In each installment of the Ottawa Senators Top 20 prospect rankings, there is rarely significant change at the top, graduation to the NHL aside. Such is the case again this year, where the recent graduation of Andrej Meszaros has allowed Ray Emery to maintain the top spot. In fact, there was no significant change through the first eight as most of the club’s prized prospects continue to develop as hoped.
One conclusion that can be drawn from this ranking is an explanation for the struggles of the AHL Binghamton Senators this season. The only regular for Binghamton that ranks in the top 15 is Filip Novak. There is one important footnote to this fact, which is that Brandon Bochenski (CHI), who was second on Binghamton in goals despite only having played 33 games, was dealt earlier in the month. It is Novak who also ranks the highest among those debuting on the list, with the former Florida Panthers and New York Rangers prospect making his first appearance at the ninth position.
Five goalies are ranked on the list, and six Russian prospects on the list. Also of note is the fact that the club has a ninth round pick (Brian Elliott) listed higher than any third round pick.
Top 20 at a glance
The Top 20 ranking is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade per HF Criteria. Other factors that help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft position, current league and team quality, location (North America or Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.
Key: Rank (former rank), name, position – age
1.(1) Ray Emery, G – 23
Grade: 8.0B, Projection: Starting goaltender
Despite having historically succeeded on the strength of homegrown talent, the Senators have never had a starting goalie emerge from within their system. As such, it can be said without contest that Ray Emery is the best goaltending prospect the organization has ever had. Emery held the position as goaltender of the future for his three seasons in the AHL, but may have scared the organization last year, appearing to take a step backwards. This season though he has taken a couple steps forward.
The first three months of the season were extremely successful for Emery. He set an NHL record for the longest winning streak to start a career, and posted extremely good numbers as Dominik Hasek’s backup. After giving up eight goals to Atlanta on Jan. 2, Emery struggled with his confidence until the Olympic break. With an injury to Hasek, he was handed the starting position indefinitely. Emery has started every game for the Senators since the break, posting a record of 10-1-1. His overall record now stands at 19-5-1, with a 2.59 GAA and .905 save percentage.
One of the keys to Emery’s success has always been his competitiveness. Conversely though, he has become infamous in recent years for losing his focus and ultimately his temper. That has yet to happen this season with Ottawa. Although he struggled with his confidence for a period of time, for the most part Emery has been extremely solid. Blessed with great size and natural athleticism, the former Soo Greyhound has so far shown the ability to handle the load in his audition as the starter. This is incredibly important considering Hasek could retire over the summer, leaving Emery with a chance to take over the starting spot.
2.(2) Patrick Eaves, RW – 21
Grade: 7.5A, Projection: Second line forward
Like Meszaros and Emery, Patrick Eaves appears to have made it as a regular NHL player. The difference is that Eaves actually began the year in the AHL after struggling to adjust to the NHL pace in the preseason. In the first two months of the year, the former Boston College star was called up four times. By mid-December, Eaves had not only adjusted to the speed of the game at the top level, but had played so well Ottawa simply could not demote him.
Eaves’ first call-up to Ottawa came after only one game in the AHL, where he went pointless. As a result, the Calgary-born youngster recorded his first NHL goal before even recording a point in the AHL. In his 18 games in Binghamton, Eaves recorded five goals and 13 points. He has actually scored goals at a better rate with the Senators, notching 14 in 45 games, to go along with five assists. The highlight of Eaves’ season in Ottawa was undoubtedly Jan. 16 against Minnesota, where he potted two goals and set up another.
After leaving Boston College a year early to begin his professional career, Eaves was expected to need a year of grooming in the AHL, like Meszaros. While he did in fact need some time to develop, it was not long. Neither a big body presence nor a speedster, Eaves’ greatest attributes are his intangibles. With outstanding hockey sense and intelligence on the ice, Eaves has strong awareness both offensive and defensively. He also works incredibly hard on the ice, and fights for space in front of the net. At times he has been used on the first power-play unit in front of the net, and has had a few auditions on the top scoring lines.
3.(3) Brian Lee, D – 18
Grade: 8.0C, Projection: Top pairing defenseman
The top ranked Senators prospect to not actually play for Ottawa this season, Brian Lee is also the club’s most recent first round pick. After obtaining the ninth overall pick in the draft lottery, the club used the pick on the reigning Mr. Hockey in Minnesota. This year, Lee has begun his college career at the University of North Dakota. He got off to a fantastic start offensively, before joining the United States at the World Junior Championships. Throughout the entire season, Lee has played on the top pairing with fellow freshman Taylor Chorney (EDM). He has also been instrumental on the first power-play unit for the eighth ranked Fighting Sioux. In 39 games this season, Lee has registered three goals and 21 points.
After the draft, General Manager John Muckler surprised many by suggesting that Lee could be in the Ottawa line-up sooner rather than later. The reason behind the statement is the possibility the club could lose both Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara as free agents. Regardless, it appears unlikely Lee will turn professional this summer. While he stands at 6’3, Lee needs to fill out his 190lb frame. The Moorhead, Minnesota native has no shortage of natural offensive talent, and his defensive zone coverage has improved over the course of the season. In fact, even his physical play increased in the second half, but he is not ready for the NHL unlike most of the Senators top prospects.
4.(4) Alexei Kaigorodov, C – 22
Grade: 8.0C, Projection: Offensive center
Perhaps the only reason Alexei Kaigorodov did not join the likes of Meszaros, Emery and Eaves on the Senators this year was the failure of the NHL to secure a transfer agreement with the Russian Federation. After dominating the Russian Super League in 2004-05 with 48 points in 57 games, Ottawa wanted to bring over the playmaking center. There was even a chance Kaigorodov would play on a scoring line. Instead, Kaigorodov returned to his club team Metallurg Magnitogorsk. This season, although his point production decreased, it can be attributed to being relegated to the second line behind future NHL superstar Evgeny Malkin (PIT). In 50 games with the club, Kaigorodov potted nine goals and 32 points, easily the second best season of his RSL career. Most impressive is the fact that when Malkin left the club, for example during the Spengler Cup in order to play in the World Junior Championships, Kaigorodov consistently stepped up and thrived in the role of first line center once again.
Without a doubt, Kaigorodov’s greatest asset is his vision. A pure playmaker that can control the pace of the game when he has the puck on his stick, Kaigorodov could put up points in the NHL as soon as next season. A strong skater and gifted puck handler, his offensive gifts are significant. There are undoubtedly aspects of his game that will need refining. The NHL is far rougher than the hockey he is accustomed to, and Kaigorodov is not a physical player. Defensive play is another area that needs improvement. For the Senators though, he could be very valuable if able to get out of his contract this summer. Under a rookie contract, the veteran of five Super League seasons could provide secondary scoring at a low price.
5.(6) Christoph Schubert, D/W – 24
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Second pairing defenseman
Once again a prospect nearing the point of graduation, Christoph Schubert is another NHL player that still qualifies as a prospect. Schubert, who turned 24 last month, has played the entire season in Ottawa. The German blueliner has suited up in 42 games for the club, but less than half of those at his natural position. Because of injuries and salary cap considerations, Schubert has been converted to a forward on many nights this year. The experiment has been extremely successful. On the season, he has registered three goals and seven points.
Considering Schubert’s skill set, it is not entirely surprising he has played so well in the role of a grinding forward. At 6’3 and 219lbs, the Munich native has outstanding size and strength. He is also a presence on the ice physically, playing with a hint of recklessness. A strong skater with a shot that has been registered at over 100 mph, Schubert has the tools to be a valuable player either up front or on the blue line. As a rearguard, Schubert’s defensive zone coverage and hockey sense can be inconsistent, but should improve with experience. He has greater upside as a defenseman, but his versatility provides the organization with the time to let him develop at the NHL level.
6. (5) Igor Mirnov, LW – 21
Grade: 7.0B, Projection: Second line scorer
Often lost in the talk surrounding Kaigorodov is another talented Russian forward, Igor Mirnov. Once again, while the Senators might like to bring Mirnov over, the lack of a transfer agreement complicates the matter. Even though Mirnov is only 21 years old, he has now played four full seasons in the Super League with perennial contender Moscow Dynamo. This past season, the 2003 second rounder was once again productive offensively with 20 points in 37 games, but missed significant time with what was reported to be a torn knee ligament. Although Mirnov has a history of knee injuries, this was not believed to be related to his previous ones.
Although also a good skater with average size, Mirnov’s style is quite different from Kaigorodov. The winger’s game is much more suited to the North American game. He possesses a hard shot and good speed, which combined with a willingness to drive to the net, makes Mirnov a capable goal scorer. Once again though, he is ready to compete for a job in Ottawa. His developmental curve in Russia is nearly complete, but once again the lack of a transfer agreement could leave the Senators with a headache.
7.(7) Kirill Lyamin, D – 20
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Second pairing defenseman
Unlike Russian second round picks from previous years Kaigorodov and Mirnov, Kirill Lyamin has had difficulty since being drafted. Lyamin saw his stock plummet on draft day in 2004, and subsequently fail to make his previous Super League team for the 2004-05 season. This year was much more successful for the young blueliner, beginning with regaining his spot with CSKA Moscow. Throughout the entire year though, Lyamin was constantly battling for ice time. Overall he played in 25 games for the club, notching one assist. The Moscow native also thrived at the World Junior Championships, where he was one of Russia’s best defensemen.
At 6’3 and 198lbs, there is no doubt that Lyamin has the size to be a physical force. His edge and penchant for throwing big hits was part of the why he was touted as a first rounder before the 2004 draft. As Lyamin struggled last year, perhaps with confidence, his physical play decreased as well. This year it returned, particularly at the WJC. A mobile defenseman with some offensive ability as well, Lyamin appears to be back on track as a prospect. He will likely return to Russia next season, in the hope of securing a more significant role with his club team.
8.(8) Jeff Glass, G – 20
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Starting goaltender
Jeff Glass’ 2004-05 season was, at least on paper, one of the best ever by a Senators prospect. From backstopping the Canadian World Junior team to gold to winning CHL Goaltender of the Year, Glass’ season was filled with accomplishments. With little left to prove at the junior level, Glass opted not to return to the Kootenay Ice as an overager and turned professional this year. After losing out on a job with the Binghamton Senators, the Cochrane, Alberta native was sent to the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL. In 31 games with Charlotte, Glass has a 3.36 GAA and .902 save percentage. His record stands at 15-14-4. The 2004 third rounder has also played in six games on recall to Binghamton. Although his numbers (1-4-0, 3.85 GAA, .883 save percentage) in Binghamton have been lackluster, Glass has had a couple solid games, including a 37-save overtime victory in November.
Glass’ apprenticeship in the ECHL is no doubt valuable considering he was only drafted in 2004. Unlike Emery, who was also able to turn professional only a year after being drafted because of a late birthday, Glass is not ready to handle the starting duties at the AHL level. He will be provided that opportunity perhaps as early as next year. Although not as athletic as Emery, Glass has good size and outstanding technical ability. He is also a gifted puck handler, a product of his strong work ethic. The club has a number of goaltending prospects behind Emery, but Glass appears to have the most upside.
9.(NR) Filip Novak, D – 23
Grade: 6.5B, Projection: Power-play specialist
Up until the trade deadline, Ottawa had made only one trade this season. That deal brought former second round pick of the New York Rangers Filip Novak, who had been sent to Florida in the Pavel Bure trade, to the Senators in exchange for a sixth round pick. The organization has had success in the past with reclamation projects, and thus far Novak appears to be a steal. After only scoring 40 points in his first two seasons in the AHL combined, Novak has put up 51 points in 62 games this season for Binghamton, fifth among league blueliners.
