Erik Karlsson leads talented group of defensive prospects for Ottawa Senators

By Chris Roberts
Photo: Defenseman Erik Karlsson will be expected to take on top four defensive duties for the Senators in 2010-11. (Photo Courtesy of

The Ottawa Senators prospect pool is highlighted by a group of high potential defensemen followed by forwards who have work to do before becoming effective NHL players. There is no doubt that players like Roman Wick, Louie Caporusso, Andre Petersson, and Mike Hoffman have high-end offensive potential, but like many Senators forward prospects, they need to work on becoming more complete players. With that said, it is easy to notice that the team has an improved group of prospects in general. Their prospect pool, however, will take a hit when the next top 20 is released as their top prospect, Erik Karlsson, will have graduated by then.

New additions to the to the top 20 include 2010 draft picks Jakub Culek and Markus Sorensen, as well as free-agent signee Bobby Butler and draft day trade acquisition David Runblad.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. (1) Erik Karlsson, D, 8.0B
2. (2) Jared Cowen, D, 8.0C
3. (NR) David Rundblad, D, 7.5C
4. (3) Patrick Wiercioch, D, 7.5C
5. (5) Robin Lehner, G, 7.5C
6. (6) Louie Caporusso, C, 7.0C
7. (NR) Roman Wick, RW, 7.0C
8. (NR) Bobby Butler, RW, 7.0D
9. (8) Jakob Silfverberg, C, 6.5C
10. (15) Chris Wideman, D, 7.0C
11. (9) Zack Smith, C, 6.5B
12. (4) Jim O’Brien, C, 6.5C
13. (NR) Jakub Culek, C, 7.0D
14. (16) Eric Gryba, D, 6.5C
15. (14) Kaspars Daugavins, LW, 6.5C
16. (10) Erik Condra, RW, 6.5C
17. (NR) Markus Sorensen, C, 7.0D
18. (11) Andre Petersson, LW, 7.0D
19. (NR) Mike Hoffman, C, 7.0D
20. (NR) Corey Cowick, LW, 6.5C

1. (1) Erik Karlsson, D, 20
Drafted 1st Round, 15th overall, 2008

Erik Karlsson may still be termed a prospect under the Hockey’s Future guidelines, but the twenty year old Swede has already played 60 National Hockey League games for the Ottawa Senators and is poised to become a household name in the 2010-11 season. As a matter of fact, he emerged as a highly capable offensive defenseman for the Senators last season, earning key ice time not only in the regular season, but also in the post-season. Though only playing 60 games, he was a close second on the team in points by a defenseman with 26. His progression as an offensive defenseman was easily noticeable throughout the season, and he was able showcase his skill in the playoffs, recording six points in six games.

Karlsson is an extremely gifted offensive-minded defenseman. He has a combination of speed, smoothness of skating, vision, and an accurate shot, that should place him in the upper echelon of offensive defensemen for years to come. Most importantly, coupled with a package of offensive skills, Karlsson displays a high level of confidence and poise with the puck. In brief, he is blessed with every tool necessary with be a highly effective point producer from the back-end. Defensively, though he is a little undersized and still bit of an adventure in his own zone. However, point production will likely be the measuring stick as to how successful his 2010-11 campaign is, and considering he’ll likely be paired on the top power-play unit with Sergei Gonchar, it should be a very successful season for Erik Karlsson.

2. (2) Jared Cowen, D, 19
Drafted 1st Round, 9th overall, 2009

Though he can provide some offense, Jared Cowen’s future is likely as a shutdown defenseman. He seems to have proven to the hockey world that he has overcome a devastating knee injury that kept him out of action for much of his draft year; he dressed in 59 regular season games and seven post-season games for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL last season. Cowen ended up third on his team in points by a defenseman, but he was widely regarded for his physical play and defensive ability; his plus-23 led the Chiefs’ defense. Furthermore, Cowen was given the opportunity to suit up in one regular season game for the Senators last season and certainly didn’t look out of place.

Cowen’s size and strength, along with his lengthy reach and imposing play in the defensive end are his best assets. He’ll likely never establish himself as a true offensive threat from the blue line, but with his mobility and adequate shot from the point, he is not totally inept in the department. Initially expected to return to Spokane for one more season, Cowen may begin the year in Ottawa thanks to an unfortunate injury to Fillip Kuba. Cowen is eligible to play nine games with the club before he can be sent back to junior, and that is likely to be the case if they choose to keep him in Ottawa for the start of the season.

