Zibanejad and Puempel among new prospects in Ottawa Senators top-20

By John Henkelman
Photo: Matt Puempel is among the many new faces in the Ottawa prospect pool. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Senators continue to stockpile young talent in their system adding seven newcomers to their top twenty including three first rounds picks of their own from the most recent NHL Entry Draft and one recent top ten pick. Most of the prospects had good seasons and those moved down in the rankings or even those outside the top twenty is a reflection of the depth and level of prospect pool now in place. General Manager Bryan Murray and his team will look to integrate players as they’re ready and ensure their development schedules are consistent with the best long-term result for player and organization.

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

The wait is now over for Ottawa as the slick offensive defensemen from Skellefteå HC will come to training camp this fall with expectations to step directly into the NHL. After finishing third overall in Swedish Elite League scoring and leading the league’s defensemen with 11 goals and 50 points, the rearguard has completed his apprenticeship and will be looked upon to assist Erik Karlsson in moving the puck up the ice and providing offense from the back-end for the Senators. Rundblad also had a strong playoff, contributing three goals and seven assists in 18 games helping Skellefteå get to the Elitserien finals. He also made the Swedish roster for the 2011 WHC in Slovakia chipping in with an assist in four games.

The 6’2 189-pound defenseman will need to adjust to the speed of the NHL and get stronger to handle the larger forwards. There is also room for improvement in his positioning and decisions made both with and without the puck. Look for him to be paired up with a veteran like Chris Phillips and get an opportunity playing the point on the second power-play unit with Ottawa.

2. (2) Jared Cowen, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 9th overall, 2009

While Karlsson and Rundblad bring the lightning, Cowen is expected to supply the thunder from the Senators back line. What more can be said about the 6’5 220-pound behemoth and his most recent season? The captain of the Spokane Chiefs contributed 18 goals and 30 assists in just 58 regular season games and followed up with two goals and 12 assists in the WHL playoffs, and four assists in 10 games as a key defender with the Binghamton Senators’ championship run. Along the way he was an alternative captain for Team Canada at the WJC posting one goal and a plus-four rating in seven games and garnered First-Team WHL Western Conference All-Star accolades.

Although he is best known for his size and strength, Cowen has good positioning in all zones, improved decisions with the puck, and a solid overall grasp of the game. The Senators will ask him to focus on improving his mobility, specifically without the puck, and continue to cultivate his abrasiveness. There is a good chance he’ll begin the season in Binghamton but should expect to be in the Ottawa lineup by the end of the campaign where he should be fixture for years to come.

3. (NR) Mika Zibanejad, C, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 6th overall, 2011

Ottawa went into the recent NHL draft with a high priority of coming away with a top- flight center to add to their corps. With the choice of the Swedish Zibanejad, a physical and offensively-talented center, they add a player with the ability to contribute to the organization in many fashions. The right-handed shot finished this past season with an exemplary performance at the U18 World Championships where he set the tone for the play with his hard-edged style that made opponents take notice whenever he was on the ice. The Senators like his intense nature which coupled with his work ethic and size/skill package provide a potentially high-return for their investment.

The 6’2 195-pound forward showcased his great skating, scoring ability, and overall game in a 26-game audition for Djurgården IF Stockholm last season as an 18-year old, contributing five goals and four assists and playing minutes typically earmarked for veterans. Zibanejad was signed to a three-year entry-level deal and the Senators will give him at every opportunity to make the Ottawa roster out of training camp. If he doesn’t make the NHL squad, he will likely return to the SEL for one more season.

4. (3) Robin Lehner, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 46th overall, 2009

The Senators 19-year old goaltender of the future was able to produce very well in a season that was challenging in terms of his role and the expectations both he and the organization have for him. The 6’4 224-pound, butterfly-style goalie capped off a good season by garnering the AHL 2011 playoffs MVP after a 14-4 record with a 2.10 goals against average, a .939 save percentage and three shutouts leading Binghamton to their first AHL title. He joins the elite company of Patrick Roy and Carey Price as the only other two teenage goaltenders to accomplish this feat in the last 50 years. For most of the season he was the backup to Barry Brust and posted a 7-6-2 record, a 2.67 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts before seizing his opportunity to start in the first round of the playoffs. With Ottawa he managed a 3.52 goals against average, .890 save percentage in eight games which give him a chance to measure his game against NHL players. Lehner also played will representing Sweden at the WJHC with a 2.77 goals against average, a .906 and 1-1-1 record in three games. The talent, quickness and confidence are there, it’s his rebound control, positioning, tracking the puck, balance and consistency that needs more work.

