Zibanejad new number one in Ottawa Senators top-20

By John Henkelman
Photo: Goaltender Robin Lehner had a brief but high profile stint in the NHL this season, posting a 3-2 record and managing one shutout. (Photo courtesy of JC Salas/Icon SMI)

It's been a turn-around season for the Ottawa Senators, with contributions coming from many of the young players who were core components of last year's Calder Cup champions. Perhaps no bigger contributor, both literally and figuratively, than Jared Cowen who just recently graduated after sitting on top of the Senators' prospect rankings for most of this season. Overall there is a good mix of prospects playing in the AHL, European leagues, CHL, and NCAA with a few making a case for a spot with the NHL club. With a few exceptions, the Senators' pool of emerging talent has improved and is on the expected time-line the organization has in place for their development.

1. (3) Mika Zibanejad, C, 8C
Drafted 1st round, 6th overall, 2011

The Senators were high on Zibanejad coming into the NHL draft where they were determined to add a top-flight center with their top pick. The right-handed forward plays a physical game and brings a presence onto the ice with his combination of offensive skill and intensity. After an impressive training camp and pre-season, Z-Bad as he's been nicknamed, stuck with the Senators and played nine games. The organization made the decision to return him to Djurgården IF Stockholm of the SEL for another season of development rather than continue to play under 13 minutes per game on the third or fourth line.

He was a key member for Team Sweden in the 2012 WJCs, scoring the tournament-winning goal in overtime, en route to a gold medal. In the tournament he posted four goals and adding one assist while leading his team with 36 shots on goal. The 6'2 195-pounder has earned 13 points including five goals in 26 SEL games this season to date as he continues to play with the hard-edged style that made opponents take notice whenever he was on the ice. Look for him to keep working on his ability to create offense this season and expect him to make a serious push for an NHL roster spot next campaign.

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

Things always tend to be interesting in the life of Robin Lehner, the Senators 20-year-old goaltending prospect. This season the aggressive, butterfly-style goalie was expected to build on his 2011 playoff MVP credentials, establish himself in the starting role in Binghamton and produce results that would identify him as one of the next wave of young goalies ready for an NHL roster spot. That however did not happen and he has produced a mediocre 9-18-1 record, a 3.38 goals against average, and a .903 save percentage in 30 AHL contests.

Recently he was called up to Ottawa with the freak injury to starter Craig Anderson and has sparkled with a 2.01 goals against average, .935 save percentage and a 3-2 record including his first NHL shutout against the Boston Bruins. His physical talents are obvious with his quickness and confidence. It is the mental aspects of the game such as his focus, consistency, and tracking the play, along with balance and rebound control, that will get him to the next level. In a perfect world he would have been the starter in the AHL this season and got in 50-60 games with Binghamton in addition to the handful of starts he had when with Ottawa.

3. (5) Jakob Silfverberg, LW/RW, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2009

The Senators were able to get the 6'1 187 pound Silfverberg signed to a three-year entry-level contract this past summer and had produced another solid performance at the Senators development camp. The 21-year old talented winger plays a mature two-way game and has stepped up his offense this season with 24 goals and 30 assists to lead his Brynäs IF team in scoring and place him second overall in the SEL. A right-handed shot playing mostly on the left wing, his considerable offense talents have emerged and his strength on the puck and ability to make plays in traffic have enabled his offensive totals to increase. While maintaining his defensive responsibilities, he has shown increased physical strength and mental toughness, readying himself to compete for a position with Ottawa Senators next season.

4. (12) Stefan Noesen, RW, 7C
Drafted 1st round, 21st overall, 2011

In keeping with the Senators' theme of competitive personalities, Noesen comes with a package of skating, scoring ability and hard-nosed play. The third-year Plymouth Whaler is leading his OHL club in scoring and is 13th overall in the league this season with 37 goals and 43 assists. The Texas native is starting to refine his raw offensive skills and offers above average skating, a great shot and good combative ability. Cut from the final roster for Team USA's WJC squad, Noesen was able to shake off any disappointment he may have been feeling and channeled his frustration constructively through his play. The Senators were able to sign him to a three-year entry-level contract in December 2011.

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

The secret's now out on the 6'3 200-pound Stone, if he was ever one previously. After leading the Brandon Wheat Kings and finishing third overall in WHL scoring with a 37 goal, 106 point season last year, he's following it up with a 39-76-115 season to again lead his club and place him third in WHL scoring.

The Winnipeg native showed off his great hands, size, and determined play by leading Team Canada in scoring at the WJC in Calgary with seven goals, 10 points, and a plus-10 rating.

