The Ottawa Senators started the 2014-15 season well with a 4-1 run, but quickly began exhibiting more of the bad habits that put the team in a hole last year. But you can hardly blame them—they are now the fourth youngest team in the league. Call it growing pains.
There have also been a number of off-ice distractions to deal with-some good, some tragic. Daniel Alfredsson signed a one-day contract with the team to retire here, GM Bryan Murray is battling stage 4 colon cancer, and head coach Paul MacLean was shown the door in favor of Dave Cameron after a string of losses in mid-December.
Despite the poor environment, the Senators have seen terrific progress from their rookies, and the future for the team looks bright.
Mike Hoffman, LW, 25
Mike Hoffman has been the team’s most pleasant surprise. At the time of this writing, Hoffman led both the Senators and all NHL rookies in goals, with 15. Perhaps Hoffman’s most telling statistic is his plus-17 rating, the best by far on what is for the most part a minus team. Even when the Senators are losing, (which is happening quite often) Hoffman has given Senators faithful something to cheer about-and a reason to stay optimistic about the future. With more ice-time, he could be the game-breaking forward the team has been looking for.
Mark Stone, RW, 22
Mark Stone’s season has mirrored Hoffman’s in many ways. With limited ice-time they have both managed to put up a fair amount of points (Stone has 11 goals and 14 assists) they are both plus players on a minus team, and they are both finally sticking with big club after several years in the organization. That said, their varying skill-sets could feature prominently on a line together in the future, as it did at the start of the season.
Curtis Lazar, C, 19
If Lazar has struggled to score goals at the NHL level, you would not know it from his magnetic positivity. Although he has just a goal and six assists in 31 games, his ear-to-ear grin is probably up here for good. Lazar has earned the favor of the fans in Ottawa, but unfortunately, he has been snake-bitten around the net. Although his attitude masks it well, his inability to score was causing some frustration for the youngster, which is probably why Ottawa loaned him to Team Canada for the World Junior Tournament—to score some goals and get his edge back.
Cody Ceci, D, 21
Ceci has found a home on the team’s second pairing, and is relied upon heavily to log big-time minutes. He is slowly getting more confident in the offensive zone and has 12 points in 45 games. He has spent the bulk of the 2014-15 season playing with Jared Cowen.
Mark Borowiecki, D, 25
For years, Borowiecki has been a bubble player-the first defenseman to get called up and often the most likely to spend time in the press box. It is finally looking like the stay-at-home defenseman is going to stick. Like many of the team’s young players, he has managed to maintain a positive plus/minus rating for most of the season. Borowiecki has been out of the lineup since December 27th, following an off-ice accident left him with a deep laceration on his leg.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 22
Pageau was called up to replace Lazar when he left for the WJC. Although he has struggled to score, he has impressed the coaching staff enough to stay here upon Lazar’s return. Pageau could be sent back to Binghamton when Chris Neil and Zach Smith return from injury, but it remains to be seen what the Senators will do.
2015 World Junior Tournament Update
Lazar was called upon to lead Canada’s squad-and lead it he did. Although it took a game or so, Lazar and Connor McDavid really started to click together in the latter half of tournament-especially when Nicolas Petan (WPG) was moved to the line. Lazar finished with five goals, four assists, and a gold medal.
Paul meanwhile scored three goals in the tournament, and generally made good decisions in the offensive zone. He also seems to have adjusted to his 6’3 frame, as he knew when to hold on to the puck and muscle his way forward.
Sweden started the tournament well, but finished the tournament with a whimper. That said, do not fault Andreas Englund for the team’s poor finish—he was a force throughout the tournament. England kept his game simple and threw some big hits when he had the opportunity. Had a goal and an assist in the tournament, which is rare because he is not known for his offense.
Ottawa Senators Prospect of the Month
This month, the Ottawa Senators’ top prospect is Mike Hoffman. He is finding a way to develop and thrive in Ottawa right now in spite of the considerable amount of distraction in Canada’s capital. Hoffman leads the Senators in goals. He has a deceptive shot and game-breaking speed, which will be on full display when he represents the Senators in the All-Star Skills Competition on January 24th.
Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras