With the exit of several players from last year’s team, the Binghamton Senators got off to a slow start, but the standout play of some key Ottawa prospects have helped the team recover.
While many players made the NHL roster in September, others left for greener pastures in the KHL. Much of the remaining squad has struggled to adjust to their new, more demanding roles. That said, the Senators sputtered out of the gate, winning just five of their first 15 contests.
Although the Senators are still fighting to move up in the standings, it is a long season—and this team still has potential to unearth. The majority of the Binghamton’s top players were taken in the 2011 NHL Draft, and will begin demonstrating more consistency in due time. Here is a rundown of how some of Ottawa’s key prospects in Binghamton have performed.
Chris Wideman, D, 24
If an offensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson or Cody Ceci goes down in Ottawa, Wideman will get the call. Wideman is a fast, puck-moving defenseman who has a real shot at sticking with the big club someday. His diminutive stature can make some defensive assignments difficult for him, but he knows his place—and uses his speed to close the gap.
Wideman led the league in scoring briefly in November, which is quite an accomplishment for a defenseman in any league. Since then, he has paced all AHL defenseman at a point-per-game clip. He was rewarded for his dynamic play with the CCM/AHL Player of the Month award for October.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 22
Though Pageau’s production has dropped a bit since last season, he was called up to the big club last week to compensate for Curtis Lazar’s departure for the World Junior Championship. Pageau had better linemates last year, but his trademark positive attitude has been contagious with his teammates.
Although he is a small center, he handles checking pressure well, which could be why Ottawa was comfortable enough to loan Curtis Lazar to Team Canada. Pageau, who led the AHL in shots at the time of his call-up, will be missed greatly in the meantime.
Shane Prince, LW, 22
Due to Mike Hoffman‘s success in Ottawa, Shane Prince is now Binghamton’s top left-winger, on a line with Cole Schneider, and until recently, Pageau. Although Prince started the season slowly, he has grown into his new role—and his point production has increased dramatically. Prince has fast feet and the instincts of a goal-scorer. He has also played with more confidence and character than he has shown in the past.
Late last season there were rumblings in the rumor mill that Prince would sign with the KHL during the offseason, but do not expect that anytime soon. Prince had a strong camp in Ottawa and has played his way back into the management’s good graces. He currently has 25 points through 28 AHL games.
Matt Puempel, LW, 21
Puempel has developed slowly since being taken in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft, but expect him to make long strides this year. He was another player to suffer from a poor start—though not quite as bad as he did last year. Puempel is very similar to Prince, in that he is a quick player with a terrific shot and decent playmaking ability.
Puempel has operated mainly on a second line that includes Buddy Robinson and either Carter Camper or Derek Grant. He will be given plenty of opportunity to shine in Binghamton, as he is a player that is expected to have a good shot at making the big club somewhere down the line.
Fredrik Claesson, D, 21
Claesson made it hard for the Sens brass in Ottawa to let him go last fall, and he carried the confidence he gained in camp into Binghamton. As with Wideman, he is another potential call-up if the injury bug infects Ottawa’s blue line this season.
Claesson is a solid shot-blocking defenseman who is masterful at clogging up passing lanes when defending the rush. His offensive numbers have improved this year—mostly due to the booming slapshot that he has been showing off on the powerplay.
Cole Schneider, RW, 24
Although the Senators might have signed Cole Schneider for organization depth, his terrific 2013-14 campaign has many thinking that he could have a future in Ottawa. His large frame fits in well with the team’s recent decision to build big, and at 24 he should still have room to improve. Schneider uses his size to get to the net and pick up rebounds, but he needs to finish his chances more often.
Alex Guptill, LW, 22
Though the enigmatic Guptill has had a tough start to his pro career, he has shown flashes of the talent that Ottawa was hoping to see in return when they traded Jason Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson to Dallas for Guptill, Nicholas Paul, and Alex Chiasson.
Guptill had two-game winning goals during a productive stretch in early November, but has been a healthy scratch at times. If he wants to stay in the lineup, he needs to take advantage of his opportunities—especially when given the chance to play on the top line.
Ryan Dzingel, C, 22
Dzingel turned some heads during training camp in Ottawa, but he is getting pushed around a bit at the pro level. Although he has the intelligence and talent to play in the NHL someday, it is going to take some hard time in the weight room over the next year for him to become more of a threat. He currently has eight goals and three assists in 23 games.
Buddy Robinson, RW, 23
Robinson has demonstrated a mild improvement playing on the second line, but he will have to start finishing some chances if he wants to stay there. Though he has shown some utility on the penalty kill, the Senators need him to be more than just a grinding forward—they need him to stuff the puck down opposing goaltenders’ throats. Robinson has three goals and 10 assists through 30 games this season.
Max McCormick, LW, 22
McCormick has shown promise as a rookie; he is a quick player who can handle the puck well. Coming off a breakout year in the NCAA, McCormick has shown that he could grow into the goal-scorer that the Senators hoped for when they drafted him, and he has four goals and four assists in 22 games. He is not afraid of getting mixed up in the odd tussle either and has dropped the gloves five times this year.
Darren Kramer, LW, 23
The effort is there with Kramer, and he has pleased crowds as an enforcer. Unfortunately, he is having some trouble fitting in anywhere else, and has frequently been caught out of position. Kramer is the only lineup regular who has yet to score a goal. He might not fit into the team’s plans for long.
Garrett Thompson, C/W, 24
Thompson has some serious one-on-one moves, but he has made a lot of rookie mistakes. Although he developed considerably during his time in the NCAA, he has had some difficulty translating that success into the pros. Thompson still has some upside though, which is why he is still in the lineup.
Michael Sdao, D, 25
Sdao has carved out a role as a bottom-pairing enforcer with the Senators AHL affiliate, and through 17 games he has a goal, an assist, and four fights.
Troy Rutkowski, D, 22
The Evansville Iceman, Ottawa’s ECHL affiliate, also had a rough start to their year—minus the turnaround. In spite of this, Troy Rutkowski has shown flashes of the talent that made Ottawa sign the former Portland Winterhawks captain during the 2013 offseason. He could make Binghamton for good next season.
Chris Driedger, G, 20
Most goaltenders face a long road to get to the NHL, and for Driedger, it will not be any different. After two games in Binghamton, he was sent down to Evansville because he will have more opportunity to develop as the starter. He has had a tough time on a team that gets pelted with shots on a regular basis, and has a 6-12-2 record, a .892 save percentage, and a 3.54 goals against average.
Non-Minor League Prospect Update
Although Curtis Lazar, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone are not on a line together anymore, they continue to ensure that they have found a permanent home in Ottawa—and that their days as official Hockey’s Future prospects are numbered. While Lazar scored his first NHL goal against Buffalo on December 15th, Hoffman and Stone have found themselves among the NHL’s top-five in rookie scoring.
Defenseman Ben Harpur has shown a huge improvement offensively—after 25 games, Harpur has 20 points, more than he has ever scored in a full season with the Guelph Storm.
Ottawa Senators Player of the Month
When Nick Paul arrived as part of the Spezza deal, many Senators fans did not know what they were getting in return. If they do not know now, they will at the end of the World Junior Championship.
Paul was unstoppable prior to joining the Team Canada WJC roster, scoring nine goals and 10 assists in 14 games—including six multi-point efforts and a hat-trick. Paul’s size, strength and scoring ability should help him climb the Ottawa’s depth chart quickly in the coming years.
The forward’s incredible development ensured his selection to Team Canada’s WJC Camp. And although he was a bubble player, he went to camp and proved that he belonged among the country’s best.
Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras