Optimistic Projections Part 2 - The Forwards

Fans and media alike have painted the Sens’ offseason as somewhat of a disaster (with the notable exception of the David Legwand signing). Coupled with last season’s subpar performance, it’s not difficult to understand why some fans are predicting (often quite loudly) that 2014-2015 is going to be a tough year for the Sens. That being said, enough digital ink has been spilled pertaining to possible pessimistic predictions;I hope to inject a little optimism into the mix.

As a reminder, I hope to offer reasonably optimistic projections for each player, this time for those from the forward ranks. You can see my defensive projections here:

I’d like to stress that these projections are supposed to be both reasonable, with no single projection straying too far from what we, as fans, can reasonably hope to expect from the player in question next year, and optimistic. That being said, it may be (and probably is) exceedingly unreasonable to expect ALL of these players to meet their respective"optimistic projections." If even half of the players meet reach these ever-so-slightly-lofty expectations, however, then I would argue that we’re looking at a playoff team.

Caveat: What I think is a reasonable hope may strike you as patently unreasonable and I look forward to plenty of discussion in the comments.


Kyle Turris: 2013 – 2014 was by far Kyle Turris’ strongest year in the NHL. For much of the year, he played on the Sens’ de facto first line with Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur and did an excellent job of controlling the play. He put up a statline of 26g, 32a, 58pts over a full 82 games and demonstrated a good deal of defensive responsibility (+22 on a -29 team, as flawed a stat as +/- is, that's gotta mean something) and offensive creativity. For much of the year, Turris, along with Mac and Bobby Ryan, faced the toughest competition and so Spezza’s departure is unlikely to adversely affect his performance or spike the quality of competition he faces in any significant way. In fact, with Spezza gone, Turris is likely to be given increased ice and pp time, thereby improving his chances to put up even better numbers. Turris also turned in a strong performance for Team Canada at the World Championships, hopefully further boosting his confidence. I’m going to make a relatively bold prediction and suggest that a reasonable hope/projection is that Turris will embrace his first line minutes and will better his already career-best point total by 7, while maintaining his defensive play. Prediction: 30g, 35a, 65pts, 1st line centre with strong two-way play. This one is a bit of a stretch, I know, but I like the kid.

Bobby Ryan: After a strong start to his first year in Ottawa, Bobby Ryan’s production tapered off, likely at least in small part due to the unreported injury (hernia) that nagged him through a good portion of the season. Ryan formed part of a dominant trio with MacArthur and Turris, putting up 48pts (23g and 25a) in 70games and controlling the game for large stretches at a time. As discussed above (in Turris’ projection), I don’t expect Spezza’s departure to greatly affect Ryan’s production. If anything, I would hope that Turris’ increased ice time and power play time in conjunction with Bobby’s improved health would translate to increased points for Ryan. I would also hope that, along the same lines as Wiercioch, Paulrus will finally decide to give more ice time to his better players, resulting in a bump to Blobby’s 16mins per game. An optimistic projection for Ryan would see him having a healthy season and returning to his status as a perennial 30 goal scorer. Prediction: 32g, 28a, 60pts, strong 1stline RW who plays a respectable possession game.

Clarke Macarthur: Though previous years’ advanced statistics suggested that the Sens had signed a solid player in MacArthur, it wasn’t until the season began and he was paired with Ryan and Turris that Ottawa realized what a steal they had in BigMac. MacArthur posted a career high 24g, and also notched 31a for 55pts over 79 games, becoming the third member of the dominant Macurryan trio. Many Leafs fans, motivated exclusively by a good-natured desire to mitigate our "inevitable" disappointment, have cautioned Sens fans not to expect much from MacArthur in his second year as a Sen, citing his decreased production during his second year as a Leaf. I’m inclined to think that MacArthur’s decreased production was likely not due to some magical two-year jinx, but instead resulted from a combination of bad luck and different deployment/linemates. MacArthur was one of the Senators’ most consistent players and I expect that consistency to continue into his second year in Ottawa. That being said, Mac did have one of his strongest years ever and is not so young that he is likely to improve drastically, so a reasonably optimistic projection for Mac will be that he maintains last year’s strong play and puts up comparable numbers. Prediction: 22g, 33a, 55pts, solid two way 1st/2nd liner

Milan Michalek: After undergoing ground-breaking knee surgery over the summer, fans had high hopes that Milan would regain the form that helped him score 35 goals on Spezza’s wing in 2011-2012. Unfortunately, Michalek struggled, posting 17g and 22a for 39pts over the full 82 game season. He and Spezza, as a pair, were consistently beaten in the defensive zone and posted a ghastly +/- (admittedly, at least partially driven by bad on-ice save %) before Hemsky arrived. With Hemsky and Spezza gone, Michalek will find himself with new linemates. Michalek demonstrated in SJ that he is capable of posting 50+ point seasons without Spezza (though, to be fair, that was with Joe Thornton) and the potential of playing with a strong 2-way centre (Z-bad or Legwand) may boost Michalek’s confidence/creativity. Being stuck with an undeniably less offensively talented centre may also greatly reduce Michalek’s production, but we’re trying to be positive here! Assuming he doesn’t deteriorate any further (only 29 and had a healthy season last year, so there’s no reason to expect deterioration), I think it’s reasonable to hope for a slight improvement to his statline as Michalek bounces between the 2nd and 3rd line. Prediction: 20g, 22a, 42pts, 2nd to 3rd liner who does not hurt the team (too badly) defensively.

Mika Zibanejad: After an ostensibly "rough start" for which he was perplexingly relegated to the Binghamton, DJ Z-bad dropped the AHL (and the bass) and ended up having a solid season in Ottawa. The popular refrain amongst Sens fans is that Mikachu has all of the physical tools needed to be a dominant player in the NHL, but simply has needed more time to adjust to the NHL game (only 110 or so games so far), better linemates (Greening, Condra, Neil, insert miscellaneous anchor) and more ice time (14 mins per night). Bryan Murray has even stated that he views him as a future #1 centre over Turris (I see Turris and Z-bad as more of an eventual 1A and 1B type, but Murray oddly does not discuss these things with me). Thus far he’s put together two consecutive seasons of slightly sub 0.5 ppg hockey, most recently with a statlineof 16g, 17a, 33pts in 69 games. The addition of Legwand complicates matters, as there are only so many points, good linemates and minutes to go around, but I’m expecting/hoping that Paulrus will at least expand Z-bad’s role a little, perhaps alternating Legwand and Z-bad as the 2C/3C. Of course, there’s always the option that Zibanejad will be shuffled off to the wing, but, given Murray’s aforementioned comments, I find that unlikely. While I won’t rule out an explosion of production (see Ryan Johansen, who until this past year had posted worse numbers than Mika), I think a reasonably hopeful projection would see Zibanejad demonstrating solid, natural growth. Prediction: 22g, 23a, 45pts

Alex Chiasson: The main piece coming back in the Jason Spezza trade, Chiasson is a big (6’3"), 23 year old forward who, much like Zibanejad, put up just a shade under 0.5 points per game last year, scoring 13g, 22a and 35pts. Though I am not as high on Chiasson as some (slightly weak corsi, hype predicated on unsustainable shooting %), this is an optimistic post, so I’m going to look at the bright side. At 23, Chiasson isn’t the spring-iest of chickens, but he is still quite young and I’ve long heard that, much like defensemen, the ever elusive power forward types take a little longer to develop in the NHL. Moreover, Chiasson’s ugly +/- is still better than Spezza’s and is largely attributable to a ghoulish 88.7% on-ice save percentage (then again, that sv% is also comparable to Spezza’s). I don’t expect Chiasson’s minutes to go up drastically on the Sens, but another year of development, of physical and mental maturing, and of (potentially) better luck, could reasonably result in slightly improved production. He’ll be battling with Stone for the 2nd/3rd RW spot, and my money is on Stone winning, but Chiasson can still be a valuable member of the team. Prediction: 15g, 23a, 38pts, 3RW with spot duty on the 2nd line.