What Novak has done this year is put to use the skills the Rangers saw in him before taking him in the second round. After playing three years of junior with the Regina Pats, the Czech native was supposed to have adapted to the North American game. The offensive skills are undeniable with Novak. An extremely mobile blueliner with great overall skating ability, he can join the rush or start it. After his success this year, offensively he is ready for the NHL. There are question marks with Novak surrounding his defensive game and ability to contain larger forwards, but he has a good chance of sticking with the Senators as a seventh defenseman next season.
10.(12) Ilya Zubov, C – 19
Grade: 7.0C, Projection: Offensive center
Heading into the 2005 draft, it appeared as though Ilya Zubov would be taken in the second round. As a result of uncertainty at the time over the Russian transfer agreement, he fell to the Senators in the fourth round. Zubov’s ranking here is a representation of his status as a prospect though, regardless of any difficulty the organization may have signing him. His follow-up season was a major success, as Zubov’s rookie season in the Super League with Moscow Spartak saw him tally 14 points in 43 games. He also thrived at the WJC, playing much of it on a line with tournament MVP Evgeny Malkin (PIT).
Arguably the best Russian forward 87-born Russian prospect, Zubov will be asked to lead the club at the WJC next year. On talent alone, he is certainly capable. Zubov is a natural offensive talent with all the tools, including impressive skating ability, soft hands and a quick and dangerous wrist shot. Because his shot has become an asset, he never hesitates to use it either. At only 6’0 and 176lbs he will never be a physical player, but this past season in the Super League he worked hard to round out his game. Every facet of his game improved, particularly his defensive game. Another year of development and Zubov could be ready to come to the AHL.
11.(NR) Brian Elliott, G – 20
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Backup goaltender
If Glass’ 2004-05 junior campaign was on paper the best ever turned in by a Senators goalie prospect, Brian Elliott gave him a run for his money this year. The second to last selection in the entire 2003 draft, Elliott was a complete unknown taken from the Ajax Axemen, an Ontario Junior A club. After serving as a backup for his first two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Elliott took over the starting role in spectacular fashion. With a record of 23-5-3, a GAA of 1.70 and a save percentage of .933, the statistics are incredible. As recognition for his accomplishments with the Badgers, Elliott has been nominated for the 2006 Hobey Baker award. Given out to the top college player ever year, Elliott has a good chance of winning the major award.
In the event that Elliott makes the Senators, one storyline that will no doubt emerge is the fact that his coach in college is Mike Eaves, the father of second ranked prospect Patrick Eaves. A candidate for the WCHA All-Academic team as a business major, Elliott brings the same work habits to his game. A large goaltender with strong technical ability, the Newmarket, Ontario native is extremely consistent and has tremendous focus. Elliott is committed to self-improvement, and so long as he continues to develop the way he has since being drafted, he will be part of Ottawa’s plans going forward.
12.(15) Vitaly Anikeyenko, D – 19
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third pairing defenseman
About the time Elliott was taken with the second last pick in the 2003 draft, the scouting world began to talk about Vitaly Anikeyenko as being the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. When the draft rolled around two years later, Anikeyenko was simply a third round pick of the Senators. He has followed up his selection with a solid rookie season in the Super League with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. In 26 games, Anikeyenko put up a single assist and like Lyamin, was constantly battling to hold onto the last defense position on his team. The 6’4 and nearly 200lb blueliner narrowly missed out on playing for Russia at the WJC, but he will have the opportunity next year.
Although Anikeyenko’s potential was overstated as a 16-year-old, he still has good tools, beginning with great size. To complement his size, he is a good skater with a heavy but inaccurate shot. Anikeyenko’s game remains raw and unrefined. He is not as physical as he could be, and his decision-making needs improvement. Anikeyenko is a potential asset on the power play, but his shot and passing must improve. Nonetheless, the Senators made him the first Russian selected at the 2005 draft and believe he has significant potential. A couple more seasons in the Super League will hopefully help Anikeyenko to make use of his significant potential.
