Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 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 2013-14 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 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 (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
It really was a remarkable year for the Ottawa Senators. Despite seeing their two best skaters in Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson miss most of the year due to injuries, and also fighting injuries to key players like goalie Craig Anderson, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen, and numerous others the Senators defied the odds and made the 2013 NHL playoffs. Once there they upset the Montreal Canadiens in five games, before finally falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The coaching job done by Paul Maclean to get them that far, earned the Senators coach the Jack Adams award for coach of the year.
The Senators did so by taking full advantage of a strong prospect group. And this means we have seen many prospect graduations. Firstly, and perhaps most controversially of the players I will be considering graduated is Robin Lehner. While he has only 25 games played in the NHL, the fact is that he is now a full-time NHLer. When the Sens moved Ben Bishop, they handed the backup job to Lehner. He will enter 2013 training camp with a guaranteed backup job, so I really can’t consider him amongst the prospects anymore. Also graduated are Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Wiercioch, Cory Conacher and Jim O’Brien who have now all surpassed the 50 games played limit (remember we count playoff games).
The Off-season also saw upheaval in Ottawa. Sergei Gonchar was moved to Dallas, but the biggest shocker came when long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson signed with the Red Wings. The return of Karlsson more than replaces what Gonchar did in 2012-13, while Wiercioch looks ready to take over as a secondary offensive defenceman. However in order to replace Alfredsson, the Senators traded for Bobby Ryan. This meant that the recently graduated Jakob Silfverberg, and a high quality prospect in Stefan Noesen have also left the system.
Top Prospect, Cody Ceci, Defence,
Born Dec 21 1993 — Orleans, ONT
Height 6.03 — Weight 210 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Ottawa Senators in round 1 #15 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
After starting the year with his hometown Ottawa 67s, Ceci was involved in a mid-season trade that sent him to the Owen Sound Attack. As a late 1993 birthdate playing in his fourth OHL season, and with the 67s clearly rebuilding, it came as no surprise as Ceci had been involved in trade rumors all year long. Ceci had 64 points in 69 games this year finishing 2nd in scoring amongst all OHL defencemen. After Owen Sound was bounced from the 2nd round of the OHL playoffs, Ceci joined the Binghamton Senators and started his pro experience getting in 3 regular season games, and 3 playoff games.
Ceci possesses one of the most feared shots in the OHL. His slapshot is an absolute bomb. He also has a hard and accurate wrist shot and an excellent release. Ceci is very poised and calm with the puck on his stick, taking the time to make the smart play which makes him a natural in the offensive zone. He’s a good stick handler, and is an excellent passer, making tape to tape passes both to start the 67′s transition game, and in running the power play in the offensive zone. Ceci has the skating ability and stickhandling to both lead the rush, and join as the trailer, and can even go end to end at times.
Ceci’s skating stride looks awkward, and is certainly not textbook. However it is something that works for him. He possesses very good speed, acceleration, agility, balance and has a good first step. Ceci is able to use his skating to be a true full ice player, and can recover back to his defensive position after taking an offensive opportunity.
Ceci’s defensive game has greatly improved over the last two years. He is effective at using proper angles and forcing opponents to the outside. Once there he is able to rub his man out along the boards. He has good defensive zone positioning and a long, active stick that helps him to cut down passing lanes. He is also extremely effective at keeping the front of the net clear, and at clearing the rebounds that sometimes collect there. We would like to see Ceci add some additional bulk to his frame so he can win more board battles particularly as he will be facing bigger and stronger opponents in the pro game. We’d also like to see Ceci add more of a shot blocking element to his game going forward. As it stands Ceci was used in all situations and played huge minutes for both Owen Sound and Ottawa this past season.
With his late 1993 birthdate, Ceci will be eligible to go to the AHL full-time this season, and that is where I expect to see him in October. He will eventually form a great powerplay duo with Erik Karlsson as he can load up the big time bomb for Karlsson’s passes, or return the favor. We don’t expect him to be as good as the 2012 Norris winner, but he will certainly contribute to the Sens two way game going forward, however it likely won’t be this year. Some time to continue to refine his game at the pro level is likely needed.
Prospect #2, Matt Puempel, Left Wing
Born Jan 24 1993 — Windsor, ONT
Height 6.00 — Weight 190 — Shoots Left
Selected by Ottawa Senators round 1 #24 overall 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Puempel has all the talent but has had major issues staying healthy. In his draft year it was a hip injury. In 2011-12 he missed time with a concussion. This year was a fresh start after the Peterborough Petes moved him to Kitchener who was looking for a shot at the OHL title in their 50th anniversary season. However the injury issues followed Puempel to Kitchener as a shoulder injury limited him to just 51 regular season games. When he was on the ice, he scored 35 goals, but the issues continue to be a concern for him.
Matt Puempel is a pure sniper. He has a tremendous wrist shot and very quick and deceptive release. He also has a powerful and accurate one-timer. Puempel’s shooting ability is NHL ready, and is the envy of some players already playing in the league. He also has the quick and soft hands to bury pucks on rebounds and tip ins. He also has the vision and passing abiity to be a playmaker off the wing. He showed that more in Peterborough than he did in Kitchener though, as he developed somewhat of a shooting tunnel vision this season.
Puempel has a smooth skating stride which leads to him having great top end speed, and acceleration. He is extremely dangerous off the rush, with his ability to drive wide and to the net. Good puck protection, and solid stickhandling aid him in this area as well. Puempel also brings good balance, and is agile, and has strong edgework.
Puempel’s defensive game definitely improved this season in Kitchener. Once considered a defensive liability, he showed a willingness and ability to backcheck. He played responsible hockey covering his point man and cutting down passing and shooting lanes.
Puempel can be a real goalscorer in the NHL if he can stay healthy. That seems to be the big question though with three straight years missing significant time. The advantage though is that the injuries don’t seem to be recurring, they could just be a matter of bad luck, rather than something that will haunt him for his career. Expect Puempel to join Ceci in Binghamton and spend a year getting ready for the NHL.
Super Sleeper Prospect, 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
Mark Stone had a solid first season in the pros. With 15 goals and 38 points in 54 games for the Binghamton Senators, it was a good debut for the 20 year old AHL rookie. He has progressed greatly since being a 6th round pick out of Brandon. 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 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 connect for 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 twine 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. He is not a particularly pretty playmaker, but he does get assists mainly through doing the dirty work of digging out pucks in corners 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 two years, but is still below average for an NHLer. The stride is getting better and you can see that was a big focus in his last season, but there is still work to be done. 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 spend another season in Binghamton, where he will continue to work on his skating issues.
The Senators ranked highly in my 2012 Prospect Rankings. However with five graduations, plus two players (Silfverberg and Noesen) moved for immediate help, the depth of the prospect department has taken a real hit, and this will likely be reflected with a fall out of the top 10 of the prospect system. However like I said in my Minnesota article, this isn’t a bad thing. The weaker prospect pool has meant a stronger NHL team due to the contributions these young players are making at that level as well as the acquisition of Bobby Ryan, a good young winger. That said there is still depth in the Sens system beyond those profiled, as Mark Borowieki, Stephane DaCosta, Chris Driedger, Shane Prince and Jean-Gabriel Pageau should not be overlooked either. One must look at the Senators as a good young team who should be feared in the new Atlantic Division not just this year, but for years to come.
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