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Silver Nuggets: December Prospect Update

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I just wanted an excuse to look at these sweet Caps sweaters again.
I just wanted an excuse to look at these sweet Caps sweaters again.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With a good chunk of the season over for many hockey leagues at all levels, in addition to the incoming roster freeze for the holidays this weekend, I thought it'd be a good idea to check-up on the various prospects the Senators have playing in Canadian junior, the NCAA, and over in Europe.

It's often more practical to examine a player by position(s) rather than by location so that we can also get a glimpse of how much depth the Senators have -- a factor that influences many potential trade discussions. Thus, that's what we'll do.

Defensemen

Starting with the area that the current NHL club has the most need seems like a worthwhile endeavour, and there does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel. It looks like the team will have three rearguards playing at the upcoming IIHF U20 World Hockey Championships, with 2015 picks Thomas Chabot (Canada) and Christian Jaros (Slovakia) backing up top 2014 pick Andreas Englund (Sweden). Both Jaros and Englund played at last year's World Juniors, but both appear ready to take on expanded roles this year.

After playing 25 games with Luleå in the SHL last season, many thought that Jaros would stick in the SHL full-time this year. However, Luleå has decided to go with a relatively "veteran" roster with only one U22 defenseman, so Jaros has spent most of his time in the Swedish "junior" league the Allsvenskan, putting up 5 points in 22 games with Apslöven. After he was drafted, Pierre Dorion noted that it was Jaros' performance at the World Juniors that made him an attractive 5th round pick for the Sens -- Jaros was selected by his coaches as one of the top-three players on the team, an honour he also received in 2013-14 at the U18s. Like many European prospects, I don't expect Jaros to come over to North America for another couple years. A positive development would be him playing so well as to garner full-time SHL duty as early as next season.

The other blueliner in Sweden, Englund, is only three months older than Jaros but is already well into his second full-season in Sweden's top league. In contrast to Luleå, Djurgårdens has decided to go with a relatively young roster that features four defensemen under the age of 22, Englund being one of them. Hallmarked as a "character guy" when he was drafted with the Senators second round pick in 2014, Englund is a current assistant captain on Djurgårdens alongside a 24 year old and two 25 year olds to make up the team's leadership group. After having a limited "7th defenseman" type of role in Sweden's seven games at last year's World Juniors, Englund is expected to be an assistant captain this year and lead the penalty kill against the best junior players in the world. He only has one point - a goal - in his 24 SHL games this year, so I'll definitely be watching his puck skills to ensure that he isn't a liability (like some defensive defensemen). Given that the Senators love his "North American style of game", Englund may be over in North America rather soon. He'd bring some much needed support to a poor Binghamton squad next season if he does decide to cross the pond.

The highest ceiling of the group belongs to 2015 1st rounder, Thomas Chabot. Although he was initially not expected to make the team due to hard competition from Jake Walman and Vince Dunn, their injuries won't allow them to suit up for Team Canada and it appears that Chabot will be the one to benefit. Canada is currently having pre-tournament preparation in Finland and have to cut two more defensemen, but since Chabot has been lined up alongside standout returnee Joe Hicketts on Canada's second-pair and powerplay unit, it certainly seems like the Quebec native will be a major part of Canada's team in two weeks. I was a bit worried with projecting Chabot as I didn't know how much of his success came due to playing with 13th overall pick (BOS) Jakub Zboril. However, Zboril was injured for the start of the QMJHL season and Chabot came storming out of the gate. As it stands, both have played ~21 games (Zboril is back now and Chabot has missed games due to Team Canada's camp) and Chabot's 20 points paces Zboril's 9. If you just take a look through Chabot's highlight packages from this season, you start to see his strong decision-making skills, vision, and mobility -- things we're not seeing as much from the last offensive defensemen drafted by the Senators, Cody Ceci -- so if Chabot's defensive game has improved as well, we may be in for a real treat.

Not to be forgotten, even though they're 3-4 years away, are the trio of Senators prospects currently refining their trade in the NCAA.

Miles Gendron, a boom/bust forward-turned-defensemen with high-end skating, is currently third among UConn defensmen in scoring with 5 points in 12 games. UConn is a fairly new program to the Hockey East conference (where Jack Eichel, Colin White, etc. play) so Gendron has been getting his fair share of minutes, even as a freshman, which is good for his development. Generally, you have to be one of the best players on your NCAA team to garner a pro contract and eventually an NHL spot (Erik Condra and Colin Greening were the top point getters for their respective college teams!), but the benefit of the NCAA, especially for defensemen, is that you have 3-4 years to develop and work on your practice habits in the gym a lot more than you'd get to in Canadian junior. It's going to be a long journey for the 2014 3rd round pick, but I'm excited to see if he'll get there.

Kelly Summers, the Sens 7th round pick in 2014, is currently second among Clarkson D (Mark Borowiecki's old stomping ground) in scoring with 6 points in 15 games. Summers is a smart, two-way defenseman who was named to the ECAC's all-rookie team last year after being named the CCHL's Top Prospect the year before while playing with the (local!) Carleton Place Canadians. Now, there aren't many NHL alumni for either award minus Shayne Gostisbehere (though there are a ton of drafted players), but all you can ask Summers to be is among the best in his peer group, which he has been. His weakness is his skating, but he's definitely with the right development team for that (hi, Mark Stone!). I expect him to take all four years at college before turning pro.

The last defenseman is the oldest, despite only being drafted in the 4th round this year. Although Christian Wolanin has hockey roots and was perhaps drafted for standing out against many players who were younger than him (he was the one of the oldest players in the USHL last year), Wolanin's 41 points in 56 games and standout performance for Team USA at the U19 World Junior A Challenge caught the eye of the Sens scouting staff. He hasn't disappointed with a 0.5 PPG on the second-pair for a strong North Dakota team that's aiming for the Frozen Four (though again, he isn't the typical freshman due to his age). Wolanin will have to elevate his play even more to garner an NHL contract near the end of his deal as he'll already be 24, although the Sens didn't shy away from giving Princeton product Michael Sdao a contract when he was in a similar situation a couple of years ago.

Wingers

Remember how I said that how many players you have at each position can influence future player transactions? Filip Ahl is the only junior-level prospect that the Senators have playing "left-wing", which may be intentional due to the abundance of left-wingers currently fighting for NHL spots at the pro level (Shane Prince, Matt Puempel, Ryan Dzingel, Dave Dziurzynski, Colin Greening). Despite tearing up the Swedish J20 circuit for the second consecutive year (20 goals, 42 points in 34 games last year - 18th in league scoring; 18 goals, 31 points in 18 games this year - 4th in league scoring), Ahl didn't make the cut for Sweden's U20 team. Ahl is a June birthday, so he was one of the younger players eligible for the 2015 draft and still has another couple years of U20 eligibility left. Like Jaros, we thought that he may have had a shot at full-time SHL duty for HV71, but it's a tough league for a young player to get ice-time. Ahl is the youngest player to suit up for HV71 this season, so it's still a testament that he managed to get into 14 games despite the lack of production (0 points). Given his powerful style of play, I wonder if he'd consider applying for the CHL Import Draft a la Tobias Lindberg.

At right-wing, we have two NCAA prospects and two CHL prospects.

On the NCAA side, there isn't much to report. Chris Leblanc, who was an overaged unranked player drafted by the Senators in the 6th round in 2013 has performed as just that - a player worthy of being unranked. Drafted out of the EJHL (current home of another ??? pick from that year, Tim Boyle), Leblanc's point totals have decreased in every NCAA season -- he's currently in his third and has two points in 13 games. A textbook example of what happens when you draft for size (6'3, 205lbs) with not much else, I'd be surprised to see Leblanc offered a pro contract. 2014 4th round pick Shane Eiserman has had the pedigree - he just needs to put it together. After winning a Silver Medal at the U18s with Team USA and the Gold at the World Junior A Challenge (w/ Christian Wolanin) in his draft eligible year, Eiserman put up a modest 15 points in 35 games for a strong UNH squad playing in the Hockey East. Expected to step up this year, Eiserman only has 6 points in 15 games so far, although UNH's depth has drastically fallen off as a whole (2014-152015-16 stats). As a player who bested everyone in many of the strength categories at the NHL Draft Combine and is known to be a strong forechecker with good puck pursuit, Eiserman will have to step it up to garner an NHL contract over his next two seasons.

