David Rundblad tops talented group of Ottawa Senators prospects

By John Henkelman
Photo: Robin Lehner has developed nicely in his first full season of North American hockey and could very well be the franchise goaltender the organization has lacked for the better part of the past decade. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

As challenging a season as it’s been for the Senators, the future is bright and should reward owner Eugene Melnyk and the organization for their patience. Bryan Murray has made well on his promise to replenish their prospect pool which is now teeming with quality players at varying stages of readiness.

1. (2) David Rundblad, D, 8.0B
Acquired via trade with the St. Louis Blues, June 25th, 2010

Already signed to an entry-level contract just prior to joining the Ottawa organization, this smooth-skating defenseman has shown tremendous improvement this season playing for Anders Forsberg at Skellefteå HC of the Swedish Elite League. The 6’2 189 pound right-handed shot leads all defensemen and is third overall in SEL scoring with 10 goals and 44 points in this, his third full season. The offensively-gifted Rundblad, who was originally the 17th overall pick in the 2009 draft, will provide the Senators with another young talent on their blue line next season – he is expected to make their lineup barring anything unforeseen. As with his fellow native Swede Erik Karlsson, this 20-year-old must get stronger and continue to improve his decision-making and positioning in all zones to be a complete player. Ottawa is looking forward to his arrival as he is ticketed to be a key part of their current youth movement as a top pairing or second pairing offensive defensemen.

2. (1) Jared Cowen, D, 8.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 9th overall, 2009

Ideally this 6’5 220 pound defensive stalwart would have spent the year in the AHL getting some seasoning playing against men. For the most part this season Cowen has been truly dominant with Spokane in the WHL, stepping up his leadership and scoring with 15 goals, 25 assists in just 48 games so far. The recent WJC in Buffalo was a good measuring stick for him as his strength, great positioning and improved decisions with the puck were showcased and definitely have him positioned among the elite junior-aged defensemen. Given his size, his mobility is impressive and he appears fully recovered from the serious knee injury he suffered in his draft year. He has the work ethic and desire to improve where he needs to in order to reach the next level and appears to be developing a nice mean-streak along the way. Look for this Saskatchewan native to finish the season strong and fight for a spot in the Ottawa blue line next season where he should be a fixture for years to come.

3. (4) Robin Lehner, G, 7.5B
Acquired: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2009

After playing one solid season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL where he was named the co-winner of the team’s most valuable player award, Lehner signed a three-year entry-level contract with Ottawa last summer. This butterfly-style goaltender had a good showing at the WJC, has acquitted himself admirably in Binghamton and does not appear to be in over his head in Ottawa this season. With Ottawa he’s posted a 3.52 goals against average, .890 save percentage in eight games to date while improving his rebound control. In Binghamton he’s quietly put together a very good season with a 2.67 goals against average, a .912 save percentage, two shutouts and a 7-6-2 record mainly as the understudy to Barry Brust. The skills, quickness and confidence this 6’4 224-pound Swede has are considerable and he appears on track in terms of his development towards becoming an NHL starting goalie. Ideally he would have been the starter in the AHL this season with a few NHL games to give him a taste – the goaltending situation in Ottawa and outstanding play of Brust changed this. It will be interesting to see where the Senators decide he will play next season.

4. (8) Jakob Silfverberg, LW, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 39th overall, 2009

Another 20-year old Swede the Senators have high expectations for is this talented winger who has an impressive two-way game. Now in his second full season with Brynäs IF in the SEL, he’s close to doubled his scoring totals of the previous season with 15 goals and 16 assists which have him tied for third on the club. A right-handed shot playing left wing, he shows maturity beyond his years with his game awareness and attention to defensive responsibilities. That said, he has considerable offensive talent with a repertoire of skills that are reminiscent of a young Daniel Alfredsson. Still unsigned at this point, he’s looking to further develop in the SEL and Ottawa may agree that one more season with Brynäs may be the best for player and organization in the long run. Opinions are still divided on whether his ceiling is that of a scoring winger or third-line checker.

