The year started off strangely for Jakub Culek. I wrote about his prolonged limbo back in late October. In short, Culek was sent down from Binghamton to make room for some other Senators prospects and to maximize his development in the QMJHL. However, he was sent to a Rimouski team that was at its cap of overaged and European players- Culek, as a 20-year-old Czech, is both. He was allowed to practice with the team, but not to play in games. Interestingly, Culek was the Senators' top pick in 2010. In the first round, the team swapped their first round pick for the Blues' selection from the same spot the year before, a young blue-chipper by the name of David Rundblad. St. Louis would go on to take Vladimir Tarasenko. No, Ottawa wasn't going to take him and yes, Murray would later move Rundblad and a second for the current first-line centreman, Kyle Turris. Still, don't look up Tarasenko's stats this year. He's been phenomenal. Ottawa had already traded their second-round pick (hint: the guy to wear no. 7 before Rundblad). So, when they took Culek in the third round, it was the first player Murray's team drafted, technically. He had a disappointing first season in the organization, but picked it up last year and had a strong performance at the WJC.
|Cape Breton Screaming Eagles||9||4||3||7|
Things looked so promising! There remain a number of unresolved questions about this season's relatively overlooked fiasco. There are a number of things both good and bad that can happen to a prospect's development. However, there is one thing that can happen to a young player that is unlikely to have any positive impact on his hockey playing: when he is not playing hockey.
Owing to circumstances completely beyond his control, Culek was sitting on the shelf waiting far too long for an opportunity to hit the ice. To say the least, the situation was far from ideal for a prospect who has had already had an up-and-down career in the Senators organization.
Culek eventually was traded to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, where his season finally started clicking, as he was putting together a point-per-game campaign. Culek's strength is not solely in his offensive output, but as a two-way player, balancing an intelligent game in the offensive end with a responsible one in the defensive zone. As a result, he's a very competent player on the penalty kill and is useful against the other team's top scoring lines.
However, the season that never really got a chance to get going, has been stalled since his ninth game of the season in Cape Breton. Culek has been missing from the lineup since then with a not-so-mysterious "upper-body injury".
The only other player in the Senators' system who had yet to hit the ice during Culek's Rimouski roster imbroglio was Jarrod Maidens. This past year's third-round pick by the Senators was lauded at the time as capitalizing on an injury-related drop in value. Maidens hasn't played a game since being drafted. Regardless of where the Senators picked him, I can't imagine how it feels for a young player touted as a top-round pick to have to spend so much time off the ice. Of course, it's much better than the alternative of rushing him back to play when his body isn't ready for it. It's hard to imagine this much caution being exercised five or ten years before.
It's a been a curious- wait, no- a totally bizarre year to be a fan of the Binghamton Senators. On the one hand, the team put together a league leading first half of the season, riding strong performances by its goaltenders (Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop), a few of its premier defenders (Mark Borowiecki, Patrick Wiercioch, Andre Benoit and Eric Gryba) as well as some top scorers (most prominently Jakob Silfverberg and Mike Hoffman). Recognize a few of those names from yesterday's afternoon affair against the Devils? Their efforts were assisted by some supplementary scoring (Derek Grant, Corey Cowick). Then Ottawa's season started. The loss of some of Bingo's top players made room for others to start performing in their absence. Stephane Da Costa and Mika Zibanejad were both clicking along at a healthy pace. Since then, Ottawa has called up both of those forwards and a few more for good measure. The roster is effectively gutted, even of its depth production.
So, one can hardly blame Coach Luke Richardson for the decreasing output from his lineup. Only a few weeks removed from their best lineup, this team looks drastically different. Indeed, far more so than Mark and I anticipated when we tossed some ideas back and forth about how Bingo would look down the stretch. For fans of the team, it sure is making for a bit of a whirlwind campaign. For the coach, though, one has to think that it's somewhat of a stellar opportunity. His group only needs to put forth a mediocre record to crack the playoffs from hereon out and he has plenty of opportunities to experiment with match-ups and game strategies. If the B-Sens hang on despite the loss of, well, everyone, the Coach comes out of the year looking great. If they slip and have a long fall down the standings, who can really point the finger?
The lockout and the injury situation in Ottawa has made for a pretty unique set of circumstances in Binghamton. As long as the coaching staff remains upbeat and the locker room sticks together, it's hard to paint this second half struggle in Binghamton with a negative light. Either way, these next few weeks are going to be fun to watch. Speaking of which, it wouldn't have been the worst thing if they'd hung onto that Jakub Culek character. The B-Sens got thumped 7-1 on Friday at the hands of the Syracuse Crunch (they trailed 4-0 after one), dropped another 5-2 against the WBS Penguins on Saturday, but redeemed themselves with a shootout win over the Albany Devils on Sunday. Take that, Devils organization! You stopped both of our organization's losing streaks! Binghamton has another wild weekend coming up, facing Herhsey on Friday, Albany on Saturday and Adirondack on Sunday. Added to that, the Sunday matchup against Adirondack is an away game. Three hours' drive, but that's three more hours than most anybody would feel like traveling after playing back-to-back games.