Ideally he would have been the starter in the AHL this season with a few NHL games to give him a taste – the outstanding play of Brust changed this. The plan will be for him to be the starter in Binghamton this coming season, get in 50 – 60 games and get another handful of starts with Ottawa.

5. (4) Jakob Silfverberg, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2009

Yet another Swede who came through with an impressive 2010-11 season Silfverberg signed a three-year entry level contract with the organization this past summer and had another good performance at the Senators development camp. The 20-year-old talented winger plays a mature two-way game and produced 15 goals and 14 assists in his second full season with Brynäs IF in the SEL. A right-handed shot playing mostly on the left wing, his offense talents – passing, strong on the puck and a keen anticipation – are starting to show up on the stat sheet while he continues to be responsible defensively. The 6’1 187-pound native of Gavle, Sweden represented his country at the World Cup and earned a silver medal playing in nine games with one assist and a plus-one rating. The strong skater with an exceptional hockey sense plans to spend one more season with Brynäs honing his offensive skills and developing his physical strength and mental toughness for the rigors of the NHL with the goal of competing for a position with Ottawa at their training camp next season.

6. (NR) Matt Puempel, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2011

With the 24th pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Senators added a potential top-flight goal scorer who has an NHL-ready wrist shot, slap shot, and scoring instincts. The 6′ 190-pound Peterborough Pete followed up his 33-goal OHL Rookie-of-the-Year season with a 34 goals and 35 assists in just 55 games before his season was cut short by a bone chip on his hip which required surgery. Ottawa chose to trade two second round picks – the 35th and 48th overall – to Detroit when they targeted the Essex ON native. The knocks on him are his skating, intensity, and strength which he will need to improve over the next two campaigns to get him ready for professional hockey.

The left-winger was invited to the Canadian Junior Development Camp this summer and will be given an opportunity to play in all situations with the Petes who are expected to be improved team over the previous season.

7. (NR) Nikita Filatov, LW, 7.5D
Acquired via trade with the Columbus, June 25th, 2011

In a surprise draft day deal, Murray sent the Senators 3rd round pick, the 66th overall, to Columbus for the 6th overall pick in 2008. The 6′ 190-pound Filatov, a native of Moscow, has just turned 21 and although his professional career has not yet taken off as expected, still offers much potential and the feeling is a change of organizations may just be the catalyst for him. The right-shooting winger was considered the second best forward prospect in the 2008 draft due to his scoring, skating, competitiveness, and work ethic with mixed reviews on his attention to defensive responsibilities. With six goals and seven assists in just 44 games over three seasons with Columbus he’s received limited opportunity so far in the NHL. Last season he managed seven assists in 23 games with the Blue Jackets and another nine goals and 11 assists in 36 games with the Springfield Falcons after getting sent down to the AHL in December.

The enigmatic Filatov has a chance to get his career back on track and will need to keep a positive attitude and put the organization first this season while he looks to take a step forward in his development. The Senators will look for him to earn a spot with the NHL club.

8. (7) Bobby Butler, RW, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, March 29th, 2010

Butler made the most of his first professional season and re-signed with Ottawa on a two-year one-way contract worth $2.1M. The 6’0 180-pound former UNH star began 2010-11 with Binghamton playing on the top line and scoring 22 goals in 47 games before he was called up for the remainder of the NHL season where his added ten goals and 11 assists in 36 games, often playing on a line with Jason Spezza.

Butler posted a minus-16 rating last season, which is not likely indicative of his defensive play considering he was playing on a challenged Ottawa squad. The right-winger rejoined Binghamton for their Calder Cup run and led the team in playoff goal-scoring with 13. The Massachusetts native will need to get stronger especially on the puck and improve his skating where he can as the organization expects him to earn a right-wing berth on their second scoring line next season and continue to build on his offensive stats from last season.

9. (5) Patrick Wiercioch, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2008

The first professional season for the rangy Wiercioch proved a challenging one as he adjusted to the faster pace, stronger players and limited opportunities to demonstrate his offensive abilities. The two-way defenseman, who’s still only 20, turned pro after his sophomore season at University of Denver and started the season slowly, often caught out of position or simply overmatched in many situations. As the season wore on, his defensive zone play improved along with his decision-making and he received some power-play time.

