30 in 30: Trade didn't diminish Senators' prospects
Tuesday, 08.20.2013 / 3:00 AM
By Arpon Basu
The depth of the Ottawa Senators' pool of prospects took a serious hit this offseason when general manager Bryan Murray traded forwards Jakob Silfverberg, Matt Puempel and a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to the Anaheim Ducks for high-scoring forward Bobby Ryan.
Though it might pain someone who drafted those players to see them go, Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion said a move like that is a feather in the cap for him and his staff.
"You know you've helped your franchise get a player like Bobby Ryan who can produce right away," Dorion told NHL.com, "so you feel a sense of pride that the scouts have done their job well."
The Senators' crop of prospects remains deep despite losing Noesen, and this list will not take into account the young talent already playing in Ottawa: Mika Zibanejad, Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen, to name a few.
Here are Ottawa's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Robin Lehner, G: The veteran of 25 NHL games is a clear pick as the top player in the Senators' system. At 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to become a top-tier NHL goaltender.
"He's definitely someone we feel that down the road can be a quality No. 1 goalie, someone we can ride," Dorion said. "He's learning to face NHL shooters on a night-to-night basis, but the sky's the limit for a guy like Robin Lehner."
Lehner had a 9-9-4 record with a .925 save percentage and 2.49 goals-against average for the Senators last season. Under normal circumstances, the 46th pick in the 2009 draft would already be that quality No. 1 goalie Dorion was referring to. But Ottawa already has one of those, Craig Anderson, who has two years left on his contract.
Lehner, 22, will be 24 when Anderson's contract expires and may be ready by then to take over the job on a full-time basis. In the meantime, Lehner, the 46th pick in the 2009 draft, can learn the craft by watching Anderson, who has become one of the NHL's top goalies.
"I think he can only benefit because you're learning from one of the best in the League, you're learning how he handles facing back-to-back games, or his work ethic," Dorion said. "I think that everything that Craig brings can only help Robin Lehner.
"Having two good goalies can only be a good thing."
2. Cody Ceci, D: The Senators' first-round pick (No. 15) last year had an up and down season. Well, a better way to say that would be a down and up year, because it began poorly but ended on a high note.
Ceci, 19, began the season with the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League and struggled. Though he put up 40 points in 42 games, there were some concerns with his defensive play on a losing team.
He was traded to the Owen Sound Attack and his play improved, with 24 points in 27 games in the regular season and 10 points in 12 games in the OHL playoffs.
But where Ceci really shined in the eyes of the Senators was when he went to Binghamton of the American Hockey League once his season in junior was over. He played six games (three in the regular season, three in the playoffs) and Dorion was very impressed.
"The way he played for us in Binghamton at the end of the year and in the playoffs, he was probably our best defenseman," Dorion said. "No, let me rephrase that. He was our best defenseman.
"He stepped in and just controlled games at times."
Ceci (6-2, 205) showed improved concentration in his own end, erasing the memory of his difficult start to the season playing in the Senators' backyard.
"His puck skills are always good, his skating ability is always good, but what impressed me was his level of compete in front of the net," Dorion said. "His defensive level of compete, compared to what I saw in junior where some games you were left wondering a bit, you didn't have any questions about it when you left the rink.
"His weaknesses weren't even exposed. They almost became strengths of his game."
3. Matt Puempel, LW: Puempel had a disappointing year in junior after he was drafted by the Senators with the 24th pick in 2011. But at the end of the 2011-12 season, the Senators sent the 20-year-old to Binghamton to play the final nine games there.
"I think he realized how hard he had to work and not just rely on his talent," Dorion said. "By going to Binghamton, I think it really clicked there for him. The American [Hockey] League is a tough league. Junior players step in there and think they can dominate; not many do."
Puempel (6-foot, 198) was a much-improved player with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL last season, scoring 35 goals in 51 regular-season games and three goals and four assists in 10 playoff games.
"Matt Puempel had a great season," Dorion said. "It showed in his goals, but where it didn't show was how he played the game. For us, Matt took a huge step forward after having a disappointing season the year after he was drafted. He scored big goals, he shot the puck, he drove to the net, he battled for loose pucks, he showed great second effort.
"We saw that he's really progressing as a player."
4. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C: Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of all the injuries the Senators had to weather last season was Pageau, the 96th pick in the 2011 draft who climbed the depth chart all the way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pageau was one of Ottawa's most effective forwards in a first-round victory against the Montreal Canadiens, and his performance gives him an excellent chance of sticking with the Senators this season. "At the start of the year we weren't sure if we were going to send him back to junior or to the [ECHL] or if he was going to play in the American [Hockey] League," Dorion said. "To go from there to being a regular on the NHL team and being a key contributor to our playoff success against Montreal, he's definitely gone significantly up our depth chart."
Dorion was quick to point out Pageau's success over a few weeks in May doesn't necessarily guarantee him anything for this season.
"Having that kind of success that early is great, but nothing is taken for granted this year," he said. "He's going to have to fight to make his spot on the team."
Pageau (5-9, 163) showed he had the guile and smarts to overcome his lack of size, using good instincts and will to create scoring chances. At 20, he has some growth left as a player.
5. Shane Prince, C: A second-round pick (No. 61) in 2011, Prince, 20, played his first professional season in Binghamton and showed some promise, scoring 18 goals with 17 assists in 65 games.
Prince (5-10, 181) is an offensive sparkplug who scored 43 goals playing with Ceci in his final year of junior with the Ottawa 67's two years ago.
"He's one of our most skilled prospects," Dorion said. "When we talk about pure offensive ability, pure hands, pure shooting ability, I think Shane is near the top of our list, if not the top prospect in regards to pure ability. He's shown that he's progressing, and I think he will challenge for a spot in the near future."
6. Curtis Lazar, C: A first-round pick (No. 17) in this year's draft, Lazar is a 6-foot, 190-pound forward with great offensive skills.
The 18-year-old scored 38 goals with 23 assists in 72 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey league last season, and had nine goals and two assists in 22 playoff games.
"A guy like Curtis brings some offensive intangibles with his skating and scoring ability, but he also plays the game the right way and he has a lot of character," Dorion said. "What we've tried to do is bring character people into the organization, and Curtis definitely represents a character person."
7. Mike Hoffman, C: A broken collarbone cost Hoffman the second half of the 2012-13 season after he led Binghamton in scoring the season before. He played three games with the Senators before reinjuring the collarbone.
Hoffman, 23, will enter training camp looking to nail down one of the limited spots available on Ottawa's bottom six. It could be a make or break camp for the 5-foot-11, 176-pound forward who was the 130th pick in the 2009 draft.
"I think he's in the mix to fight for a spot on the team," Dorion said. "It's unfortunate that he got injured last year, but he showed against one of the better teams in the League [the Boston Bruins] that he can be a force with his speed and his forechecking ability and his ability to get on the puck. I think he showed he's got the promise to be an NHL player.
"He's done his two years in the AHL now and we're looking for him to take the next step to the NHL. I think this camp will be a big indication of where Mike Hoffman's career is going to go down the road."
8. Mark Stone, RW: Stone, 21, completed his first full season as a professional in Binghamton and scored 15 goals with 23 assists in 54 games. He played four regular-season games and one playoff game with the Senators and was scoreless.
A 6-foot-2, 188-pound forward with scoring touch, Stone, drafted No. 178 in 2010, needs to improve his speed in order to stick with the Senators long-term and may find himself back in Binghamton this season.
"I think he'll come into camp this year and battle for a spot, and if he has to go back to Binghamton it's not the end of the world," Dorion said. "I don't see it as a step backwards, I just see it as someone who needs some time in the minors to refine his game for the NHL level."
9. Mark Borowiecki, D: A fifth-round pick (No. 139) in 2008, Borowiecki will need to assert himself soon to establish himself as a regular NHL player. Borowiecki, 24, plays bigger than his size (6-1, 200), and had 14 points and 127 penalty minutes in 53 games with Binghamton last season.
"He's a high-character, physical, high-energy defenseman with an element of toughness," Dorion said. "I think a lot of teams want defensemen like that in their lineup. I think the fact we gave him a two-way contract this year and a one-way next year shows we're committed to him, and committed to him in the longer term."
10. Chris Driedger, G: The Calgary Hitmen goaltender starred in the WHL playoffs last season, with a .931 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average in 17 games to lead his team to Game 7 of the conference final.
Driedger, 19, has good size (6-3, 187), and the Senators were encouraged with what they saw from the 76th pick in the 2012 draft.
"We think Chris really matured more mentally than physically," Dorion said. "He took on the task of being a No. 1 and being a leader on his team. He showed in the playoffs that he can win games by himself; he went to Game 7 against Edmonton in the Eastern Conference. He was definitely his team's best player and he showed he can rise to challenge under pressure situations."