Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Michael Sharp: Hockey Blogger Extraordinaire

For anyone with an interest in following the progress of Ottawa's prospects, and the Binghamton AHL team for which many of them play, Michael Sharp's blog, Sharp on Sens, is invaluable.

Here's a recap of his latest and greatest.

"We were the quickest team in the tournament" - new Bingo head coach Don Nachbaur's impressions of the rookie tournament in Kitchener.

"I thought all the drafted players, and the free agents that showed up, were outstanding," he said. "Had a tremendous show. I thought within the tournament our scouts did a really good job of assembling young talent, and we really utilized our speed. We were the quickest team in that tournament, and consequently, we were able to score some big numbers throughout the tournament.

"But names? Our young goaltender (Robin Lehner) was outstanding. Jimmy O'Brien was good. Condra had an excellent camp. (Keegan) Dansereau. I mean, we go through the list of guys -- I thought everybody had a real decent showing for themselves."

Lehner in 2010? - Binghamton General Manager Tim Murray talks about Robin Lehner.

"Obviously, he's committed and we've committed for him to go to (the OHL's Soo Greyhounds) this year, but we'll see the year he has in the Soo," Ottawa assistant GM Tim Murray said. "We'll see who we have coming back. As you know in the American League, there's a lot of one-year deals, and guys moving on to better opportunities, or perceived better opportunities. So, yeah, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that at 19-turning-20, he'd be playing in Binghamton."

Rookie Watch: Jim O'Brien - Binghamton General Manager Tim Murray talks about Jim O'Brien.

"He had a good tournament. Jimmy's biggest thing is consistency, I think, as any player. And strength. And early in the shift, he's really jumping and flying, and later on in the shift, you can see his strength and stamina and skating suffer a little bit. And I find that with most young players. He's got a good head on his shoulders. I think he can play both ends of the rink. He can shoot the puck. I think it's just a matter of, again, the grind. Him moving to Seattle (in the WHL) two years ago from (the University of) Minnesota I think will really help that area of it. I think he's grown up a lot, and he wants to be a player. So, he'll have an opportunity to play with good players down there, and we'll just see what he does."

Kaspars Daugavins Update - recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and almost ready for contact.

Monday, September 14, 2009

THN: Video Report on Erik Karlsson

Ted Cooper of The Hockey News has an interview and video report with Senators prospect Erik Karlsson.

Senators Reduce Training Camp Roster by Nine Players

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 14, 2009) - The Ottawa Senators reduced today their training camp roster by nine players.

All nine were assigned to attend the club's American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators' training camp, which opens Wednesday, Sept. 16, at Binghamton's Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.

The group includes four defencemen: Paul Baier, Mat Robinson, Craig Schira and Kyle Wharton; and five forwards: Jason Bailey (RW), Keegan Dansereau (LW), Kaspars Daugavins (RW), Matt Lowry (RW) and Brandon Svendsen (RW).

The Senators camp roster is now comprised of 46 players: six goaltenders, 12 defencemen and 28 forwards.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Senators Rookie Tournament Roster Announced

The Ottawa Senators have announced the roster for this year's rookie tournament to be held in Kitchener from the 7th to 10th of September.

Shane Connelly (Wisconsin - WCHA)
Robin Lehner (Frolunda Jr. - Sweden)

Paul Baier (Portland - AHL)
Collin Bowman (Kelowna - WHL)
Erik Karlsson (Frolunda HC, Boras HC - Sweden)
Geoff Kinrade (Michigan Tech - WCHA, Norfolk - AHL, Tampa Bay - NHL)
Mat Robinson (Las Vegas - ECHL, Alaska-Anchorage - WCHA)
Craig Schira (Vancouver - WHL)
Kyle Wharton (Johnstown - ECHL, Syracuse - AHL)

Jason Bailey (Bakersfiled - ECHL)
Erik Condra (Notre Dame - CCHA)
Keegan Dansereau (Swift Current - WHL)
Kaspars Daugavins (Binghamton - AHL, Mississauga - OHL)
Jordan Hale (Brandon - WHL)
Michael Hoffman (Drummondville - QMJHL)
Casey Lee (U. of Saskatchewan - CWUAA)
Matt Lowry (Brandon - WHL)
Jim O’Brien (Seattle - WHL, Binghamton - AHL)
Brett Parnham (Oshawa - OHL, Rochester - AHL)
Peter Regin (Binghamton - AHL, Ottawa - NHL)
Zack Smith (Binghamton - AHL, Ottawa - NHL)
Brandon Svendsen (Idaho - ECHL, Bowling Green - CCHA)

The tournament is a round-robin between rookie teams representing the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Check the link for Kitchener game schedules and pre-tournament Sensplex open practice schedules.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not Your Typical Prospect

Peter R. over at SilverSeven has an interesting post about Jeremy Yablonski. He was originally signed to an AHL deal for this season but the team tore it up and signed him to a 2-way deal, and AGM Tim Murray had this to say.

"Well, we're going to give him an opportunity for sure," Murray said. "We had contract space. You're allowed 50 NHL contracts, (so) we had contract space. I think he's done everything we've asked him to do the two previous years down there. He's been a great teammate. He's fought for his teammates. He's been very professional about it. He fights for the right reasons, and he's certainly not an idiot the way some of those big guys can be. He's been great, so I guess as a bit of a reward -- it gives him the opportunity to come to camp and earn a job, rather than just come to camp and get sent down right away. And it gets it (done), we don't have to do (the contract) in camp if he plays well in camp. And it doesn't give another team an opportunity to give him an NHL deal. So I think it was good for him and good for us.

He's not going to see much if any icetime but his is an interesting story line to follow. Very much the antithesis of Dany Heatley and his me-first attitude.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Top 10 Prospect Stories to Watch in 2009-10

10) Poor Man's Chris Neil

Cody Bass has some of the same skills as (too) highly paid Chris Neil, a little less heavyweight pedigree, less offensive flair (possibly the first time Chris Neil and flair have been used in the same sentence) and much better defensive play. Bass's skills project into a very good depth player, the type of bottom 6 player that exhibits heart, tough defense and sacrifice to energize his team and frustrate the opposition. The question is, do the Senators have any room for him? With 3 bottom six forwards making good money (Kelly, Neil, Ruutu) and as many as 7 other forwards who might play on the 3rd or 4th lines (Mike Fisher, Nick Foligno, Ryan Shannon, Shean Donovan, Peter Regin, Jesse Winchester, Zack Smith) there doesn't appear to be much opportunity for Bass this season. Bass might need to wait for trades, injuries or roster losses next off-season for a real shot at the role he looked so effective at during his late-season audition in 2007-08, during which he was one of the team's better players in their 4 game playoff sweep by the Penguins.

9) Power Forward?

Zack Smith was the final cut from the Senators in the fall of 2009 and is expected to push for a spot in the lineup again this year, but he faces the same bottom 6 congestion that Cody Bass does. The difference is that Smith has a modest chance of passing through the bottom 6 and eventually establishing himself as a 2nd line player, playing a power game. He's gritty enough, big enough, fast enough and talented enough to project as that 2nd line power guy, but to do so he needs to continue to improve most aspects of his game. The question is, which challenge will he earn the right to face? Will he be trying to dominate the AHL or earn minutes among a plethora of depth players on the big club? For his development, I hope he spends one more season in the AHL and forces the Sens to make room for him on the big club in the future.

8) Go East Young Man

Jim O'Brien is remarkably similar in some ways to Zack Smith. He's a year younger, and a bit faster and a bit more of a shooter, but perhaps a little less gritty, although that could just be age. O'Brien projects to the same role as Smith, and has the character attributes to justify the projection, but faces the same long-term challenges. In the short term, O'Brien will be attending his first camp as a professional and while he'll probably play the season in Binghampton, he needs to show more than his recent modest incremental improvement to continue to justify his first round selection in 2007. But taking a step back from the immediate challenge, sometimes slow and steady wins the race.

7) Russian Roulette

Ilya Zubov is at a critical juncture in his career. He has one more year under contract and should be pushing to establish himself as a bona fide NHLer. It's not that the organization would give up on his development in Binghampton after next season, but it would be hard to imagine him signing another 2-way contract when the KHL beckons. And the Senators have a policy against paying NHL contract dollars to players on the AHL roster. So if he hasn't established himself then he'll most likely leave. By the end of the season we should know with reasonable certainty in which league he'll play for the next few years. But we'll have strong indications ahead of time, including how well Zubov produces in training camp in September. If he's given little or no time playing with top 6 forwards, or performs poorly in general then the writing will be on the wall, in pencil.

6) Poor Man's Zetterberg

Peter Regin has a mature game at both ends and had an excellent debut in the AHL last season. He may push for a spot in the bottom six in Ottawa this year, or establish himself as the offensive leader in Binghampton. If he can establish himself as the first call-up from the farm team and get 20+ games in Ottawa then it will be a solid season, but depending on possible trade returns for Dany Heatley, and any associated trades dictated by salary cap considerations, Regin could conceivably establish himself as one of the bottom 6 forwards that slides into the top 6 as circumstances warrant.

5) Havlat Returns

Patrick Wiercioch is the last remaining return from the Martin Havlat trade, drafted with Chicago's second round pick in the 2008 draft. As such, he represents that last chance for Ottawa to regain some ground in a trade that returned 2 non-NHLers and one season of waiver-fodder Tom Preissing. Despite that heavy burden, Wiercioch has impressed the organization with his freshman season in college and received an invite to the Canadian 2009 WJC selection camp in late 2008. He's been invited back for the August training camp this year and has a more realistic shot of making the team than he did last year. The interesting story lines this season are the WJC selections and what role Wiercioch might earn on that team, and whether he experiences a sophomore slump in college, or continues to establish himself as one of the top college D-men.

4) Backup or Injury Replacement

Brian Elliott signed a very attractive two-year deal (cap hit $850K/yr.) as a backup for projected #1 Pascal Leclaire. Given Elliott's solid debut as a fill-in starter in 2008-09, and Leclaire's injury history, we may see more of Elliott than expected. Any even if Leclaire is healthy, he may find himself pushed for the starting job, more likely in 2010-11 than the season upcoming.

3) Towering, But No Pillar (or Pilar)

Jared Cowen, a large and (once and future) mobile defenseman, could be the first round steal of 2009 draft. Players who fall due to short-term injury issues have a chance to demonstrate that injury doesn't eliminate potential. Cowen was originally projected to go in the top 5, and has the size, speed, talent, and makeup to be a very good player for a long time. But for him, this season will be about re-establishing himself and validating the Senators faith in picking him at #9. He should be very close to 100% by the end of summer and faces two big challenges. First he'll participate in the Canadian WJC training camp in August, and is expected to be receive plenty of consideration as an integral part of the 2010 WJC team. Cowen will also attend the Senators training camp in September, which will provide an excellent opportunity to measure him against NHL players, and for him to truly grasp the scope of the challenge in front of him. In all likelihood, he'll play this season back in the WHL and press for a spot on the Senators blueline in 2010-11.

2) Third Time's The Charm?

Each of Brian Lee's last three seasons has been one step back, two steps forward. His first training camp with the Senators in 2007 resulted in being sent down to Bingo, and a brief but impressive call-up at the end of the season. In 2008, new coach Craig Hartsburg demonstrated no confidence in the young blueliner and Lee was sent down to Bingo early in the season, where he underperformed. Slowly but surely, Lee clawed his way back up the depth chart and demonstrated that when playing with competent partners, he was a positive addition to the NHL roster. The challenge he faces this year is to impress in training camp and solidify a spot in the top 4, at least the even-strength top 4. Each of the last three season's Lee has gained strength and weight in the summer. Perhaps his slow starts have reflected adjustments to his new body, and the new playing styles he is now capable of. Regardless, if Lee can continue to take notes from the Jason Smith school of gritty hockey then he'll be well on his way to earning an everyday role with decent minutes.

1) How Swede It Is

Erik Karlsson is the most offensively skilled defense prospect this team has ever had. He had a solid but unspectacular season in the SEL last season. This year he'll be pushing for a role on the Senators blueline. While it's not likely he'll establish himself there this season, he'll get the opportunity and if he impresses in camp he'll jump ahead of more established D-men. With Karlsson there are two big questions, will he make the team, and where will he play if he doesn't? A season in the AHL would be valuable, but so would another season in the SEL, playing in a skill-focused league, and with more responsibility than he had last season.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Outlook: Ilya Zubov

This is an intriguing one. Zubov has put in two years in the AHL, showing steady improvement. He got 10 games with the big club last year, and he's a known quantity for the coach of the big team, which should provide him some encouragement to push for the next level.

The downside of the current situation is that Zubov trailed off at the end of the season in Bingo, and didn't exactly distinguish himself during his 10 games in Ottawa. He wasn't bad, he was just unnoticeable, which is bad for a forward looking to eventually break into the Top 6.

The final two pros/cons are more recent developments. Zubov elected to go back to Russia for the summer, which has lead to speculation that he will not embrace an aggressive conditioning program like the one he participated in during the summer of 08 in Ottawa. More recently, Ottawa signed Alex Kovalev. It is hard to say exactly what impact having a respected elder Russian forward on the team will have, but it certainly should help dispel any lingering feeling that the team doesn't like Russians.

Finally, I've heard speculation that Zubov might just stay in Russia and sign with a KHL team, but he signed a 3-year ELC with Ottawa in 2007 and owes the team one more year. They could loan him to the KHL, but I don't think Zubov can play there without the Senators permission. They may have made private assurances about whether and when they might provide that permission, and we wouldn't know until it happens, but if the team thinks he's close (and they've said as much) then I doubt they'd release him to play in the KHL unless they either retain the right to bring him back next year (an out in his KHL contract) or they're giving up on him (unlikely).

Given the uncertainty about where he's going to play, and his conditioning level and attitude, I'm not willing to hazard a guess as to what his production might look like. I will say that this year is crucial in his ability to establish himself as a player, regardless of where he plays. He either needs to make the AHL look like he's outgrown it, establish himself in the NHL, or show he's a very good player in a good skilled pro league like the KHL.