runs go, Condra could join Binghamton late in the year. Condra has some scoring upside, but is more likely to become a third liner with some scoring ability.

13. (12) Kirill Lyamin, D
Grade: 7.0C (7.0C)
Acquired: 2004 draft, 58th overall

Like fellow Russian defender Anikeyenko, Lyamin has had a very strong season. In 53 games he has scored 2 goals and 8 points, both career highs, while accumulating 82 penalty minutes. Lyamin may be putting up his best offensive numbers to date in Russia, but he’ll never be an offensive puck-moving defenseman. He’s a physical shut-down player through and through, similar to current Senator Anton Volchenkov.

As with Anikeyenko, whether or not Lyamin will ever come over to North America remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely at this point. If he were to come over, he would probably have to play in the AHL, something which he may not be willing to do.

14. (NR) Jesse Winchester, F

Grade: 6.0B (6.0B)
Acquired: Free Agent

After completing his senior year at Colgate, Winchester was signed to a one-year deal by the Senators, and suited up for a single game in the 2007-08 season. Coming into training camp this season, Winchester was expected to stick in the NHL, as he was signed to a one-way contract for the next two seasons. He didn’t disappoint, cracking the Ottawa roster, and earning a brief stint on the top line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. He’s since been relegated to third and fourth-line duty, where he has fit in nicely.

Winchester has shown that he can play at the NHL level, but will probably top out as a third -line winger. Winchester has shown he has a gritty side to his game, and he isn’t a liability in his own end. With some more experience, he should carve out a niche for himself as a solid bottom-six forward.

15. (NR) Mattias Karlsson, D

Grade: 6.5C (6.5C)
Acquired: 2003 draft, 135th overall

After a brief hiatus, Karlsson returns to the top 20 list. He was expected to play in Binghamton last season, but a freak injury sidelined him for a significant period of time. When he recovered, he was sent to play back in Sweden, where he managed to crack the roster of Farjestads BK Karlstad in the SEL, after playing for Bofors IK in the Allsvensken, the second highest league in Sweden. He returned to North America in good health for the Senators 2008 training camp, and has been an offensive force on the back end for Binghamton, scoring 37 points in 51 games. His play resulted in his being named to the AHL all-star game, where he scored a goal and three assists.

Karlsson has shown that he has great skills with the puck, and that he can man the point on the power play. He can also handle himself in the defensive end, as his 6’3, 228 lbs body allows him to play physically when called upon. If he improves his foot speed, which is sorely lacking, he should get a long look in training camp next season to make the NHL.

16. (18) Andre Petersson, F

Grade: 7.0D (7.0D)
Acquired: 2008 draft, 109th overall

Petersson has risen two spots on top 20 list. The 2008 fourth rounder was named to Sweden’s roster for the WJC, and he performed admirably, scoring six points in six games. While playing in the J20 SuperElit Sodra in Sweden, Petersson finished second in league scoring with 35 points in 24 games. Now in the J20 SuperElit Top Eight, he is again second in overall scoring with 15 points in eight games, and leads the league with eight goals.

Petersson’s greatest strength is his stick-handling, as he possesses incredibly soft hands. He can make top defenders look foolish with his deking ability. At 5’9 and 169 pounds, he needs to add muscle to his body to make it in the NHL, as well as improve considerably on his defensive game. He also needs to improve his balance and acceleration. Petersson remains a boom-or-bust prospect. Given the offensive nature of Petersson’s game, if he doesn’t make it as a top-six forward, he won’t make it in the NHL.

17. (10) Josh Hennessy, C

Grade: 7.0D (7.0C)
Acquired: three way trade with Chicago and San Jose

Hennessy is edging ever closer to becoming an NHL bust. Once one of the top prospects in Ottawa’s system, he is now below several other prospects on Ottawa’s depth chart for readiness. Despite leading Binghamton in goals this year with 18, Hennessy has only been called up for a single game this year, and for most of the season he has been very inconsistent. At times it seems like he just doesn’t feel like putting in the effort on the ice.

Hennessy still has the tools to make it to the NHL, but his time is running out. Even if he were to crack the Ottawa roster, it would most likely be in the bottom six forwards, and Ottawa already has a plethora of players that fit the third line role. Despite having terrific speed, and decent offensive instincts, if Hennessy doesn’t show major improvement by next season’s training camp, his chance of ever cracking the NHL on a regular basis will probably be gone.

18. (5) Kaspars Daugavins, LW
Grade: 7.0D (7.0C)
Acquired: 2006 draft, 91st overall

Daugavins has been a major disappointment this year. Coming off a 40-goal campaign in the OHL, he was expected to stick in the AHL, possibly playing on the top two lines. But Daugavins came to training camp out of shape, and it showed in his play. In 23 games with Binghamton, he scored two goals and one assist, and was sent back to Mississauga in OHL so that he could receive more playing time. It took him some time, but he is finally rediscovering his scoring touch with the Majors, with eight goals and 24 points in 24 games.

Daugavins skates hard, finishes his checks, and plays with his heart on his sleeve. He also has some solid offensive skill, but if he wants to stick as a pro, he must dedicate himself to training significantly more during the offseason. If he does, he has the potential to rebound, but it hinges on whether or not he will put keep his nose to the grindstone with his training.

19. (15) Igor Mirnov, F

Grade: 7.0D (7.0C)
Acquired: 2003 draft, 67th overall

Mirnov continues to fall on the list of Senators prospects. Once in the top five, his struggles since last season have caused his stock to drop considerably. After scoring 45 points in 49 games in 2006-07, Mirnov only managed to play 23 games the next season, and notched nine goals and 15 points. This year, he is well off his 2006-07 pace, managing just 10 goals and 18 points in 38 games.

Mirnov’s trademarks remain his speed and shot. However, he seems to have regressed in his development. Further complicating the situation is that he may never come over to play in North America. If he were to, it would be doubtful that he would play in the AHL. Mirnov may turn out just another wasted draft pick — a player who can’t be lured to the NHL.

20. (19) Tomas Kudelka, D

Grade: 6.5C (6.5C)
Acquired: 2005 draft, 136th overall

What a difference a year can make. Last season, Kudelka couldn’t stick in Binghamton, going back and forth between the AHL and ECHL. Now, Kudelka is a major component of Binghamton’s defense corps. He has especially shown great improvement since Brendan Bell and Brian Lee were called up to Ottawa, relishing in the opportunity to receive more ice time. He has provided solid offense from the blueline for the B-Sens, scoring six goals and 21 points in 54 games. But a blemish on his season has been his team-worst -18 rating.

Kudelka will never be top-four defender in the NHL, but he could turn out to be a solid third-pairing defenseman. The fact that his overall game has come so far in a year is a great accomplishment on its own. However, he will need at least another year in Binghamton before getting a legitimate chance to make the Ottawa roster.

Missing the cut

Colin Greening, C
Grade: 6.0 C (6.5C)
Acquired: 2005 draft, 204th overall

Entering his junior year at Cornell, has shown he can be a consistent offensive threat at the NCAA level. In 27 games he has scored 10 goals and 23 points overall, placing second in scoring on his team. The big forward, 6’2, 210 lbs also has a strong skating stride.

At the age of 22, it doesn’t make much sense to have Greening continue to compete against players two to three years younger than him. He could turn pro after this year, but his offensive game has been slow to catch up, and is not good enough to catch anyone’s eye. Greening has potential, but as a third-line forward at best.