OTTAWA ON - FEBRUARY 02: Robin Lehner #40 of the Ottawa Senators follows the play in the corner during a game against the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Place on February 2 2011 in Ottawa Canada. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
It’s a disheartening number of days until The Paul MacLean directs the boys in two-hundred foot play at The Joe. However, in between then and now is the rookie tournament (this year in Oshawa) and training camp. That means there’s scarcely more than a month until Nick Foligno scores like Steven Stamkos for a few meaningless games. Hurrah! Nonetheless, the notion that players will soon be returning to the capital makes this the ideal time to see where they stand in the system. Thus, I will be offering a brief look, position-by-position, at the Senators’ prospects: How they did last year, where they stand coming in to this year, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of speculative conjecture as to where they are going to start.
With news this summer that Patrick Lalime will be stepping into the broadcasting booth and away from his role as doorman for the Buffalo Sabres, Senators fans were drawn into debate about the level of stability that he provided in his time here. This retrospective analysis led to grief about missed opportunities, and profanity whenever "Leafs game seven" or "Jeff Friesen" came about. Therefore, a refreshing place to begin this status update is with the goalies of the future.
Coming off an AHL Playoff MVP performance en route to a Calder Cup championship during his all-around bizarre rookie season, Robin Lehner is looking at what could be a full and stabilizing year as a starter in Binghamton. Lehner's wild season included: Cursing about officiating at the World Juniors (on TSN), making one of the briefest possible NHL debuts with a blocker save on a shot by Mike Cammalleri, and offering up a few gems about "hunting" goalies in front of him, and the like.
Robin was transitioning from junior-league starter to the professional level, and his regular season play in Binghamton was evidence of this. Apart from the time he spent at the World Juniors, Robin was competing for time with fan favourite Barry Brust. However, when Brust wasn't performing in the playoffs, Lehner stepped into the job and performed astoundingly. Binghamton, down in the first round 3-1 to the Manchester Monarchs, clawed their way back to take the series in seven-winning each game in overtime. Binghamton would not have won the Calder Cup had Lehner not stopped a penalty shot in double overtime of game six. That play was a microcosm of the playoffs. Lehner's play exuded confidence, and the team fed off of his energy.
This Year: The Sens' "goalie of the future" will continue honing his skills at the AHL level. However, if one of Craig Anderson or Alex Auld go down to injury, it would not be a surprise to see Lehner step back into the NHL. The Senators, however, would prefer for this to be a steadier year for one of the team's most prized possessions.
What Others Are Saying: The Goalie Guild has Lehner holding his spot as the league's number four goaltending prospect. The rationale behind this alludes to the momentum gained from Binghamton's playoff run. Behind only Markstrom, Lindback and Holtby? Indeed. What are other goalies saying? Nothing. See video.
It may seem strange to include a 2002 draftee, signed as a UFA, in a write-up on prospects. Nonetheless, Mike McKenna is a part of a pretty shallow system between the pipes, and is going to take on an integral mentorship role for the foregoing Robin Lehner. McKenna had a Mike Brodeur-esque opportunity to start a few games for the Devils last season when the other Brodeur and Johan Hedberg went down with injury.
The 28-year-old has okay career splits, but did not have a great year in Albany last year. One should keep in mind that the Albany Devils had a terrible season as a whole, with their roster being ransacked from the outset and throughout the season by an injury-plagued and similarly beleaguered big club. Well over a dozen Albany Devils played at least a game in the NHL last season.
McKenna is the only active Senator on Twitter, and I recommend everybody follow him: @MikeMcKenna56.
This Year: McKenna is going to push Lehner for playing time. McKenna has played for a few teams around the AHL and has a fair amount of experience at this level. Competition is good.
What Others Are Saying: The Goalie Guild has Mike McKenna ranked 69th overall for prospect goaltenders.
The Overview: Goaltending is not a question mark for the NHL team coming into this season (I cannot believe I just wrote that). However, there has nonetheless been a shakeup of goalies in the system. Gone are the likes of Mike Brodeur and Barry Brust. Brodeur was plagued by injuries throughout the season, but both he and Brust largely played the role of veteran stopgaps. Lehner is the centerpiece of this organization's future, yet it is clear that he is going to have to work and perform for his minutes, after a certain point. After all, Craig Anderson is signed on for four years in Ottawa. There was some talk of the Senators using a late-round pick to develop another project in net, but the draft team under Tim Murray and Pierre Dorion dismissed that notion. The team appears content and confident with the system in place. Either that, or Pierre Dorion didn't want to see what Robin meant with that whole "hunting" business.