Mark Borowiecki is a special prospect for the Ottawa Senators, due in large part to circumstances off the ice. On the ice, his punishing defensive play, combining a gritty physicality with a fine first pass and continuously improving mobility, make him a good prospect on Ottawa's blueline. Off the ice, Borowiecki has a fairly unique story. Much to the chagrin of local boosters, the Senators had not taken an Ottawa native before selecting Borowiecki in the fifth round of the 2008 entry draft. It has since become a central aspect of the endearing story that is his story: he did not expect to be drafted. Not by any team, let alone by his hometown squad, and certainly not with two rounds to spare in the draft. Not a CHL prospect, the Ottawa native took a short trip to play for the Smiths Falls Bears of the CJHL. Staying out of the OHL left Borowiecki with the option of going to college, which he did. For three years, Borowiecki was a staple on Clarkson University's blueline, seeing significant ice time by his second season.
Borowiecki has always played a bruising style, and that play is reflected on his stat-line. In each passing year since his draft season, Borowiecki has seen his penalty minutes increase. Borowiecki's particular brand of play saw him adopt a leadership role on Binghamton's blueline in his first full season. With Francis Lessard playing only sparingly, Borowiecki adopted a well-earned monicker of "BoroCop", quick to jump up in defense of his teammates. However, his game is far from one-dimensional. Though he might transition well as a stay-at-home defender in the NHL, Borowiecki possesses an understated offensive game, playing minutes on Luke Richardson's powerplay and Kurt Kleinendorst's before that. He has shown a willingness to jump up in the rush and can fire the puck well from the point. Mark Borowiecki made his debut for the Senators last year on a Western road swing, forcing Chris Phillips to play on his off-side. It wasn't the most ideal of circumstances, but Borowiecki looked fine and has already left an impact on fans this season.
In the very short-term, Mark Borowiecki and Patrick Wiercioch are giving their coach a good problem to have: they have been playing good hockey, competing for one roster spot. Senators management may determine it productive to continue carrying seven defenders, slotting one of the two into the lineup, perhaps with Benoit taking a seat at some point along the way. Or, an injury could impact the relatively shallow defensive corps, adding both rookies into the lineup.
However, it may make more sense for the Sens to come to a decision and send one of the two back down to be the top option in Binghamton, playing every game. If Ottawa feels that is the right move to make, Borowiecki's time in the NHL this year may depend on what Paul MacLean is looking for. Wiercioch provides a better two-way game, helping to put in time on the second powerplay unit. Borowiecki, on the other hand, might be better suited to a spot on the third pairing, playing a physical shutdown game. For an example, see Borowiecki's hit on Evgeni Malkin yesterday, in which he (legally) almost tackled Malkin, leaning him hard into the boards and showing the extent to which he buys into the "play the man, not the puck" philosophy. Yikes. Borowiecki has certainly done his part endearing himself to the fan base.
No matter what comes of this season, Borowiecki figures to be a part of this team in years to come. Both Bryan and Tim Murray have expressed confidence in the abilities of the defenceman, believing the question is no longer "if" he will become an everyday NHLer, but a matter of "when". Ottawa has other options where Borowiecki's style is concerned, particularly with the likes of Eric Gryba (who was number 24 on this list), but Borowiecki has earned a higher spot on this ranking and on the Senators depth chart. His chance is now and in the coming years. A permanent roster spot for Borowiecki would be a fitting next chapter to an unlikely and inspiring tale.