Last year, it was Erik Karlsson and Peter Regin who managed to make the jump from minor or European leagues to the NHL. The Ottawa Senators don't have that much money to play with during the summer, so you can bet some of the youngsters will come into camp with a very good chance to stick with Ottawa. So who's got what it takes to make the bigs this year?
After the jump, I'll take a look at a couple young players who have a very good chance to stay with the NHL squad, and a couple prospects who are still just short of Ottawa--but not too far off.
Z. Smith first came onto the Senators' radar after playing 4 years with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL. He was a useful player for Cory Clouston for the first half of 2008-09 (before Clouston joined Ottawa), and after an impressive call-up with the Senators the following season, he was brought up to stay late in the year and played in all six of the Senators' playoff games. Although he was never given much ice time, Smith has shown he can and is very willing to crash the net, and isn't afraid to get nasty (he got 100PIM in the AHL 12 fights this season, plus another two in the NHL).
Barring some huge step backward, Smith should be with Ottawa full-time next season. He works well as a centre, and might be able to show more of his skill if he's given more playing time. Expect this energy-role guy to start on the fourth line, but there's a good chance he could move up to the third line by the end of the season. Zack Smith doesn't get worse, he gets better.
At UNH, Butler was the co-captain and led the all NCAA Division 1 players in goals. In recognition of the solid season, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top college player, but lost to Blake Geoffrion of Wisconsin. He played a couple games with the Senators, making his pro debut in Ottawa's playoff-clinching game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
I expect Butler to start in the NHL right away, much like Jesse Winchester did a few years back. But, given his more impressive college numbers, Butler should be able to provide more offence than Winchester, and fit into the Senators' lineup more quickly. Look for Cory Clouston to pair Butler up with Z. Smith on the fourth line to develop without too much pressure. Butler, though, may get some second-unit powerplay time if he does show some offensive flair.
Outside of Z. Smith and Butler, it doesn't look like any other Sens forward prospect will (or should) make the team. But here are few other players you might see in Ottawa as call up mid-way though the season:
O'Brien was the 29th overall pick in the 2007 draft, and was once a defenceman but changed to centre to become a power forward, and Murray drafted him because of his size. Based on his production in his first AHL season, you'd be forgiven for thinking he switched back to defence: just 17P in 76GP. His numbers with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL show he can be a good two-way centre, and he will be expected to improve his production in his second year as a pro in Binghamton. I wouldn't be at all surprised if, should his game pick up, O'Brien gets a call-up when the injury bug makes its yearly visit to Ottawa. Things don't look great for now, but who knows; maybe he'll become a great two-way forward in this league.
Some of you might remember Kaspars from the one game he played in Ottawa this year. So far, Kaspars has spent years going from the ECHL to the AHL. He made the Binghamton Senators team full team this year and scored 46 points, as well as earning a call up to the NHL. A good skater and a decent grinder, Daugavins could stand to put more pucks to the net if he wants to increase his offensive production. If he heeds that advice and shoots the puck more, he has the potential to develop into a middle-six NHL player.
Keller has a strong hockey resume. Great numbers with the Saskatoon Blades in WHL, and played with team Canada in 2002 at the IIHF World U18 Championship games. He played a season in United Hockey League before a season in the AHL. After that one year in the American league, Keller took his game to Finland and played for Espoo Blues, going nearly a point-per-game in the Finnish league (99P in 101GP) until he was given another shot in North American when Bryan Murray brought him back. At Binghamton, Keller was the teams top scorer with 68 points (34G, 34A) and played six games with Ottawa. He should spend most of the season in Binghamton, but might jump up to Ottawa for spot call-up duty, and you can bet he'll hope to do better than last season (he was pointless in his 6GP in 2009-10).
Although we're still awaiting confirmation from a North American media source about Wick coming to terms on a contract with Ottawa, if he does, he'll have a good chance to compete in training camp. He's been playing pro hockey with grown men in the top Swiss league for four years now, putting up very impressive offensive numbers (122P in 176GP), but the NHL has a much better quality of play than Swiss leagues. He'll probably put up good numbers in the AHL--I'd expect a 50+ point season--but he might not be ready to jump right to the big stage.