The 6’4 192-pound defenseman has to add some bulk and strength to his frame and although his 4 goals, 14 assists and minus 14 regular season stats with Binghamton are not overwhelming, he looked smooth in an eight game NHL audition garnering two assists. The Senators will need to be patient with his development and he will be expected to fulfill a larger role with Binghamton this season and continue to progress and build on his resume.

10. (14) Colin Greening, C/LW, 6.5B
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2005

The hard-working forward progressed well as he acclimated himself to professional hockey. The 6’2 210-pound Cornell graduate began the season with Binghamton often playing on the first line, his a solid two-way game earning him an extended stay with Ottawa which he was able to parlay into a three-year $2.45M NHL contract. Greening totaled 15 goals, 25 assists and a plus-12 rating in the AHL and scored another six goals among his 13 points with Ottawa including a plus-two rating in 24 games. Not bad at all for a seventh round draft choice who was also part of the nucleus that carried Binghamton last season. Ottawa will be looking for him to slide into a third-line position using his strength and skating to work the forecheck and win puck battles while he improves his puck-handling and passing skills.

11. (9) Erik Condra, RW, 6.5B
Drafted 7th round, 211th overall, 2006

Like many other prospects in the Senators fold, Condra slips out of their top ten based on the influx of new talent rather than any reflection on his own play. With Binghamton he simply excelled posting 47 points including 17 goals in just 55 games and led the team in plus/minus. Along with Butler and Greening, Condra received an extended look once the organization dealt some of their veterans at the trade deadline. During that audition he did not appear out of place, relying on his anticipation and great skating skills to make an impact. Work ethic, consistent play, and exceptional hockey sense led the organization to sign him to a two-year one-way contract this summer. An industrious forward who can play in many situations, he’ll target a permanent spot on the Ottawa roster.

12. (NR) Stefan Noesen, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2011

Part of the return for fan favorite and long-time Senator Mike Fisher, the 6’1 193-pound right-winger comes with a package of skating, competitiveness and hard-nosed play. The Plymouth Whaler is not without skill; his skating, shot, and faceoff prowess are all above average. Although his offensive game is considered raw at this point, Noesen led his OHL team in scoring last season with 34 goals and 43 assists and will have two more junior seasons to fine tune his game so there is no denying there’s a potential upside with him. The dedication appears to be there as well for the 18-year old who was born in Texas before his family moved to Michigan when he was younger to further advance his hockey development. Reports indicated he had a good showing at the USA Junior Development Camp this summer and given his package of size, skill and physicality could very well play in the WJHC and turn into a desirable second or third line NHL player in time.

13. (NR) Stéphane Da Costa, C, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, March 30th, 2011

Ottawa was able to ink the highly-sought after free-agent from Merrimack who capped off his stellar two-year run in Hockey East by being a Hobey Baker finalist. A native of Paris, the 5’11 180-pound slick puck-handling center came over to the USA in 2006 to pursue a hockey career playing against a higher level of competition. After a 45 point freshman season which garnered him NCAA Rookie-of-the-Year honors, he followed it up with a 14-31-45 campaign which had 20 teams looking to secure his services. What he brings is great vision, impressive poise with the puck, advanced passing skills, and a knack for creating offense. With elusiveness and anticipation he’s been able to make up for his lack of strength, straight-line speed and defensive awareness so far but will have to work on improving these in order to advance to the NHL.

Da Costa impressed at the recent Rookie Tournament and also played four games with Ottawa at the end of last season and had previously represented France at the last three World Cups, allowing him to stack up his game against strong competition. Training camp will see him battle Zibanejad and possibly Peter Regin for the second line center spot with Ottawa and he may end up in Binghamton for some seasoning.

14. (8) Jim O’Brien, C, 6.5C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2007

Another prospect who really got his career back on track this past season was budding power forward O’Brien who finished with a 24-32-56 scoring clip to finish second in scoring with Binghamton. The Maplewood MN native more than tripled his scoring output from his first AHL season and also received a call-up to Ottawa for six games. There is room for improvement for the 6’2 200-pound center but he’s developing into the two-way presence with his combination of strength, skating and willingness to compete in the dirty areas. His NHL ceiling is now likely that of a checking center who can play physically, forecheck effectively, and make him difficult to play against. With a legitimate opportunity to make the big club when training camp breaks, this season could see him get a long look with Ottawa.

