Is Stephane Da Costa the most unconventional prospect in the Ottawa Senators system? Probably. He's also one of the most promising playmakers in the system.
It's well-known by now, but I'll recite his history: Da Costa left France at the age of 17 to play junior hockey in Texas. He played US pro for a few seasons, then went to college, then signed with the Senators as an unrestricted free agent and left college early to turn pro this season. Ottawa was among as many as 13 teams vying for Da Costa's skills last off-season, but once again Bryan Murray was able to bring a college free agent on board.
Da Costa had decent stats in his first couple of seasons playing junior in North America, but things didn't really take off until 2008-09, when he scored 67P (31G, 36A) for the Sioux City Musketeers (bad-ass team name, right?)--unfortunately, that success came after his draft eligibility, and the late blooming likely had a large role in Da Costa's undrafted status heading into college. He was fifth in USHL scoring in 2008-09.
A number of schools sought Da Costa in the summer of 2009, but he decided to head to Merrimack College in Massachusetts--perhaps because of the notable hockey alumni who've come from that school, including... umm... Steve McKenna, and... Matt Foy, and... Jim Hrivnak.
Da Costa put up 45 points in his first season at Merrimack, and was pursued by a few NHL teams after it but decided to return for another college season. He put up 45 points in that sophomore year, as well, but with the offers continuing to roll in, decided to take one and leave Merrimack and turn pro.
As a first-year pro this season, Da Costa came on pretty strong through training camp and the first part of the regular season with Ottawa, scoring his first NHL goal in his second game. His production was inconsistent, though, and after scoring just 5P (3G, 2A) in 22GP--and after a big hit by Dion Phaneuf showed that Da Costa may have been a little green for NHL hockey--he was demoted to Binghamton of the AHL. While there, he's found some of his scoring touch with 33P (12G, 21A) in 43GP, but he's left coaches frustrated with his intensity at times, too.
Da Costa will face some challenges in trying to cement himself in the NHL, the foremost of which is his size, just 5'10" and 180 pounds. An off-season in the gym could give him a good start next season, but as much as anything else he'll have to work on his faceoff skills if he wants to continue to play pivot. If he stays in Ottawa and works out with Jason Spezza and Zenon Konopka, he'll get lessons from some great faceoff performers. Another challenge? According to HockeyDB, he's only played four playoff games in the last six years of his career at any level, so it's tough to know how he'll respond when games become most important.
One thing Da Costa has in droves, though, is playmaking vision--something we saw, albeit infrequently, in his short time with Ottawa. He's produced well at every level he's played, and started his NHL career well before seemingly becoming overwhelmed. With more conditioning and work on complementary NHL skills (faceoffs, keeping his head up, shooting), Da Costa should be able to bring his skills to the table.
Nothing's being given to Da Costa, though; in training camp next season, he'll be competing with Mika Zibanejad and Kyle Turris for the second-line centre spot. He'll need a very productive off-season to have much of a shot against them.