David Legwand: Ottawa’s acquisition of David Legwand has been largely praised by media and fans alike. His $3m AAV contract is much lower than many expected the veteran centre would command and he will provide excellent support and guidance for our younger forwards. Legwand put up 14g, 37a for 51pts last season, the bulk of which came during his time as the arguably #1C in Nashville (though Fisher might quibble with that characterization). Leggy is unlikely to play on the top line in Ottawa. Instead, he will probably share time with Mika Zibanejad, alternating between the 2C and 3C positions. Legwand is one of those additions that I hope will cause a trickledown effect of improvement throughout the lineup, as the Senators slowly move away from being a top heavy team to a more balanced, two-way team. Given Legwand’s consistent offensive performance throughout his career, I would argue that a reasonably optimistic projection would see him put up similar numbers to his career average while demonstrating strong two-way play to Ottawa’s youngsters. Prediction: 15g, 35a, 50pts, veteran 2C/3C to shelter and guide our fledgling baby Sens.

Mark Stone: I am very (probably unreasonably) high on Mark Stone. After putting up big numbers in the CHL, many believed that Stone did not have the footspeed to compete in the big leagues. Since his draft year, however, Stone has worked hard and his skating has improved dramatically, as has his play off the puck. After potting 41 pts in 37 games in Binghamton last year, Stone was promoted to the NHL, where he scored 4g and added 4a for 8pts in 19 games. Granted, a prorated 35-point pace is nothing to lose one’s head over, but Stone simply did everything well. His skating is now comfortably average; he has great anticipation which he parlays into numerous takeaways; he has a good shot, great hands and knows how to pass the puck; all of which is reflected in his staggering 58% corsi. Granted, 25 games is a small sample size, but still, quite promising. As I mentioned earlier, I expect Stone to take the 2RW position and run with it. If his average ice-time (14 mins) is bumped up by a minute or two and he is given PP minutes and some time to get comfortable in the NHL, I expect (or at least reasonably hope for) a significant increase in production from Stone. Prediction: 18g, 27a, 45pts, a defensively aware 2RW who will only get better as the season progresses. Optimistic, I know.

Mike Hoffman: Mike Hoffman is an interesting player. First, as far as prospects go, he is positively ancient at 24 going on 25. Second, in his brief stints in the NHL (1gm in 2012, 3gms in 2013, 25gms in 2014), he has failed to put up significant numbers. And yet, I find myself, even outside the context of this optimistic post, feeling somewhat hopeful about Hoffman. He is well known for being slow to adjust to new leagues, but eventually comes to dominate them (QMJHL player of the year, 67pts in 51gms in the AHL). He has game breaking speed, posted an impressive 56% corsi (small sample size again) and there is an opportunity on the left wing in Ottawa. If Michalek were to struggle early, or even if he doesn’t struggle but the Paulrus simply feels like Milan’s place is now on the 3rd line, that leaves the 2L spot wide open for Hoffman. If he were to secure that 2nd line spot, Hoff’s icetime would likely skyrocket by 2 or 3 minutes from his previous 13 minute per game average, which would almost inevitably result in a significant boost in production. Though Hoffman only scored 3g and 3a in his 25 game NHL stint, his impressive corsi suggests that he was the victim of terrible on ice SH% (4.6%) and will likely improve his numbers. As optimistic as I’d like to be in regards to Hoffman, in the interest of keeping my hopeful projections firmly in the "reasonable" range, I’m not going to TOO drastically increase his scoring. That being said, as a potential 2L, I intend to be generous. Prediction: 18g, 18a, 36pts, switching between 2L/3L, not particularly strong off the puck, but not terrible either.

Zack Smith: Given the Legwand signing, unless Paulrus decides to move Zibanejad off to the wing, Smith will be relegated to centering the 4th line, which, quite frankly, makes me perfectly happy (edit: There have been some rumblings of him starting on the wing too). Don’t get me wrong, Smith is a solid player and is certainly the best of the last year's trio of anti-puck possession doom (Greening, Neil and Smith), perennially boasting a decent corsi and scoring somewhere around 25pts (13g, 9a, 22pts last year). In a perfect world, Smith would not be saddled with linemates who do little to help him, but given Greening’s contract and Neil’s status on the team, they are unlikely to be benched and will therefore continue to act as the comfortable, familiar anchors that drag Smith down (unless they are traded, but I won’t be holding my breath) into the deep waters of mediocrity. Hell, maybe Smith will get lucky and be paired with Condra regularly? Nevertheless, assuming a very minor bounce back season from Greening and no further regression from Neil, a reasonably hopeful projection for Smith would see him maintain his 25-point pace while continuing to do yeoman’s service in carrying his anchors around. Prediction: 14g, 11a, 25pts, somehow managing slightly positive corsi with anchors.