3. (NR) David Rundblad, D, 19
Acquired via trade with St. Louis, 2010

After being drafted 17th overall in 2009, David Rundblad spent just one calendar year with the St. Louis
organization. On the night of the 2010 Entry Draft, the Senators shipped their first round pick to St. Louis in a straight exchange for Rundblad. As an eighteen year old defenseman playing in the Swedish Elite League, Rundblad had an exceptional year in 2008-09, adding ten assists in 45 games. He was unable, however, to greatly improve upon those numbers last season and would eventually fall behind on the depth chart to fellow top prospects Adam Larsson and Tim Erixon (CAL).

Despite not exactly meeting expectations last season, Rundblad has returned to his club, Skelleftea HC, for the 2010-11 season poised to emerge as a dangerous offensive threat. After all, his strength lies in his offensive game and creativity. Offensively, his game is considered similar to fellow Senators prospect Erik Karlsson, though not quite as polished. Rundblad has decent size at 6’2 and 190 pounds and uses it well. While creativity in the offensive end is one of his greater strengths, it tends to hurt him in his own zone; at times he’ll make risky and unnecessary plays that often leads to giveaways. With the Senators deep defense prospect pool, the team can afford to be patient with Rundblad.

4. (3) Patrick Wiercioch, D, 20
Drafted 2nd Round, 42nd overall, 2008

Wiercioch had an impressive sophomore campaign for the University of Denver in 2009-10, but it was his freshman season that really helped to establish him as a top prospect for the Ottawa Senators. In 2008-09, he managed to post 35 points in 36 games, easily leading his team in points by a defenseman. Despite a drop to just 27 points last season, Wiercioch still led University of Denver defensemen in scoring. With just two collegiate seasons under his belt, Wiercioch had shown enough to have earned a contract with the Senators.

Like Karlsson and Rundblad, Wiercoich has a high level of offensive skill. He’s a lanky defenseman, however, and needs to add strength to improve his effectiveness in taking the body and battling for the puck along the boards. His skating could also use some work. With the injury to Fillip Kuba, he’ll likely be battling with fellow rookie Jared Cowen for a spot on the Senators opening day roster, but is expected to spend the majority of the season with Binghamton of the AHL. With the Senators excess of top-notch defense prospects and Wiercoich at the bottom of that list, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him dealt near the trade deadline if the Senators are in a contending position.

5. (5) Robin Lehner, G, 19
Drafted 2nd Round, 46th overall, 2009

Robin Lehner emerged as not only a strong starting goalie in the OHL last season, but also as a prospect with quite a bit of hype. Lehner progressed nicely as the season went along, appearing in 47 games and notching a record of 27-13-3. Of all OHL goaltenders with at least 40 games played, Lehner was third in terms of save percentage with .918 percent. He was also given the opportunity to start two games for the Binghamton Senators of the AHL, which is where he may very well likely play for the upcoming 2010-11 season.

Lehner takes up quite a bit of the net at 6’4 and 220lbs, but also has impressive mobility and quickness for his size. He is a butterfly goalie, but has a tendency to give up bad rebounds. Already having impressed during training camp this season, it would not be a total shock to see Lehner earn some starts with the Senators this season given Pascal Leclaire’s inability to remain healthy and Brian Elliot’s inconsistencies.

6. (6) Louie Caporusso, C, 21
Drafted 3rd Round, 90th overall, 2007

High expectations certainly didn’t affect Caporusso’s game last season after coming off of a 2008-09 season in which he was a Hobey Baker finalist having registered 49 points in 41 games; he was able to pick up where he left off, scoring near a point per game with 43 in 45. What’s more impressive is the fact that Caporusso’s 21 goals gave him the goal scoring lead for the University of Michigan for the second straight season. He has showcased a great amount of skill, speed, and offensive ability in his first three collegiate seasons and will be expected to continue his offensive dominance of the NCAA this season as a senior. One of the biggest concerns about Caporusso is his size at just 5’10, but he’s steadily been adding muscle to his frame and currently sits at 188 pounds. If Caporusso can overcome his diminutive size once he turns pro, he should be a very effective NHL forward.

7. (NR) Roman Wick, RW, 24
Drafted 5th Round, 156th overall, 2004

Almost written off as a prospect this time last season, Roman Wick’s production had been steadily increasing in the relatively obscure Swiss league, but it was his play during the 2010 Winter Olympics combined with his desire to go back to North America (he had played three seasons in the WHL) that put him back on the Senators radar. He’s been close to a point per game in the past two seasons for his club, Kloten, and finished last season with 31 points in 37 games. Moreover, he was by far Switzerland’s best forward during the 2010 Olympics, registering five points in five games. Wick showed that he could not only be an impact player in the Swiss league, but could also hold his own against some of the best talent in the world. His play in his own zone isn’t the strongest aspect of his game, but if he is to make the Senators opening night lineup this season, it’ll be for his speed and offensive creativity. Wick is signed to a one year two-way contract, so if he is unable to make the Senators out of camp, he’ll begin the season in the AHL with Binghamton.