On the CHL side we have the two right-wingers with the highest offensive potential. First is the current third leading scorer in the QMJHL and assistant captain of the powerhouse Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Francis Perron. An early cut at training camp, Perron has performed like a motivated player with something to prove. As the 6th overall pick in the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft, Perron has always had the skill (he had 55 points in 68 games in his first Q season), but by all means he's playing in all situations for the Huskies now, including the penalty kill. With the Senators focusing on "complete" players, it's a good development for Perron who's looking to be another diamond in the rough for the Senators as a 7th round pick in 2014. It's a shame he didn't get an invite to Team Canada's World Junior camp, although only three forwards from the QMJHL did. He has one more season of eligibility in the QMJHL before turning pro, although I wouldn't be surprised to see him sign an ATO with Binghamton for some AHL time if Rouyn-Noranda gets eliminated early. Gabriel Gagne started off the year injured, but is healthy now and has put up 7 points (4 goals) in 6 games with Les Tigres. A player with a tantalizing skillset due to his goal scoring ability while being 6'5 with plus skating ability, Gagne has seen time at both right-wing and centre during his first two QMJHL seasons. He was taken in the second round of the same QMJHL Entry Draft as Perron, and the Senators decided to take him 36th overall in 2015 -- on par with NHL Central Scouting but ahead of Bob McKenzie's 61st -- due to the team believing that Colorado would take him with one of their second rounders (Patrick Roy's connections). We're going to have to wait-and-see with Gagne, although he still has a good chunk of the QMJHL season left to impress. By being selected with such a high pick, Gagne is going to have to have a strong season next year (much like Perron is now) to meet the Sens expectations.


Centres


The Senators have four centres currently playing junior hockey - three in the NCAA and one in Canadian junior. Much like we did with the defense, let's start with the two who we'll be able to see at the World Juniors.

Filip Chlapik is probably the player I'm most interested in seeing, mainly because I want to evaluate whether he was worthy of being drafted 48th overall in 2015 despite there being some high-end talent remaining on the board. I'm a little worried that Chlapik was misevaluated. He had the point totals of a strong player - 33 goals (two less than Gagne and the most among all rookies in the Q last season) and 75 points in 64 games as part of a formidable one-two punch with Pens first rounder Daniel Sprong. However, it's Sprong's remarkably strong play -- one that resulted in him sticking with the Pittsburgh Penguins - that is making me think that Chlapik was just carried along last season. Basically, it's a similar situation with Thomas Chabot and Jakub Zboril, except Chabot is proving us otherwise. As of right now, Chlapik is 4th among Charlottetown players in points (23 points in 26 games). Now, I haven't had the chance to watch many Q games this year so maybe it's a bit of bad luck or a bout of poor confidence, but hopefully playing well at the WJC will bring back some scoring touch. The Czechs appear to be strong this year, with a coach (Jakub Petr) that they think highly of. Now it's just time to see if he delivers.

The Sens prospect who's had the strongest start to the year is Kyle Turris Jr Colin White, who is currently 7th in NCAA scoring (all conferences) despite being a freshman. We knew he was going to be good, especially after we heard he had mononucleosis despite putting up a point per game with a stacked USDP team full of current/future first rounders and being an assistant captain with USA's Gold Medal winning U18 team (9 points, 7 games). However, White has been better than advertised and looks like the player who not only has strong defensive skills (his hockey IQ is his most lauded trait) but an offensive punch to boot. When watching Boston College highlight packs, you immediately notice his poise with the puck and the vision to get the puck to his talented BC teammates. The team is the cream of the Hockey East right now and is looking to go to the Frozen Four, so we may see more of White on a big stage later this year. If he keeps playing like this, it won't be long until we see him in a pro uniform too, despite three more years of NCAA eligibility.