Erik Condra: The King of Corsi did it again last year, Condra posted yet another year of superlative puck possession stats (53.7%). As always, this strong puck possession did not translated to high point totals, as Condra potted a mere 6g and 10a for 16pts. Condra is still a valuable player, as puck control not only contributes to offense, but also helps defensively by limiting the opposing team’s chances. At this point in his career, it’s probably unfair to expect any improvement to Condra’s offensive game. It’s sad, really, as even if Condra’s hands were to merely soften a little (from marble to, let’s say, fossilized wood), he could become a dangerous player. Alas, it’s not meant to be. Unless Condra is given better linemates (unlikely, as there are enough offensively gifted players on the Sens to form an offensive third line, which would relegate Condra to the 4th line), his point totals are likely to continue to languish in the gutter. A reasonably optimistic projection for Condra, in light of his youth, is to hope he maintains his possession stats while bumping his points up ever so slightly (still less than his career best though). Prediction: 5g, 15a, 20pts, strong PKer and Corsi King

Chris Neil: While I won't go so far as implying that Neil has been a "goon" during his time with the Sens, I will say that I think his time as a useful player may be in the rearview mirror. He WAS a useful player, but Neil has bumped into hard times as of late. His physical style may have taken a toll on his body, or maybe age has simply caught up on him. I don’t know, but he is no longer playing with same intelligence and speed he once did and is beginning to look somewhat goonish. As a younger team, and with the departures of Spezza and Alfie, the Ottawa Senators franchise could really use an injection of history, which is why I’d like Neil and Phillips to retire as Sens, effective immediately. That dream aside, Neil, due to his stature and contract status, is unlikely to be benched/demoted, so I'm going to have to resign myself to his presence on the team. HOPEFULLY, if Coach MacLean complies with HIS reasonable projection (still to come in part 3), Neil will be stuck on the 4th line and kept there. I wish it were reasonable to expect a better penalty ratio, but it’s not. I wish it were reasonable to expect better possession numbers (to be fair, his numbers are close to Smith’s) or point totals, but it’s not. The only reasonably optimistic projection I can come up with is that Neil doesn’t regress any further and that he is placed on a line with two solid performers (two of Condra, Smith, or a hopefully significantly improved Greening). Prediction: 7g, 7a, only a mild anchor.

Colin Greening: Greening gets a lot of hate these days and I’m worried that we, as fans, are beginning to forget that Soylent Greening is people… Or a person, rather.And I’ll come right out and say that I don’t think all of the criticism is deserved. Don’t get me wrong, MOST of it is deserved, just not ALL of it. Colin posted 6g and 11a for 17pts last year (not to mention passable possession stats), which is solid production for a 4th liner. Of course, the problem is that Greening is paid 2.65 million per year, far more than most 4th liners. He is being paid for the mirage of offensive prowess he put forth 2 years ago on Spezza’s wing. Of course, in ‘11/12, Spezza could have made Toronto’s alternate GM (aka potato man) look like a 2nd liner. Greening’s production has since suffered. Still, Greening is a player that hustles, that is blazing fast, and that isn’t atrocious: what more can you ask for out of a 4th liner? Given that Neil is not likely to be traded or benched, Greening won’t even be the only overpaid 4th liner on the Sens roster. The problem is that the Senators arguably have better, cheaper options for the 4th line. JGP and Grant, though both centres, are on ELCs and can offer greater offense and improved defense respectively, which may be why many fans are so upset at Greening’s presence in the lineup. The truth is that I don’t think Greening is as bad as we fear and some of the teeth-gnashing going around may be unwarranted. His numbers last year were lowered by a pretty shoddy PDO (96.6, a terrible 5.2% on ice SH% being the primary culprit), at least partially attributable to his poor linemates. Granted, Greening will most certainly not be playing with Spezza next year (ha), but Soylent was still able to put up solid number (19pts in 47 games, a 33 point pace) during the 2012-13 season, which Spezza missed almost in its entirety. He is capable of scoring without JS19 and hopefully will produce like a strong 4th liner or weak 3rd liner. Prediction: 10g, 12a for 22pts, a strong 4th liner with 3rd line spot duty due to injuries.