5. (3) Patrick Wiercioch, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2008

The strapping 6’4 185 pound Wiercioch has definitely experienced a challenging initiation to pro hockey this season but he’s only 20 and has shown improvement of late. After signing an entry-level contract last summer following two outstanding seasons at the University of Denver this offensive-defenseman had a good training camp and has been mostly paired with Derek Smith in Binghamton. While his four goals, six assist, minus-10 stats are underwhelming, his defensive zone play is coming along and he could receive some power-play time down the stretch. He absolutely has to become stronger and in hindsight may have been better off with another year in the NCAA. Patience is the operative word – playing against bigger and better competition now should benefit his long-term development. Next season he should expect to return to Binghamton to continue his apprenticeship with the goal of becoming one of their offensive catalysts from the blue-line.

6. (5) Louie Caporusso, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2007

This former Hobey Baker nominee is having a down senior season but is a naturally-gifted scorer who may need the challenge of playing at a higher level to further develop. The 5’10 188 pound native of Woodbridge, Ontario sits second in points at the University of Michigan with nine goals and 15 assists , but he’s far off pace from his goal totals of the previous two seasons. While typically a strong second-half player, the shifty Caporusso has even been moved to the left wing with the hope he rediscovers his scoring touch. Some comparisons have been made of him to Mike Comrie and the Senators have him projected as a possible second line scoring center. Expect a good finish to this season from the resident U of M ‘Love expert’ and next year he should be showcasing his skills and speed in the AHL with Binghamton. Realistically he’s two seasons away from making a serious push for a roster spot with Ottawa.

7. (7) Bobby Butler, RW, 7.0D
Acquired via Free Agency, March 29th, 2010

Almost an Ottawa Senator when camp broke earlier this season, Butler is now starting to find the back of the net in the NHL over the last few games after previously terrorizing AHL netminders. The 6’0 180 pound right-winger was a hot commodity after leading the University of New Hampshire and the NCAA in goal scoring his senior season. Murray was able to get the undrafted Marlborough, MA native signed to a two-year contract and he dressed for two games with Ottawa yet at the end of last season. Butler began this season with Binghamton playing on the top line potting 22 goals in 47 games and garnering the AHL All-Star Game MVP honors. With the state of the Ottawa club he’s had numerous call-ups and will likely be kept with the big club to audition for the remainder of the campaign. A proven sniper at every level, his challenge is to score consistently in the NHL using his instincts and accurate wrist shot. To date he’s totaled 5 goals and 2 assists in 14 games with Ottawa although his minus-12 rating indicates some improved defensive awareness is needed. Ottawa will give him every opportunity to earn a right-wing berth on their second scoring line next season.

8 (11) Jim O’Brien, C, 6.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall, 2007

A pleasant surprise this season, O’Brien has the attention of the organization again with his improved play and 16-goal, 23-assist, plus-14 stats in Binghamton. Originally drafted out the University of Minnesota, this power forward had two average seasons in the WHL playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds before a lackluster initial AHL showing. While still figuring out how to most effectively use his 6’2 200 pound frame, he’s developing into the solid, two-way checking center the Senators envisioned when they originally drafted him. A powerful skater with excellent defensive awareness, he plays physically, forechecks well, block shots and is very effective down low. His play on the farm has earned him a couple of call-ups to Ottawa where he’s been held scoreless in the five games he’s suited up for. The future looks promising for the Minnesota native who will be given an opportunity to earn a spot on the NHL roster next season.

9. (15) Erik Condra, RW, 6.5B
Acquired: 7th round, 211th overall, 2006

Condra is arguably the most improved player among the Senators prospects playing professionally this season – he just seems to get it. The Trenton, MI native was originally drafted as a 20-year old based on his strong freshman season at the University of Notre Dame. All he’s done since being selected is consistently put up good offensive numbers making use of his smarts, excellent vision and outstanding skating ability. In Binghamton this year he’s developed good chemistry playing on the right wing with O’Brien and posting 46 points including 17 goals and a team best plus-19. His NHL opportunity came recently and he’s fit in well on the big club chipping in one assist in three games to date playing on the fourth line. An industrious player he could very well stick in Ottawa especially if players ahead of him on the right-wing depth chart are moved before the trade deadline. He’s further proof that even a 7th round draft pick can be a valuable asset to an organization.