8. (NR) Bobby Butler, RW, 23
Signed as a free agent, 2010

Though he had a fairly successful first three seasons at the University of New Hampshire, Bobby Butler exploded last season to lead his team with 53 points in just 39 games. His goal scoring ability improved drastically, scoring 29 goals compared to just nine a year prior. Butler was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, and his impressive season was enough to garner attention from scouts around the National Hockey League. He eventually chose to sign with Ottawa, and even managed to get into two games near the end of the regular season. He’s a speedy winger with a quick accurate shot. He isn’t the most physical player, however, and is perhaps average-sized at best. He’ll likely begin the season with Binghamton of the AHL, but he does have an outside chance at earning an NHL job and will assuredly be a primary injury call-up.

9. (8) Jakob Silfverberg, C, 19
Drafted 2nd Round, 39th overall, 2009

Silfverberg, at this point in his career, appears to be more of an unknown than anything. Many believe he has the potential to be an impact NHL player years down the line, but others are in the thought that he may max out as a role player at best. While he does need to improve his offensive game quite a bit before he can considered a sure-fire top offensive prospect, the one thing that works in Silfverberg’s favor is his impressive two-way game; even if he is unable to contribute offensively, you can almost assuredly notice him making key plays in the defensive end. With that said, his offensive game has been progression. In 48 games with Brynas IF Gavle of the Swedish Elite League last season, Silfverberg notched eight goals and eight assists, a rather impressive total for an eighteen-year-old. In comparison, his eighteen-year-old teammate and fellow second round pick in 2009, Anton Rodin (VAN), only managed five points in 36 games.

10. (15) Chris Wideman, D, 20

Drafted 4th Round, 100th overall, 2009

Undersized at just 5’10 and 170 pounds, Chris Wideman has shown a lot to like during his first two seasons at the University of Miami (Ohio). As a freshman with the team, prior to being drafted, he was unable to score a goal, but managed to notch 26 assists in 39 games, leading his team in points by a defenseman. The assist totals slipped to just 17 in the 2009-10 season, but Wideman was able to establish another aspect to his offensive game: goal scoring. Once again, Wideman was able to record the most points by a defenseman on his team.

He is a puck-moving, offensively oriented defensemen by trade, however his defensive game has benefitted from the defense-first system the Miami RedHawks employ. Expect Wideman to return to the University of Miami (Ohio) for at least one more season.

11. (9) Zack Smith, C, 22
Drafted 3rd Round, 79th overall, 2008

Zack Smith has been a valuable asset to the Ottawa Senators organization since being drafted. He immediately turned pro upon being drafted, and spent the 2008-09 season with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL. As a rookie, he scored 24 goals and added 24 assists for 48 points in 79 games. The physical play and intensity that was a big part of his game in junior certainly carried over in the AHL as he spent 132 minutes in the penalty box. Though goal scoring was down a bit in 2009-10, he had a fairly similar year with Binghamton and was rewarded with a 15 game stint in Ottawa during the regular season. He also appeared in six playoff matches for the Senators.

Smith brings a feistiness and determination to the ice that would him a useful addition to the Senators lineup. Though it is likely that he bounces back and forth between the NHL and AHL this season, it shouldn’t be long before he finds a permanent spot in Ottawa’s lineup.

12. (4) Jim O’Brien, C, 21
Drafted 1st Round, 27th overall, 2007

A former first round pick, O’Brien has seen his stock within the Senators organization drop considerably, both due to his own struggles and the emergence of prospects like Roman Wick, Louie Caporusso, Zack Smith, and the signing of Bobby Butler. He has failed to show enough offensively to be considered a top-six prospect, scoring just 17 points in 76 games in his first season with the Binghamton Senators. The potential is there however, and with O’Brien’s 6’2 frame, he has the potential to fill the role of a power forward at the NHL level, but it’s likely to take a few more years before he finds his niche at the NHL level. While he has struggled offensively thus far, O’Brien certainly has shown he has the smarts and ability to be a two-way center in the pro-ranks. He’ll assuredly begin the 2010-11 season in the AHL.

13. (NR) Jakub Culek, C, 18
Drafted 3rd Round, 76th overall, 2010

It isn’t hard to see that Jakub Culek has the size and skill set to perhaps become a top-six center, but putting it all together will take some time. He’s already a physically imposing forward at 6’4 and 196 pounds, but needs to work on becoming more aggressive on the forecheck and using that size to his advantage. Culek will also need to develop better skating habits before turning pro. He does, however, have raw offensive potential, scoring 47 points in 63 games. A true playmaker, 34 of these points came in the form of assists. He’ll be given the chance to be one of the top players for his team, Rimouski, in the upcoming season.

