The 2011-12 Ottawa Senators put together an impressive 41-win, 92-point season to finish in eighth place in the NHL Eastern Conference and qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In a season marked by third period comeback wins, they took the New York Rangers to the limit in the first round, eventually losing in seven games.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Mika Zibanejad, C
2. Robin Lehner, G
3. Jakob Silfverberg, LW/RW
4. Stefan Noesen, RW
5. Mark Stone, RW
6. Mark Borowiecki, D
7. Stephane Da Costa, C
8. Patrick Wiercioch, D
9. Matt Puempel, LW
10. Andre Petersson , LW
After finishing near the bottom of the league in goals scored the previous season, the Senators finished fifth overall with 249 goals scored. In terms of goals against they stayed in 24th place in the NHL identifying an obvious area that requires improvement. The penalty kill is a particular area of need, as it went from ranked ninth in 2010-11 to 20th in 2011-12.
Up front the Senators relied on the Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson trio for much of their scoring and will look for improved secondary scoring from their bottom nine forwards. Acquired in a mid-season trade from Phoenix, Kyle Turris will be expected to deliver offense more consistently in his first full season with the organization. They will also be expecting more consistent offensive contributions from Bobby Butler and Stephane Da Costa. The forwards in general will also need to demonstrate a greater commitment to defensive play.
On the blue line the Senators were led by their star Erik Karlsson who injected instant offense with his offensive instincts and improved defensive play. A restricted free agent, re-signing Karlsson is a top priority for the Sens this off-season.
Goaltending was a position of consistency for Ottawa last season led by starter Craig Anderson who won some games by himself and took part in 63 contests. The 31 year-old is expected to carry the load again this season again. The backup position transitioned from veteran Alex Auld to a combination of Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop. The highly-regarded Lehner played well in Ottawa and Binghamton and demonstrated better maturity than he had previously, but will have to compete with Bishop next training camp for a spot with Ottawa. The 6'7 Bishop who came over from St. Louis at the trade deadline, came up big when called upon, has nothing left to prove in the AHL and was re-signed by the Senators to a one-year deal.
Depth, skill, character, and work ethic serve to illustrate the state of the forward position which is now a major organizational strength. The Senators forward prospects are distributed well both among development levels and projected types with some showing signs they're ready to contribute to the big league club, another group looking to develop further in Binghamton, and the youngest wave skating in the CHL and NCAA ranks. Prospects Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, and Andre Petersson are the three likeliest to contend for NHL spots in training camp.
While the forward position has considerable depth, the quality prospects in the system on defense are mostly defensive-oriented. Among those poised for a position with Ottawa are local hero Mark Borowiecki, two-way defenseman Patrick Wiercioch, and the tough Eric Gryba.
The Senators simply have not developed many scoring forwards this century. Over the past six seasons only Spezza and Alfredsson have scored over 20 goals in a season among the Senators homegrown players and only Patrick Eaves has produced a 20 goal season among Senators coming out of the past ten drafts. Besides Karlsson there aren't many young, offensively oriented defensemen in the system. The Senators also need to add some additional young goaltending depth.
GM Bryan Murray and his team will target puck-moving defensemen and scoring forwards with size and preferably some tenacity at both of these positions. Their philosophy is to opt for the best player available and will likely angle towards a defenseman over a forward this draft all things being equal. In the past the Senators have targeted specific players based on recommendations and they will continue to do so. The organization does place a high value on character and maturity when looking at potential new additions. The Senators did choose forwards with eight out of their 10 picks in the 2011 draft in order to replenish that position in their system. Look for them to emphasize defense more with this time around.
The Senators own the 15th, 76th, 82nd, 106th, 136th, 166th, 196th picks in the 2012 NHL Draft.
One of the fast risers up the prospect rankings this season, this 17-year old Finn plays with poise beyond his years and expected to be among the top defensemen in the CHL next season. The 6'2 198-pound defenseman was the first choice in the 2011 CHL Import Draft by Barrie who dealt his rights to the London Knights. With London he improved over the course of the season leading his team's blueliners in scoring with a 5-27-32 clip and just 25 penalty minutes in 58 regular season games. He raised his game to another level in the OHL playoffs with 23 points including six goals in 17 games, playing an important role in the Knights' league championship. Although he was held scoreless in the Memorial Cup, he demonstrated his considerable offensive skills and strong skating whether carrying the puck on the rush or ensuring he was always in good position to anticipate the play. The left-handed defenseman is very adept defensively and possesses a complete game.