13.(16) Alexander Nikulin, C – 20
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Offensive forward
Amazingly, Russians make up nearly half of the prospects listed so far, with Alexander Nikulin being the sixth on the list. He was also drafted the latest, selected 122nd overall by the Senators in 2004. His stock has undoubtedly risen since being drafted, first last year in playing on the third line of the Russian team at the WJC, and this year by having an outstanding first full season in the Super League. In 51 games with CSKA Moscow, Nikulin scored 10 goals and 22 points, despite only having skated in 16 games last year. As recognition for his strong play, he was asked to play for the Russian national team at the Karjala Cup.
Reportedly touted by the Senators scout in Russia as having first-round potential before the 2004 draft, Nikulin appears to have been another steal from the country. Although not as gifted as Kaigorodov or Zubov, Nikulin is nonetheless an offensive prospect. He is intelligent and controls the puck very well. On the power play he is adept at finding teammates with sharp and accurate passes. It is his overall game though that has earned him praise and made him an asset to CSKA Moscow. Nikulin can play on any line because of a strong defensive game. In fact, contrary to the typical Russian forward prospect, his finishing touch may be one thing he could work on.
14.(17) Shawn Weller, LW – 19
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third line forward
At a minimum, Shawn Weller will always be known as the third round pick Radek Bonk was finally traded for in 2004. The hope is that the young Clarkson Golden Knights forward will develop into a solid but unspectacular NHL player. After a freshman season that was marred with paperwork trouble and saw him only pot three goals, Weller improved to 14 this season. Overall, he put up 24 points, showing increased offensive talent in his sophomore season.
The organization has long coveted a true power forward, and Weller is the best power forward type in the system. Although only listed at 6’1 and 205 lbs, Weller plays with good size and strength. In fact, one of his flaws this season was a lack of discipline. He also possesses strong skating ability, and with a developing goal scoring touch, could be primed for a true breakout in his junior year.
15.(11) Roman Wick, RW – 20
Grade: 7.0D, Projection: Second line scorer
After last season, there appeared to be a chance Roman Wick was ready for the AHL like Glass, only one year after being drafted. He had put together a strong campaign with the Red Deer Rebels and attended training camp with both Ottawa and Binghamton. Unable to win a spot with the AHL club, Wick was returned to Red Deer. He never regained his top form on the rebuilding Rebels club, scoring 17 points in 23 games before being dealt to the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Even with Lethbridge, the Swiss forward has only scored 30 points in 38 games.
Switzerland has never produced a regular NHL position player. At one point last year, it appeared Wick had a chance to become the first. A lanky winger with outstanding puck skills, he has the upside to score at the NHL level. There are flaws in his game though. Wick’s all-round play leaves much to be desired, and without his top offensive game this season, he has been a disappointment. The Senators have yet to sign Wick, and while last year it seemed almost guaranteed, after his disappointing season his chances of getting a contract may be in doubt.
16.(NR) Kelly Guard, G – 22
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Backup goaltender
The Senators, unlike some organizations such as the St. Louis Blues, have not routinely signed free agent players either out of college or major junior. One exception is Kelly Guard, who the organization inked to a contract days before he won Memorial Cup MVP in 2004. Last year he played with Charlotte of the ECHL, with average success. This season, Guard won the backup job with Binghamton in camp, only to become the starting goaltender almost by default after Billy Thompson’s game imploded. Through 38 games, he has posted a 20-15-1 record with a .910 save percentage.
Although only listed at 6’0, 190lbs, Guard’s strength is his ability to look big in the net. Technically sound, the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native has worked hard to improve his mobility and athleticism. It has paid off, with Guard keeping Binghamton in many games. He has improved to the point where an NHL career as a backup is possible, although continued development is necessary.
