As Cody Ceci closes in on his first anniversary as an NHL player, what exactly do the Senators have in the 2012 first round pick?
Ceci got off to a hot start in the NHL after his December 2013 call-up. He scored a memorable game-winning overtime goal in his third NHL game on December 16 and became a permanent fixture on Ottawa's blue line.
Despite the congestion on defense for the Senators and Ceci's contract flexibility, the Senators brass doesn't seem to have considered returning him to Binghamton after his initial call-up. Last winter, Bryan Murray spoke on several occasions about Ceci's stabilizing influence on Ottawa's d-corps:
"I'm fairly happy with the group that we have," said Murray in a pre-break interview with two Ottawa reporters before the game at TD Garden. I thought at the beginning we would need to make a change on defence.
We seemed to be unable to get the puck going on a consistent basis. Cody (Ceci) coming in has given us that other person that could compliment the defensive-type guys. I'm not concerned about that now."
Travis Yost unpacked that commonly held belief a bit last season, suggesting that Ceci was the equivalent of a bailing bucket on the Titanic:
"it strikes me as rather obvious that the blue-line is much more of an issue for this team, with or without Cody Ceci. I'm of the opinion that Ceci's played well, but he -- like just about every player not named Erik Karlsson -- is ready for a first-pairing role. And, most of those guys probably aren't suited for a second-pairing role, either."
Yost wasn't the only one to suggest that while there were positives to Ceci's game in 2013-14, they might have been overstated. Graeme Nichols examined the pairing of Ceci-Phillips at the end of last season, concluding that the duo faired quite poorly. Nichols wrote,
"It's interesting to see how Ceci and his defensive partner Chris Phillips have fared.
Of the defenceman that have played more than 500 minutes this season, Phillips ranks 192nd out of 198 blue liners in goals allowed per 20 minutes of ice time (1.055 GA/20). Ceci is ranked 176th, slightly behind Erik Karlsson who slots in at the 172nd spot and Marc Methot comes in at the 168th spot.
From a shot prevention standpoint, the situation isn't much better. Jared Cowen, who had Ottawa's best GA20 rate actually has the worst shot suppression rate when he's on the ice. Out of the same 198 NHL defenceman, Cowen is 194th with Phillips and Ceci coming in 187th and 189th respectively.
Looking at the shot attempts situation, the Toronto Maple Leafs' defencemen own the bottom of the rankings. The Phillips/Ceci pairing again fares poorly. Keep in mind that this is typically a pairing that faces the easiest competition too."
Fast forward to this season and the numbers weren't too kind to young defender to start the season.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Cody Ceci getting buried again in the Corsis tonight. He's been Ottawa's low man on the blue-line most nights.</p>— Travis Yost (@TravisHeHateMe) <a href="https://twitter.com/TravisHeHateMe/status/527260391739760641">October 29, 2014</a></blockquote>
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But his game seems to have stabilized. He makes good decisions with the puck and has good positioning. Paired with Jared Cowen since Cowen's return to the lineup, Ceci has put up notable performances Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Minnesota. While goalless on the year, his offensive instincts have picked up of late and he has six assists so far. He's averaging the third-most TOI/GP on the Sens blueline (behind Erik Karlsson and Phillips) with 19:21 and improvement over the 17:12 TOI/GP in 2013-14. Ceci has seen his penalty kill time increase from 1:45 PK TOI/GP in 13-14 to 2:56 PK TOI/GP in 14-15. This reflects both Marc Methot's season-long injury and Coach Paul MacLean's increased trust in the sophomore. This trust is reflected in MacLean's recent praise for Ceci, from the Ottawa Citizen:
"He's been very consistent...He came into training camp with a goal of proving he belonged in the league and he's done nothing to disprove that. He's probably been our most consistent defenceman game-to-game."
With Marc Methot coming back soon a line-up decision looms for GM Bryan Murray and company. Part of the deciding who moves will be evaluating what the team has in Ceci.