10. (10) Zack Smith, C, 6.5B
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2008

This physical, versatile forward has split time between Ottawa and Binghamton this season. Currently he’s centering the third line in Ottawa and has contributed four goals, two assists and 59 penalty minutes with the club. While not without puck skills, it’s his 6’2" 210-pound frame and feisty play that will keep this Saskatchewan-native in the NHL. He’s earning the trust of Cory Clouston by winning 58 percent of his face-offs and staying involved in the trenches, winning puck battles and providing maximum effort. We can expect his average ice time to increase from the 10 minutes he’s now playing as Ottawa uses the rest of this season to give young players like Smith the opportunity to play in many situations.

11. (6) Roman Wick, RW, 6.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 156th overall, 2004

Drafted all the way back in 2004, the 25-year old Wick spent two seasons in the WHL before returning to his native Switzerland to hone his talent with the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss-A league. This 6’1 187 pound left-shooting winger’s game is predicated on skill and beating his opponent one on one with his speed. Signed to a one-year two-way contract after his outstanding play with Switzerland at the 2010 Olympics, he needs to get stronger and use his size more effectively. His season in Binghamton began slowly but he’s picking up the pace and now has 12 goals and 14 assists and is a solid plus-7. Wick will be given every opportunity the rest of this season to exhibit his talents and both player and organization will need to assess what the future holds in the off-season.

12. (13) Eric Gryba, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 68th overall, 2006

With many skilled players among the prospects in the Senators organization they will also need some size, grit and toughness and this 6’3 215 pound defensive defenseman brings plenty. Graduating from Boston U after four seasons with the Terriers, Gryba joined the pro ranks at the end of last season contributing a goal in the six games he played with Binghamton. An underrated passer with a hard accurate shot, his skating needs improvement and he needs to play disciplined for him to get a chance at the next level. He plays a safe game with the puck, looks for big hit opportunities and will stand up for his teammates. This season he’s recently scored his first goal and amassed 101 penalty minutes playing mostly with on a pairing with Geoff Kinrade. The long term projection for him could be as a third-pairing defensemen in the mold of Matt Carkner.

13. (17) Andre Petersson, LW, 7.0D
Acquired: 4th round, 109th overall, 2008

This diminutive Swedish winger is showcasing his high-end offensive skills again this season with HV 71, helping the veteran-laden team to gain first place atop the SEL standings. Although his 5’9 169-pound size and modest eight goal and four assist scoring totals may not intimidate many, his natural ability to make slick plays at high-speed is what sets him apart from many prospects and in fairness he does play mostly on the HV 71 fourth line. Like his fellow countryman Silfverberg, he’s a right handed shot playing the left wing and has great hands and a good shot. Out since January due to injury, Petersson is a one dimensional player who needs to work on many areas of his game to reach his potential. Given his lack of size, he needs to develop more strength, improve his play without the puck and better use his teammates in the offensive zone to step up to the next level. Only 20, he’s still a couple of years away from considering a move across the pond and will have to continue his development in order to become a legitimate potential first or second line scoring winger in the NHL.

14. (NR) Colin Greening, C, 6.0C
Acquired: 7th round, 204th overall, 2005

Another 7th round draft choice advancing up the organizational ladder, the 24-year old Greening is currently playing on the third line in Ottawa after the recent trade of Jarku Ruutu. The 6’2 210 pound left winger is in his first year of professional hockey after graduating from Cornell University after four stellar seasons with the Big Red. A native of St. John’s, NL he’s been held scoreless in four NHL games after posting 13 goals, 23 assists, a plus-12 rating playing 53 games with Binghamton. Adept at working the boards and responsible with the puck, he is physically NHL-ready. It appears he may get an extended look with Ottawa which will allow him to work on his passing and puck-handling against the highest competition. Although he has good skating stride and shot, he projects as more of a grinder who is willing to get to the high-traffic areas and fight for rebounds.

15. (9) Chris Wideman 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 100th overall, 2009

Wideman is a skilled right-shooting defenseman with great hockey sense and strong abilities in all aspects of his game. Now in his junior season with Miami University (Ohio), this St. Louis, MO native is leading his team in scoring among defensemen. His excellent passing skills coupled with great vision enables him to anticipate the play and orchestrate offense from the back-end. Poised with the puck, he serves as the power-play general and has two goals and 16 assists this season in progress. The 5’10 170 pound right-handed shooter will need to work on this strength in order to match up physically with the larger forwards in professional hockey. At this stage he’s expected to return to the RedHawks next season and continue to showcase his leadership and underrated defensive game. The organization anticipates his arrival after his college career concludes.