17.(NR) Arttu Luttinen, W – 22
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Third line forward
It is unusual for a player to debut on this list at the age of 22. That is exactly where Arttu Luttinen is though. The third round pick, taken under the recommendation of departing Director of Player Personnel Jarmo Kekalainen in 2002, Luttinen was at that point a long shot. Last season he broke out with the powerhouse HIFK Helsinki, notching 25 points. This season he took another quantum leap forward in his development, scoring 18 goals and 44 points, which ranked seventh in the Finnish Elite League. Although his linemates Tony Salmelainen and Janne Hauhtonen both out-produced him, Luttinen earned his own points as well.
Luttinen has quickly risen to star status in the Finnish Elite League. A bulky winger at 5’10 and 205lbs, he has not only some offensive ability, but an edge to his game. Luttinen is very suited to the North American style of game, being a notorious garbage goal scorer. His stickhandling and shot are solid but not spectacular. He can play physically and works hard in every zone. It appears he will likely come to North America this summer, and could push for a spot on Ottawa’s lower lines if his all-around game is up to the task.
18.(9) Billy Thompson, G – 23
Grade: 6.5C, Projection: Backup goaltender
The fifth goalie on the list is the Senators prospect that has had the greatest fall this year. Last year, Billy Thompson pushed Emery, the two-year starter in Binghamton, to the brink of losing his job. The Saskatoon native had a fantastic season posting a .920 save percentage and a record of 19-8-2. Considering Glass’ emergence at the junior level, Thompson’s position in the organization was dependent upon his performance this season. Unfortunately, his 2005-06 season has been nothing but a disaster. His goals against has been hovering around 4.00 the entire season, and it currently sits at 3.86. He has lost his starting role to Guard. The only bright spot was a call-up to the Senators to back up Emery for a couple weeks before Mike Morrison was acquired on waivers.
Thompson’s upside was never as a No. 1 goalie at the NHL level. He did seem capable though of being a future backup. A big goalie with good technical ability and some natural athleticism, Thompson has talent. With his catastrophic season though, his chance of achieving such a position with Ottawa has likely evaporated. After three years as a professional, he will be a free agent this summer, and Ottawa will likely turn to a tandem of Glass and Guard in Binghamton next year.
19.(10) Jan Platil, D – 23
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Depth defenseman
Another prospect who is a free agent in the summer and may have to move on to another organization is Jan Platil. Coming out of a stellar junior career with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, the 2001 seventh rounder had a reasonably high profile. This season, with Binghamton’s blue line in a rebuilding process, he had a chance to emerge as a top defenseman. Unfortunately, this has not happened. In fact, Platil has at times played forward, with surprising success. His offensive production has improved marginally though, with 14 points in 56 games.
The emergence of Novak means that the Senators may no longer have Platil in their plans as a depth defenseman. Known for his tough and nasty play in his own zone, Platil’s upside is limited. His puck skills remain problematic, and his hockey sense is not his strong suit either. He remains an imposing physical specimen though, and he has improved at the AHL level and could provide depth to any organization.
20.(NR) Grant Potulny, D – 24
Grade: 6.0B, Projection: Third line forward
Selected way back in 2000, Grant Potulny has since played four years at the University of Minnesota and two more with the Binghamton Senators. After his rookie campaign with Binghamton, where he tallied only four goals and 10 points, his NHL potential seemed to be quite limited. This season though, he was clearly more comfortable with the professional game, as shown by his 18 goals and 37 points through 66 games, to go along with 116 penalty minutes. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Potulny leads the club in plus/minus at +13, even though some players are as low as -18.
The key to Potulny’s game has always been character. He was a two-year captain in college, amazing considering he was the first non-Minnesotan to play for the Golden Gophers since 1987. The North Dakota native also scored the NCAA championship-winning goal in 2002, ascending to legend status in the process. His role with Binghamton is to work his hardest on every shift. The fact that he is producing offensively simply shows he has adjusted to the pace of the game. At 6’3 and 205lbs, he has a chance to carve out a career as a fourth liner in the NHL.
Eugene Belashchenko, Sergei Balashov and Pekka Lampinen contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.