Curtis Lazar: Curtis Lazar is a player who elicits a great deal of enthusiasm from both fans and management alike. He led the Oil Kings to a Memorial Cup and was arguably one of Canada’s best players at the World Juniors. These accomplishments seem to suggest that Lazar may be ready for the NHL, especially given the fact that MacLean thought he was exceedingly close last year (Lazar was cut on the last day of camp). But, while I am also excited for Lazar’s future, I’m tempering my expectations. First, while many argue that Lazar can’t accomplish much more in Junior, I’d like to point out that he was 27th in WHL scoring (granted he would probably be ranked higher in points per game). Many project Lazar as a Fisher-like player who has some measure of offensive skill, but who will not be a principal offensive catalyst, and if Lazar were to jump into the NHL next year, I would agree. But, if he were given one more precious, formative year in the WHL, playing against weaker competition, Curtis might have the opportunity to develop some of the offensive instincts, confidence and creativity that could make him an impact NHL player a few years down the line. Second, if Curtis were to join the Ottawa Senators this year, he would be trying to join a very crowded team. Assuming Hoffman and Stone play full time in the NHL this year (which I think is reasonable given that Stone is awesome and Hoffman would have to pass through waivers), Ottawa has 13 forwards signed already, with Grant, Pageau and Puempel all knocking on the door. In reality, the best place for Lazar right now would be the AHL, but, unfortunately, Curtis’ age precludes this possibility. Prediction: Long story short, my reasonable hope is that Lazar will be sent back to the WHL where he will destroy the competition, posting 50+ goals and captaining Team Canada to a World Juniors gold.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau: After exploding on to the NHL scene by scoring a hat trick in the 2012-13 playoffs, JGP’s rising star has taken a bit of detour to mediocrity-ville. Unlike many of the fans/media, however, I would indeed still consider Pageau to be a rising star. Many are down on the young centre due to his abysmal production in the NHL this year, where he posted 2g and 0a in 28 games. While it’s tough to excuse such poor numbers, I’m going to do my best! First, JGP may be a firecracker who regularly throws his body around, but we are expecting some measure of offensive prowess out of him, so putting him on the 4th line (where he spent much of his NHL time) is certainly an obstacle to his success. His 4th line colleagues (often Neil and Greening) did him no favours in the points column. If he were to be placed with players who are at least AVERAGE, his numbers should improve. Second, JGP’s PDO (a stat that essentially measures luck) was spectacularly low (95.5), which reflected his unfathomably low on-ice shooting percentage of 3.5%. This is almost certain to regress towards the norm (7.5% or so), thereby bumping his numbers up. Third, including his stint in the playoffs, JGP had only played a grand total of 19 NHL games before this season. He was a rookie and is still adjusting to the NHL game. So I, at least, am comfortable affording Pageau some leeway for his weak numbers in the NHL. Turning to his time spent OUTSIDE of the NHL, Pageau, at 21 years of age, excelled. He potted 20g and 24a for 44pts in 46 games, which amounts to basically a point per game pace. The signing of Legwand throws a kink in JGP’s immediate future, though I’m hopeful that the young centreman will continue to dominate the AHL and will make the most of his next injury call up. Prediction: 58pts in 50 AHL games and 5g and 7a for 12pts in 25 NHL games (NHL numbers might be slightly too generous, but I like the kid).

Matt Puempel: Not to puemp his tires too much, but Matt is a very promising pick from the 2011 draft that has a lot of people talking after a successful start to his professional career. He spent the season in the AHL, potting 30g (along with 18a) in his rookie year. By now, we have all heard the most exciting part of those 30 goals: 23 of them were scored in the second half of the season. Due to the aforementioned overcrowding of Ottawa’s forward ranks, I expect Puempel to remain in the AHL for another year, but, should he even come CLOSE to maintaining his pace from the second half of last season (46 goal pace), the Sens will be hard pressed to keep him off their roster. In spite of the expectation of some natural improvement with age, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Puempel to successfully maintain his second half goal-scoring rate. I do, however, believe that his inevitable promotion to the top line in Bingo plus his pace from last year suggest that he can reasonably put up a 40 goal pace in the AHL along with improved assist totals. He will likely only appear in the NHL if a spot opens up due to excessive injury or trade. Prediction: 4 NHL games, 2g, 0a for 2pts. 68 AHL games, 38g, 22a for 60pts, likely playing on a top line with Prince and Pageau.