The power forward was signed to a three-year entry level contract last September and impressed at the developmental and main Senators training camps. His power skating deficiency has improved while working with the Senators to the point where he is average or better. In Brandon he's played in all situations and has twice been named WHL Player of the Week this season. The 19-year old could still add muscle and projects as a potential top nine scoring winger, with the ability to score and play in various roles. Expect him to compete for a roster spot with Ottawa next season although he's likely destined for some seasoning in the AHL with Binghamton.

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

Borowiecki is a hometown prospect from Kanata, ON who continues to endear himself to the organization. There is a lot to like about his tough style of game which is underlined by smart decisions, good positioning, and underrated puck skills. Although he'll never be confused with an offensive defenseman, his 19 point scoring clip shows he's not a one-dimensional player and combined with his 101 penalty minutes and leadership ability, he provides a likable talent package.

The organization appreciates the presence he displays on the ice and he experienced an extended stay with in Ottawa's training camp to begin the season as a result. The 22-year old is adapting nicely to the speed of the professional game and earned a brief two-game call-up to the NHL. The organization will look for him to continue to play his rugged style with Binghamton and aim for a third-pairing spot with the big club next season.

7. (13) Stephane Da Costa, C, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 30th, 2011

Expected to inject offense into the Senators organization, Da Costa, a highly-sought after free-agent from Merrimack College has come as advertised so far in his professional career. The former Hobey Baker finalist and native Parisian offers great vision, impressive puck skills and is able to generate offense with his poise and creativity. He began this season in Ottawa but was sent down to Binghamton after scoring only five points and a minus-nine rating in 22 NHL games. With Binghamton, he is scoring at almost a point per game, with 28 points 35 games. His elusiveness and superior awareness have been on full display in the AHL, and have allowed him to overcome other shortcomings to his game, particularly in the defensive zone.

Da Costa missed four games with an upper-body injury but was able to return to the lineup recently. The shifty forward will have to improve on his overall game and attempt to win a scoring center spot with Ottawa next season where Kyle Turris has earned the opportunity to solidify the second line pivot role.

8. (9) Patrick Wiercioch, D, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2008

The 6'4 192-pound defenseman's second professional season has been overshadowed by a serious throat injury where he was struck by the puck in a clearing attempt. The former Denver defenseman has since returned to the Binghamton lineup after being out for two months and is slowly getting back to form. A two-way defenseman with good skating ability and a great point shot, he still needs to add strength and continue to round out his game. The Senators will need to continue to be patient with his development while he'll need to show he can lead the Binghamton power play and demonstrate his overall game is progressing to the next level.

9. (6) Matt Puempel, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2011

A former OHL Rookie of the Year, Puempel has struggled mightily since he was drafted nine months ago. A natural goal scorer, the 6' 190 pound winger was looking to make a good impression at the Senators training camp. Instead his lack of strength and quickness were exposed.

Along with fellow 2011 first round pick Noesen, Puempel was among the final cuts to represent his country in the WJC and signed a three-year entry level contract with the Senators in December. The Petes' captain had returned from an eight-game suspension for a hit in early January before suffering a concussion versus the Kingston Frontenacs.

Puempel has shown no ill-effects from the hip surgery which cut short his previous season but will need to address some aspects of his game when he returns to the lineup. The scoring knack is there but the organization will want to see work on his intensity and ability to play in traffic.

10. (15) Andre Petersson, LW, 7D
Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2008

The decision for Petersson to come over to North America and continue his development is looking better all the time. The naturally gifted forward possesses great speed, soft hands, and immense creativity. A right-handed shot who plays on his off wing, the 5'9 172-pound Swede has been able to score at the AHL level and is tied for the Binghamton goal scoring lead with 17 and has 18 assists in 48 games so far this season. He made his NHL debut against Anaheim and has clearly shown the back injury that plagued him previously no longer bothers him.

He has found some good chemistry with his teammates in Binghamton and has bought into Coach Kleinendorst's system. Size will always likely be a concern for Petersson but as long as he works on his strength and the defensive aspects of his game, he should be fine.

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

After starting the season with a foot injury, which sidelined him for 19 games, Jim O'Brien native has come on of late and is currently centering the third line on the Ottawa Senators, between Chris Neil and Nick Foligno. He has split the season between the AHL and NHL, managing 14 points in 27 games with Binghamton and four points through 16 games in the NHL.

His ceiling may be higher than thought as recently he's shown some offensive creativity and better quickness in addition to his strength, skating and willingness to compete in the dirty areas. If he continues to play at this level it will be tough to dislodge him from the Ottawa lineup.

12. (20) Shane Prince, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 61st overall, 2010

Playing in the nation's capital under the watchful eye of the Senators brass is a challenge the speedy Prince has been more than up to. The slick forward has put up 42 goals and 43 assists this season to date along with an eye-popping plus-32 rating, showing no ill effects of being snubbed by Team USA for a roster spot on their WJC squad. He began this season with a strong showing at the Senators camp demonstrating good chemistry when lined up with Mika Zibanejad.

