The Ottawa Senators ran into injury trouble at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, so several prospects got the opportunity to prove they could compete in the NHL. And the ones who have stuck aren’t those who were predicted to do so—at least not this season.
In training camp, the question on everybody’s mind was which of Matt Puempel and Shane Prince would get the nod to start the season as the team’s last forward. Now, the question seems moot—there are two new left wingers in town, and although one of them has a last name that begins with the letter P, neither of them is Puempel or Prince.
Prince made the club in camp, and at times, it looked like he was ready to make the jump to the NHL. Unfortunately, he didn’t produce the numbers that the team thought he should, so the Senators shipped him off to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline so he would get the opportunity to play more.
Meanwhile, Puempel has had every opportunity to win a spot on the team, but he has failed to capitalize. Here are five Ottawa Senators prospects who have competed as rookies in the 2015-16 NHL season, starting with Puempel.
Matt Puempel, LW, 23
Puempel failed to do enough to force the Senators to keep him instead of Shane Prince at the beginning of the season. Even though Prince is now in Long Island, the situation hasn’t changed—the team is playing Ryan Dzingel and Nick Paul on the left side instead. Currently, Puempel is with the big club, but has a seat in the press box. He has dressed for 15 games scattered over the course of the season but has only contributed two points in that time. It’s safe to say that 2015-16 hasn’t been the breakout year he wanted, but he will have another chance to make the team permanently next season.
Max McCormick, LW, 23
Max McCormick is an edgy player who can add some jam along the boards and chip in offensively—just the type of player the Senators needed when the injury bug hit. So while top offensive players like Cole Schneider and Dzingel played out the Fall months with Binghamton, it was McCormick who got the call. Although he had some success with 2 goals and 2 assists in 20 games, he looked nervous at times and had trouble finishing a few tap-in goals. He also didn’t do much to establish himself physically. There will be other chances for McCormick in the future, and now that he’s back in Bingo, he knows what he has to do in order to improve.
Ryan Dzingel, C, 23
Ryan Dzingel has been surprisingly good for the Senators this season, and he earned his call-up the hard way—by taking constructive criticism to heart and addressing his weaknesses. Although his five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 15 games are by no means sparkling, he has created his own scoring chances with speed and finesse. Although he was pushed around in the AHL last season, he has learned how to use his skates to keep himself out of harms way, and it has shown in his time with the big club. He has also been a plus player (+4) on a team with a negative goal and shot differential.
Fredrik Claesson, D, 23
Ever since Claesson had 29 points and a plus-37 rating in 2013-14, there have been high hopes that he could become a dependable two-way NHL defenseman. Unfortunately, he has not played particularly well since becoming a top-pairing defender in the AHL. The Senators showed their confidence in him when they called him up for an eight-game stint on a pairing with captain Erik Karlsson, but the team fizzled with that configuration and fell behind in the playoff race. He finished with zero points and a minus-8 rating. It’s not over for him yet, but he has some work to do.
Nick Paul, C, 20
Nick Paul has been a pleasant surprise for the team. Although he failed to produce much in Binghamton through the first half of the season, Luke Richardson’s coaching staff succeeded to teach him to use his strength to his advantage in front of the net—which was the real goal for him this season. Now in Ottawa, Paul has impressed by throwing some effective, timely hits, and scoring three points (two goals, one assist) in nine games. His play has been characterized by energy and intelligence, and he hasn’t been caught out of position often. The team envisions him as a powerful centre, but for now, he is playing on the left side.
Top performing non-NHL prospects
Filip Chlapik didn’t have the start that he would have liked for the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders, but since Daniel Sprong was returned by the Pittsburgh Penguins and the team acquired Samuel Blais, he has begun to look himself. The trio now forms a formidable line, and Chlapik has scored more than a point-per-game since.
Colin White has continued to dominate Hockey East since returning from the World Junior Championships, where he had seven points in seven games. He finished Boston College’s regular schedule out with 39 points in 30 games, sixth overall in Hockey East and second among freshmen. Of note is that everybody ahead of White on the leaderboard played in at least three more games than him. BC will begin the Hockey East playoffs on March 11.
February Prospect of the Month: Francis Perron
Once again, Francis Perron is the Ottawa Senators Prospect of the Month. He had 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in the month of February, and he now has 100 points in just 57 games. Although he still isn’t the fastest or the biggest player on the ice, he is an extremely intelligent passer with a quick, accurate shot. He has continued producing wild numbers in March, and he had eight points in two games to start the month. Perron will have a big adjustment to make next season in the much tougher AHL, but if he can survive that league, he could find himself in the NHL before long.
Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras