Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” – a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. Today, as I continue my alphabetical journey through the NHL I bring you a look at the Ottawa Senators. As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Top Prospect: Mika Zibanejad, Centre/Right Wing
Born Apr 18 1993 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6.01 — Weight 200 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Ottawa Senators in round 1 #6 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
The sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, an 18 year old Zibanejad really impressed last year at Senators Training Camp and through the preseason. In fact he made the main roster to start the year. However the young Swedish star would quickly learn that regular season hockey is a whole different game from preseason hockey. After playing 9 games Zibanejad would be sent back to Sweden for more development time playing for Djurgardens in the Elitserien. Zibanejad would play a big role on Sweden’s World Junior Championship squad. Zibanejad would even score Sweden’s World Junior version of the Golden Goal, a 1-0 OT winner over the Russians. The win would give Sweden their first World Junior Gold Medal since 1981.
Zibanejad is seen as a future power forward for the Senators. His skating features a long powerful stride, good top end speed and excellent balance. As such he is able to drive hard to the front of the net (just like he did on that famous goal). He could use a little work on his acceleration though, as it seems to take him an extra stride or two to reach that top speed. He has soft hands and good stickhandling and puck protection ability. Zibanejad has a very good shot and NHL ready release. His playmaking ability is also at a very high level, as he has good vision and makes precise crisp passes. Zibanejad works the boards well and digs pucks out of corners. He is also particularly proficient at working the cycle game, and at getting to the front of the net for rebounds and tip ins.
Defensively, Zibanejad also excels. He is a true 200 foot player, capable in all three zones. He again uses his size and physicality to his advantage, winning board battles, and containing his man and keeping him to the outside. His anticipation is excellent and he cuts down passing lanes well. He excels on the penalty kill and is a willing shot blocker. The only area that could use a little work is that Zibanejad will need more experience in the faceoff circle to play centre at the NHL level.
Overall Zibanejad is one of the most well rounded prospects outside the NHL. He certainly is very close to NHL ready, and I would not be surprised to see him make the team again, and this time play the entire year for the Senators. It won’t be easy however, and Zibanejad will need another big training camp and pre-season to win his spot. Even if he starts in the AHL or goes back to Sweden for one more year, he is a huge part of the Sens future, and will be a big reason why we may need to call Ottawa, Stockholm West in the coming years.
Top Prospect #2, Robin Lehner, Goaltender
Born Jul 24 1991 — Gothenburg, Sweden
Height 6.03 — Weight 220 — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Selected by the Ottawa Senators in round 2 #46 overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Lehner continues our theme of Ottawa’s Swedish Sens. The young goaltender has just finished his second season in the AHL. Lehner’s regular season numbers and play in Binghamton, have been good, but not great, as he has posted a 0.912 and 0.907 save percentage in those years, respectively. However playing for Binghamton in the 2011 Playoffs, Lehner was sensational. He put up a 2.10 GAA and 0.939 Save Percentage in leading the Baby Sens to the AHL’s Calder Cup. Lehner even won the Jack Butterfield Trophy as AHL playoff MVP. Due to injuries in the Ottawa cage he has played 13 games in Ottawa over the last 2 years and performed admirably. He even recorded his first NHL shutout last season.
At 6’3″ Lehner is part of the new breed of hockey goalie, a huge specimen who fills a ton of net and gives the shooter very little to look at as he takes away the angles. He plays a traditional butterfly style and has very quick legs. He takes away the bottom of the net very well. He also has a quick glove hand to work the top of the net. Lehner is extremely quick getting into and out of his butterfly, which helps him to recover quickly and prepare for second chance opportunities.
There are still some areas in Lehner’s game that could use some refinement before he’s ready for the NHL. He could stand to work on his lateral movement as he could become quicker and more explosive going post to post, this concern is minor though. Lehner’s rebound control, especially on low shots, also needs to improve. This is often a problem for young goalies. Lastly Lehner is not a very good puckhandler, however this is a bit of a minor concern as he doesn’t venture out of the net much either.
Lehner will battle Ben Bishop for the Senators backup job in training camp. However due to contract status, age, experience, ability to be sent to the AHL without clearing waivers, and the mere fact that Lehner needs playing time right now, not to sit on the bench as a backup, it is likely that Bishop will get the nod. However Lehner is the goalie with the bigger long term upside and I believe he will eventually take the reigns as the Senators number 1 guy. It just isn’t right now.