14. (16) Eric Gryba, D, 22
Drafted 3rd Round, 68th overall, 2006

After finishing his four-year collegiate career at Boston University, Gryba will be suiting up for the Binghamton Senators of the AHL this season. He’s not the fastest player on the ice, nor is he the most offensively dangerous, but Gryba is usually the most intimidating. He has a knack for dishing out punishing hits and his presence on the ice alone will cause the opposition to think twice when entering the offensive zone.
He’ll be heading into his first professional season with some momentum after a career season in 2009-10 with Boston University in which he posted career highs in goals, points, and penalty minutes. The Senators feel Gryba has the potential to be a bottom pairing, hard-nosed defenseman with a mean streak, much akin to former Senator Andy Sutton.

15. (14) Kaspars Daugavins, LW, 22
Drafted 3rd Round, 91st overall, 2006

Daugavins is an extremely solid skater who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. There is really no aspect of his game that sets him apart from other players in the Senators organization, but he has no real glaring weaknesses. In 72 games last season, Daugavins recorded 46 points, and will look to build upon those numbers this season. He has shown he can put the puck in the net throughout his career, having scored 40 goals in just 62 games for Mississauga in 2007-08. This season will be very telling as to what kind of potential Daugavins has and it is certainly not unrealistic to envision a thirty goal season from the Latvian. It’s also highly likely that he’ll be one of the first names called up from Binghamton in the event of an injury.

16. (10) Erik Condra, RW, 24
Drafted 7th Round, 211th overall, 2006

Thought of as a long-shot se
venth round selection, Erik Condra parlayed a successful collegiate career into an impressive rookie campaign with Binghamton in 2009-10. Condra led his school, Notre Dame, in scoring in each of his four years spent there, combining for 158 points in 159 games. In 2009-10, showcasing his playmaking ability, he recorded 38 points with Binghamton, including 27 assists. His best attributes are his vision, patience, and more importantly, confidence with the puck. Like many unpolished prospects, Condra needs to improve upon several little things in his game such as defensive habits and physicality, but he has the potential to be playmaking winger at the NHL level. He’ll almost assuredly begin the 2010-11 season in the AHL with Binghamton.

17. (NR) Markus Sorensen, C, 18
Drafted 4th Round, 106th overall, 2010

Unranked by Central Scouting heading into the 2010 Entry Draft, it’s not a stretch to say that Markus Sorensen was an off-the-board selection. While being more of an unknown throughout the hockey world, the Senators feel they have a player with raw offensive potential on their hands. The numbers look good as well; Sorensen has excelled at every level he has played thus far, scoring 42 points in 15 games in Sweden’s under-18 league, and 17 points in 27 games last season in the under-20 league. He’s a crafty forward with decent speed, shifty puck-handling and soft hands, but the biggest knock on Sorensen is his diminutive size. At 5’11 and 161 pounds, he’ll need to get much stronger before even considering the NHL.

18. (11) Andre Petersson, LW, 20
Drafted 4th Round, 109th overall, 2008

Like Sorensen, Petersson is an offensively gifted Swede who also could benefit from some bulking up; the 20-year-old stands at just 5’9 and 169 pounds. As a 19-year-old last season, he faired well in the Swedish Elite league playing against men, scoring 15 points in 37 games, including ten goals. There is no denying Petersson’s offensive ability, but he must work on his defensive game if he is to be an effective NHL forward. He will also have to become a more complete offensive player, as perhaps the only knock on Petersson’s offensive game is that he has a tendency to hold the puck too long. He’ll spend the 2010-11 season with HV71 of the SEL.

19. (NR) Mike Hoffman, C, 20

Drafted 5th Round, 130th overall, 2009

Mike Hoffman certainly has the skill-set to become an NHL top-six forward, but currently lacks some of the intangibles required to be effective at that level. He may even be seen as somewhat similar to fellow Senators prospect Andre Petersson in that he’s a true offensive player, but needs to bulk up as well as work at becoming an effective player on the defensive end. He has put up an abundance of points in the QMJHL the past two seasons, scoring 189 points over 138 games. He’ll turn pro this season, likely playing in Binghamton.

20. (NR) Corey Cowick, LW, 21
Drafted 6th Round, 160th overall, 2009

Though he lost much of last season to injury, Cowick showcased his offensive ability by scoring 15 goals in just 27 games for the Ottawa 67’s. He also managed to notch nine goals in just 12 playoff games before the 67’s were bounced by Mississauga in the second round. Cowick has the size necessary to become a power forward at the next level, but he’ll need to further prove he’s healthy after suffering a lengthy shoulder injury last season. After having completed his junior career, he’ll most likely spend the 2010-11 season in Binghamton of the AHL.