There will be questions on whether his 5'10 181-pound frame can handle the rigors of the NHL – next season will go a long way to dispelling these and show where his overall game is relative to professional players.

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

The highly-talented Filatov is adding to his resume with another underwhelming season. After Ottawa traded for the former 1st round pick on draft day, giving him a fresh start with a new organization, he was able to take part in their development camp and had a decent main camp and preseason with the club, earning an opportunity to begin the season with Ottawa. Coach MacLean played him with a variety of linemates but he was not able to click and contributed only one assist in nine games. After a few demotions and call-ups, he balked at reporting to Binghamton again in December and worked out an arrangement to join CSKA in the KHL with the Senators retaining his rights. With Binghamton, he managed seven goals and five assists through 15 games and in the KHL, he has four goals and four assists in 18 regular season. The Senators will likely look for him to earn a spot with the NHL club next season again although it's not a lock the club will get him under contract or even offer him one.

14. (NR) Derek Grant, C/LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2008

A pleasant surprise in training camp, this season has been uneven for the 6'3 190-pound Grant although a shoulder injury which kept him on the shelf for 16 games hasn't helped. The rangy 6'3 190-pound center is playing his first full professional season and was expected to get one of the top six forward spots in Binghamton with the graduation of many from the Calder Cup winning squad. So far this season he has potted seven goals and added 13 assists in 46 games. He's still learning to more effectively use his size and should continue to improve of the course of this season and the next in the AHL.

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

The 6'3 215-pound second-year pro has been a stalwart on the Binghamton blue line this season, providing grit and toughness. A defensive-first player who plays a safe, solid game with the puck, he's managed to more than double his point production this season with four goals and 13 assists. The affable defenseman will need to continue to work on his gap control, his skating and discipline. Gryba projects as a potential third-pairing or seventh defenseman at the NHL level at this point. With continued work on his overall game the opportunity to suit up for the Ottawa Senators could come next season depending on the makeup of the NHL club's roster.

16. (NR) Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, 7D
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2011

Pageau began this season much like he finished the last one – on fire. With the Gatineau Olympique the team captain was averaging a goal a game for this QMJHL season. Unfortunately for the lightning-quick forward he broke his finger in November against Shawinigan and missed a month of action. The timing of the injury also meant the 5'9 164-pound Ottawa native missed out on opportunity to represent Canada at the WJC. Shortly after returning to the Olympique lineup, the 19-year-old was traded to Chicoutimi in early January, where his production slightly dropped. His overall season is more than respectable with 32 goals and 33 assists in 45 league games.

17. (NR) Mike Hoffman C/LW, 7D
Drafted 5th round, 130th overall, 2009

A dangerous player with an excellent shot and great stick-handle, the former QMJHL MVP has improved in his second year in Binghamton. The Kitchener, ON native is adjusting to the speed and strength required to play professional hockey and is leading the Baby Sens in scoring with 17 goals and 25 assists. His work on the defensive end still needs to improve but the area he excels at is on the power play where he can best utilize his offensive skills. He could probably add more strength, though his standing within the organization has increased with his improved production and he received a one-game call up earlier this season. He will need to continue to improve as the competition should be tough for roster spots on the Ottawa Senators in the next few years.

18. (NR) Fredrik Claesson, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2011

A teammate of Zibanejad's with Djurgården, Claesson is playing his second season in the SEL as a junior-aged defenseman. The defensive defenseman keeps his game simple with the puck, makes accurate passes and positions himself well. A member of the Swedish gold-winning team at the WJC, he's upped his point total with Djurgården this season to seven points in 47 league games to go with a plus-seven rating. The area of improvement he stands to gain the most is with his puck-handling. The Senators will let him develop at his own pace; look for him to spend likely another season in the SEL.

19. (NR) Ben Blood, D, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, 2007

Now a senior at UND, the 6'3 212-pound Blood has noticeably improved his puck skills over the course of his collegiate career and is establishing himself as a presence on the power play with his hard, accurate point shot. After rebuffing the Senators' overtures to turn pro, he's getting additional minutes this season and has 18 points in 37 games. Expected to take on a larger leadership role with the Fighting Sioux, he's stepped up in that regard in addition to his strong physical play and smart defensive positioning. Next season he'll be able to determine where his play is relative to the other Senators prospects as he embarks on his pro career.

20. (NR) David Dziurzynski, C/LW, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent, April 6th, 2010

Still a work in progress, Dziurzynski has improved in his second season with Binghamton and will need to keep developing in order to get an opportunity in the NHL. The strapping 6'3 205-pound forward has a nice blend of size, soft hands, and aggressiveness which makes him an intriguing prospect. Ice time and points have been challenging to find although he managed 19 points including eight goals and has 65 penalty minutes.