Derek Grant: Grant has emerged as a solid, extremely dependable defensive forward in Binghamton. He has toiled away in Bingo for 4 seasons now, posting passable offensive numbers in doing so,but, should Grant once again be called up to Ottawa, it will be to replace an injured 4th liner and for no other reason. Grant is a great 4th line centre, capable of winning his fair share of faceoffs and killing penalties. During his time in Ottawa (20 games), Grant put up a scant 2a, which is, of course, terrible production even for a 4th liner. But, as long as any expectations of offense are pushed to the side, Grant did his job well, posting a remarkable 56% corsi. In the AHL, Grant’s numbers were considerably better, but still nothing to swoon over (12g, 10a, 22pts in 46 games). At 24 years old, it’s hard to expect much more growth from Grant (which seems unfair considering I’m expecting SOME growth from Hoffman, but I’m a firm believer in Hoff’s tendency to take a while to adjust to new leagues). A reasonably hopeful projection would see Grant getting spot duty in relief of an injury to any of the 4th liners and having a very similar year, but with slightly better offense. Prediction: 18 games in NHL, 2g and 2a for 4ts. 4th liner.46 games in the AHL, 3rd liner, 15g, 16a, 31pts.

Shane Prince: With Ottawa’s ranks swelling with bottom nine talent, rumors have spread suggesting that Prince may have requested a trade to a less crowded team. I have no idea if these rumors are true, but all I can say is that I hope they are not. Prince posted strong numbers in Junior and continued that trend with 35 pts in his rookie AHL season in 2012-2013. In 2013-2014, Prince’s numbers continued to improve, as he notched 21g and 27a for 48pts in 69 games. At 21 years old (turning 22 in November), Prince is still young and is almost certainly still developing. Plus, with the graduation of some of the prospects ahead of him on the depth chart (Stone, Hoffman), some room has opened up on the top line in Bingo and I believe that Prince will seize that opportunity. In spite of the alleged grumblings/urgency to jump into the NHL (which may be bogus anyways), I think a reasonably hopeful projection for Prince will see him stay in Bingo for one more year, forming part of a strong top line with Pageau and Puempel (P cubed). I think the only way that Prince sees NHL time is if Lazar is sent back to the WHL and, assuming Puempel doesn’t experience a sophomore slump, if there are sufficient injuries such that both Puempel and Prince are required. Prediction: 1g and 1a for 2pts in 5 NHL games. 28g and 37a for 65pts in 68 AHL games.

Summary (Forwards): The forwards are going to be a bit of a mess this year. Not necessarily a BAD mess, just a confusing, hodgepodge one, with players almost certainly juggled up and down the lineup and back and forth between Bingo and Ottawa. Scoring will likely be done by committee (to use a tired cliché), but there is still the chance for some reasonably high producers. I could see any of Turris, Ryan, and to a far lesser extent Mac and Z-bad scoring over 60 points. It’s possible ALL of them could… But very unlikely. I also have a warm tingly feeling about Stone and in a crazy turn of events he COULD be promoted to the first line and put up a 25-30-55 statline. Chiasson could recover from his flu and score 30. It all COULD happen (unlike, say, Neil potting 30g), but it almost certainly won’t. The projections I’ve listed above, while still optimistic, are much more reasonable. I could see potentially half of them coming to pass. Which half do you think are most likely?

In the end, much like with the defensemen, the overwhelming majority of the Senators’ forwards are either in their primes or are still growing. In other words, their collective play is likely to improve rather than regress. In fact, only Neil and Legwand (and MAYBE Michalek, though that’s more due to potential failure of his bionic knees) are at risk of age related regression. Conversely, Turris (mild), Zibanejad, Stone, Hoffman, Chiasson, and all of the Bingo crew can expect at least some measure of development/improvement. The question is whether this progression can offset the offense lost with Jason Spezza’s departure. If only one of the developing players explodes (my money is on Stone or Z-bad) above and beyond their reasonably hopeful projections and Bobby Ryan plays a full healthy season, then the gap between Captain Giggles/Hemsky and Legwand/Chiasson will no longer seem all that great.

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