16. (14) Kaspars Daugavins, LW, 6.5D
Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2006

An offensive winger and excellent skater, Daugavins is now hitting his stride in his second full season in Binghamton after a slow start which included spending a few games in the press box. The native of Riga, Latvia has good puck skills, reads the play well and offers the Senators organization offensive depth on the left wing. While his detractors say he’s not a very physical player, the graduate of Mississauga in the OHL has a solid 5’11 204-pound body and will stand up for himself and his teammates. Now in the last year of his entry level contract he’s totaled 13 goals and 24 assists and still needs to shoot more often when he’s in a scoring area. There’s no questioning his talent and given his strong showing over the last three months, it appears he will likely be included in the Senators’ plans for next year.

17. (16) Markus Sörensen, RW, 6.5D
Acquired: 4th round, 106th overall, 2010

There were many people surprised at last summer’s NHL Entry Draft when Ottawa announced their fourth round selection as Sörensen was not on the Central Scouting list. Based on Anders Forsberg’s strong recommendation this 5’11 161-pound winger with raw skills and character was chosen from the Sodertalje juniors in Sweden as a long-term project. Like many junior aged players, he needs to get stronger but has quick hands, plays with intensity and is a good skater. Sorensen is scoring at a high clip – 12 goals, 21 assists in 25 games – in the Swedish junior circuit with Djurgårdens IF and also spent seven games on the SEL Djurgårdens roster notching his first goal. Now into the J20 SuperElit Top 8 season he has one assist in two games but hasn’t played since last month due to injury. At this time his potential is a few years away and the Senators should get a better indication of where he stands at the team’s next annual development camp.

18. (NR) David Dziurzynski, LW, 6.5D
Acquired via Free Agency, April 6th, 2010

A relative unknown until his breakout season with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in the BCHL last year, Murray thwarted the Oilers and Rangers among other suitors and signed this budding power forward to a three-year entry-level contract. Dziurzynski offers an attractive package of size – 6’3 205 pounds – and skill – soft hands, excellent hockey sense and impressive speed. He also brings some much needed toughness to the organization and combined with his offensive talents could turn out to be real find. There was an adjustment period earlier this season in Binghamton as the Lloydminster, AB native struggled to find his game and was only receiving limited playing minutes. He’s suited up a both center and left wing this season while contributing six goals and 10 assists. The Senators will bring him along slowly and he’ll be back with Binghamton next season with a bigger role. Not bad for someone who was planning to head up to Fort McMurray to work on the oil rigs before his successful campaign in the BCHL.

19. (NR) Mark Stone, RW, 6.5D
Acquired: 6th round, 178th overall, 2010

All this 18-year old power forward has done so far this season in Brandon is put up points at a high rate. Currently he leads his team and sits tied for 3rd overall in WHL scoring with 34 goals and 54 assists through 60 games with the Wheat Kings. Once considered to be a 2nd round pick, possibly even a late 1st, the 6-foot-3, 200 pound Stone was hampered by injuries in his draft year and fell to the 6th round where Ottawa was able to snag him. There is a lot to like about his game – he has great hands, good size, brings toughness and will win puck battles. The one question mark on him is his skating and he’ll need to improve his foot speed in order to be a complete player and reach his potential. The Senators have to be pleased with his progress and will work with him to get him ready for his professional career. Look for him to return to the WHL next season and continue to build his resume.

20. (NR) Derek Grant, C, 6.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 119th overall, 2008

Now in his second season in the CCHA, Grant is tied for first in Michigan State scoring with seven goals and 24 assists. With a 6’3 190 pound frame, he has size which he uses effectively to gain position. His deceptive speed, great hands, solid work ethic and offensive ability give him the potential to be a second or third line power forward in the NHL. He may not have one particular aspect of his play that jumps out but rather offers a well-rounded game that is appreciated by his coach and teammates. Like most NCAA prospects in the Senators organization, we can expect him to continue his development in college hockey for the remainder of his eligibility before he joins the pro ranks.