15. (13) André Petersson, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2008

An offensive flash, Petersson brings a natural ability to make highlight reel plays that other prospects in the organization can only dream of making. A right-handed left-winger with great hands, a natural scoring touch, and impressive wheels, his second season with HV71 in the SEL was shut down by a back injury. The 5’9 169-pound speedster was able to score eight goals and add four assists playing on the veteran team in the 31 games he dressed for. Signed to a three-year entry level contract earlier this year he’s worked hard with the Senators staff to rehabilitate his back and found some good chemistry with Zibanejad at the Rookie Tournament in Oshawa. There are concerns about his size and he will need to improve his strength and develop his overall game, but there is no denying his high-end offensive skills and strong work ethic. The Swede is committed to continuing his development on the smaller ice surface and will need to spend this season in the AHL.

16. (19) Mark Stone, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2010

Last NHL Entry Draft, many viewed the Senators selection of Stone as a steal and he’s done everything since then to prove they were right. The power forward stepped up in the absence of Brayden Schenn (PHI) leading the Brandon Wheat Kings and finishing third overall in WHL scoring with a 37 goal, 106 points. The 6’3 200-pound winger was invited to the Canadian Junior Development Camp this summer and should make a strong case for inclusion to Team Canada for the WJC. While Petersson provides offense through speed, Stone who also has great hands, uses his size and determination to get to scoring areas. His below average foot speed will keep his long-term progress in question and a concentrated effort to even get his skating near average will go a long way to increase his chances of becoming an NHL regular. Any scoring improvement over his break-out WHL season will look impressive; the organization will be more impressed with continued work on his skating and adding some more muscle.

17. (NR) Mark Borowiecki, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 139th overall, 2008

Toughness, smart play, and leadership ability encapsulate the best qualities that Borowiecki offers the organization. After signing with the Senators after his 3-8-11 junior season at Clarkson, he played limited minutes with Binghamton during the tail end of the regular season and then took on a larger role in the playoffs adding two assists in 21 games. A native of Kanata ON, the local hero and homegrown Senator has a good first pass, makes solid decisions, and has a hard point shot. His 6’1 198-pound frame allows him to play a rugged game and he backs down from no one. The organization will look for him to further adapt to the speed of the pro game with Binghamton and continued good play could earn him an opportunity with Ottawa down the road as a third-pairing or seventh defenseman.

18. (12) Eric Gryba, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall, 2006

The first year pro from BU provided some much needed grit and toughness to the Binghamton blue line this season, using his 6’3 215-pound size to his advantage. Gryba is a defensive-defenseman who plays a simple, safe game with the puck and has underrated passing skills to go along with a hard accurate shot. The native of Saskatoon SK finished second on the squad in penalty minutes with 133 contributing three goals, four assists, and a plus-seven. Areas of improvement need to be his skating and discipline. With a likeable personality, Gryba projects as a potential third-pairing or spare NHL defenseman at this point.

19. (6) Louie Caporusso, C/LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2007

Ottawa was finally able to get the 5’10 188-pound native of Woodbridge ON signed to a two-year entry level contract after he played his senior year at the U of Michigan captaining the squad. Caporusso capped off his collegiate career as the second leading scorer on the Wolverines for the third consecutive season scoring 11 goals and totaling 31 points. A naturally-gifted scorer, his game is about skill, speed and intensity. The shifty forward has played center and left wing and will get an opportunity to test his talents against bigger and faster competition in the AHL this season. The organization will look for him to grab a spot on one of the scoring lines with Binghamton.

20. (NR) Shane Prince, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2011

More skill was added to the organization this summer with the choice of Prince using the draft pick acquired from Boston for Chris Kelly. The left winger enjoyed a break-out campaign with the Ottawa ’67s nearing tripling his previous season’s scoring totals with 25 goals and 63 helpers earning him recognition as second most improved player and playmaker by the OHL Eastern Conference coaches. The native of New York State has demonstrated his speed and passing ability at the Rookie Tournament and will need to continue to show his size – 5’10 181 pounds – is not a detriment. Already invited to the US National Junior Team Development Camp this summer, he’ll be gunning to improve on his scoring totals with the ’67s in what’s likely his last junior season and try to earn a spot with Team USA where he could showcase his talents in the best on best tournament.