With two picks in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft the Senators seemed to feel as though the organizational depth chart was lacking in numbers down the left wing. The two players they selected to fill the gaps were Jeff Costello and Kitchener native Mike Hoffman. Hoffman was 19 years old, having been passed over once and was fresh off of his second season in Quebec Major Junior Hockey and had more than doubled his offensive output. Unfortunately for Hoffman and many fellow skaters in the offensively gifted Q (where goalies go to inflate their GAA), it takes more than 1.3 points per game to rocket up scouting reports. Hoffman's much improved second campaign nonetheless brought him into the view of Ottawa's CHL scouts.
Two full seasons passed until the second-year pro made his NHL debut with the Senators, becoming the sixth player from the 2009 fifth round to do so. But first, Hoffman had to play himself into that callup. He had to make a hard push that all late-round selections face to rise in an organization's depth chart and earn a chance to prove their worth. For Hoffman the trek to NHL minutes saw him play another season in the QMJHL with his third team, before turning professional and playing a season split, albeit very slightly, between the ECHL and AHL. The debut, his only game with Ottawa thus far, was proof that the 22-year-old had come a fair way after being passed over in all rounds one year and four the next.
An article from the Junior Report tells of Hoffman's unlikely climb after being cut by his hometown Kitchener Rangers, following a season in which he suited up for two games. Give the article a read- it's a rare pleasure to have that kind of insight into the experiences of a late-round pick so early in their career. After being signed by Gatineau, traded to Drummondville, drafted by the Senators and swapped to the Sea Dogs, Hoffman was the QMJHL's MVP in 2010. That's more change and movement in the juniors than many players see through their entire careers in hockey. For Hoffman, each progressive season exhibited growth and increased production. Throughout his time in junior hockey, Hoffman showed off some impressively linear development, a sign that he was able to gain the respect of his coaches and perform in expanding roles.
Hoffman's growth continued as he turned pro. After only four games with Ottawa's ECHL affiliation Elmira Jackals, Hoffman stuck around in Binghamton, contributing 25 points and playing throughout the Championship run in the playoffs. This year, he has seen his role on the team dramatically upgraded, and he has made Kurt Kleinendorst look good. His role has most notably increased on the powerplay: 24 of his 45 points are special teams, with Hoffman often manning the point.
For now, Hoffman can do nothing but continue to strengthen his game and his frame at the AHL level. His one trip with the big club obviously is what he is shooting for, and with Jim O'Brien, Rob Klinkhammer and Kaspars Daugavins having earned their fare share in Ottawa's forward rotation, Hoffman is likely wondering when he will get another chance. However, the best thing he can do for his game is continue as a top scoring forward in his teammates' absence.
During the summer, when speculating on Ottawa's forward depth, Assistant General Manager implied that the only player in Binghamton they saw potentially turning into a top-six player was Hoffman. A testament to how far the overlooked sniper has come, Murray's comments came before the team stocked up heavily on offensive depth in Minneapolis. Down the road, Ottawa will have some noticeable holes opening up on the left side (Hoffman also pivots to center, as he did in juniors). However, with Kyle Turris playing in the number two opening for the foreseeable future, there is plenty of speculation Mika Zibanejad will play time on the wing. With Matt Puempel also waiting prominently in the wings (sorry for the pun. Really. "Then why did you italicize it?", you're probably wondering), Hoffman's time is now and in the very near future.
Mike Hoffman's skill-set makes him a viable candidate for a top-six role, but would not have an easy time of transferring that ability to a grinding role. His game is defined by smooth skating and a hard shot, but not by a strong physical performance. His ceiling is high, but the risk he does not reach that potential is weighty. Hoffman has to be prepared to come to training camp next season ready to fight for a job and has to remind management of his tenacious ability to improve at every level and with each passing year.