Top Prospect #3; Jakob Silfverberg, Right Wing
Born Oct 13 1990 — Gavle, Sweden
Height 6.01 — Weight 187 — Shoots R
Selected by Ottawa Senators round 2 #39 overall 2009 NHL Entry Draft
It was a dream season for Jakob Silfverberg in 2011-12. The Senators were so impressed with Silfverberg at their summer development camp that they wanted him to start the season in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Sens, he decided to go back to Sweden and play out the last year of his contract for Brynas in the Elitserien. And what a year it was, the young Swede dominated the Eliteserien winning the regular season league MVP, playoff MVP, and leading his Brynas squad to the Championship. In a storybook ending, he even scored the Championship Winning Goal. The goal was his 13th of the playoffs setting a new Elitserien playoff record, surpassing the old total of 12 which was held by Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. As if that wasn’t enough, Silfverberg would quickly hop on a plane and head to Ottawa to join the Sens in the NHL playoffs. In two games for the Senators, he certainly did not look out of place.
Silfverberg’s biggest asset is his hockey sense. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time, and the puck seems to follow him around out there. He is a good skater, with good top end speed, acceleration and balance. His edgework is crisp, and combined with his agility, make him elusive and hard to check. He is good on the boards and wins his share of puck battles through his strength and dogged determination, but he is not someone who will go out of his way to lay out a big hit. Silfverberg has a powerful shot and an excellent release which make him a natural goal scorer. A strong two way player, Silfverberg uses his hockey sense and determination to the defensive end of the ice, and it pays off for him.
Silfverberg is expected to play in North America this season. He will be gunning for a full time spot on the Senators, and he certainly has the talent to get it. There are no guarantees though, and Silfverberg will need to have a good camp, with the great depth and competition Ottawa boasts at the forward position. If I had to pick only one of these players to make the Sens out of camp though, it would be him.
Sleeper Pick: Mark Stone, Right Wing
Born May 13 1992 — Winnipeg, MAN
Height 6.03 — Weight 200 — Shoots Right
Selected by Ottawa Senators round 6 #178 overall 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Sometimes all a player needs is a little confidence, and that appears to have been the case for Mark Stone. After being drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft, Stone took off, scoring 37 goals and 106 points for Brandon in the 2010-11 season. Stone would get the attention of Team Canada brass and be invited to the summer development camp and tryouts for Canada’s 2012 World Junior Championship team. After another strong start in Brandon, and an excellent December Evaluation Camp, Stone found himself on the first line for Team Canada. It was a really coming out party for Stone. His 10 points in the tournament would lead all Canadians in the tournament. Unfortunately after a tough semi-final loss, Stone and the Canadians would only bring home the bronze medal. Moving past this set back, Stone would finish the season strong for Brandon, finishing with 41 goals and 123 points to finish among the WHL’s league leaders in both categories.
Stone is a goal scorer, plain and simple. He has excellent hockey sense and a sneaky ability to find openings in a defence, even when the other team has put in a game-plan specifically focused on stopping him. He has soft hands in tight, and can bury rebounds and tip ins. He also has an NHL ready arsenal of shots including a deadly wrist shot, snap shot and one timer. His release is particularly quick, and deceptive, often leaving goalies wondering where the puck is as it bulges the mesh behind them. Stone is not afraid of the tough areas of the ice and takes punishment in front of the net and in digging pucks out of the corner. Much of his assist total comes from digging out pucks and dishing them to teammates.
Stone’s biggest issue, and the reason he fell so far in the draft is his skating. He really has an awkward stride, and does not generate good top end speed or acceleration. As such he must rely on his hockey sense and positioning to avoid becoming a liability on the ice, especially defensively. His skating has improved somewhat in the past year, but is still below average for an NHLer. This is the make or break skill for Stone. If he improves his skating, he’ll no doubt be an NHLer; but if he doesn’t he’s unlikely to make much impact at the next level. Look for Stone to start the season in Binghamton, where he will continue to work on his skating issues.
It is rare that any team has their three top prospects all come from Sweden, and the reality is that all three are top notch prospects for the Senators. Along with Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, these players bring the Swedish flair to Canada’s capital, a city already familiar with the likes of Daniel Alfredsson. The reality is that Sweden is the top European country in producing talent for the NHL right now, and the Senators have exploited that pipeline to its fullest extent. This isn’t to say that the Senators prospect pool is only Swedes, as Cody Ceci, Stefan Noesen, Matt Puempel, and Shane Prince are all fantastic prospects. Patrick Wiercioch and Stephane DaCosta add depth to the team. The Sens certainly have a strong system, and the team has done an excellent job working the draft. In fact, I felt the Sens did the best of any club at the 2011 NHL Draft.
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