Rounding up the NCAA centremen are Quentin Shore (6th round pick, 2013) and Robbie Baillargeon (5th round pick, 2012). Shore, taken as an overager, is currently finishing up his last year at UDenver. His point-per-game pace is a little off his career best, which is disappointing, but his Team USA pedigree may be enough to garner a pro contract after this year to help the BSens out until White arrives. With only Nick Paul and Max McCormick as young centres in the AHL, Shore would fill a need and would have some more time to grow his offensive game. Baillargeon, a former teammate of Jack Eichel and Matt O'Connor at BU, is currently in the midst of his worst offensive performance in his career with just 6 points in 17 games. BU as a whole seems to be in a bit of a downspin after winning Hockey East last year off the strength of Eichel -- there's coaching dilemmas, players are bolting to the CHL -- typical bad environment stuff. Robbie has one more year of NCAA eligibility and will definitely want to get back to the level that saw him named to the Hockey East's All-Rookie Team in 2013-14 after leading BU in scoring with 27 points in 35 games. A former prep school star from a strong New England minor program, I hope Baillargeon can put it all together.

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Sens Links
  • The Sens only played one game this week, a hard-fought 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, but are getting set for a busy weekend against strong opponents. [Silver SevenSensChirpOttawa Citizen]
  • The big story after the game was the health of Curtis Lazar, as many were worried that he was following the path of many other Senators forwards this season with a potential concussion, but he seems to have avoided it. [Silver Seven]
  • The BSens also played a game this week, but continued their disastrous season with a loss to the East-leading Toronto Marlies. [Silver Seven]
  • Nichols has a really interesting note on the comments made by Pierre LeBrun on TSN's Insider Trading last night. LeBrun mentioned that a decision on Bryan Murray's immediate future may come soon, and that Pierre Dorion is likely next in line to become GM. [6th Sens]
  • Get into the holiday spirit with Trevor's Sens Christmas Wishlist! It'd be nice if many of his wishes came true. [Silver Seven]
  • In light of where the team currently stands, Travis argues that the Senators are just good enough. [SenShot]
  • A downtown arena may be in the Senators future, as both bids for the LeBreton flats area (one of them being Mr. Melynk's) include a hockey rink. As always, Brad and Nichols have more, and Joe has a funny take on the news. [Silver Seven6th SensBonk's Mullet]
  • A Sportsnet column on Mike Hoffman's all-around contributions and how they outweigh any bad in his game. The WTYKY crew also weigh-in on Mike Hoffman's performance to date in an interesting roundtable discussion. [SportsnetWTYKY]
  • A fun piece from Rob that gives tips for any new Senators fans out there. Co-sign!!! [Bonk's Mullet]
  • Jeff's weekly Bingo Bites column talks about Andrew Hammond's performance during his conditioning stint, Matt O'Connor's first win, and where the club ranks in some high-level statistics. [Silver Seven]
  • Your end-of-Nuggets audio come courtesy of Chet Sellers and Luke Peristy, who weren't on Silver Seven this time, but instead on Ian Mendes' latest Advanced Chats episode. [TSN 1200]
Other Links
  • A post by David Johnson on analyzing defensemen by their rank on the team in a number of core statistics. [Hockey Analysis]
  • Hearing a lot about Steven Stamkos but still need a grasp of the situation? Mirtle has you covered. [The Globe & Mail]
  • An NHL.com article on Karlsson having the numbers for his third Norris in five years *smile emoji* [NHL]
  • The ineffable Jonathan Willis with some great goaltender analysis after watching every goal that Tuukka Rask has given up this year. [Bleacher Report]
  • Over at Winging it in Motown, Prashanth has an enlightening series on the Red Wings penalty kill. Lots of tactics + systems discussion here for those who love that stuff. [Winging it in Motown]
  • A non-sports link comes from my favourite weekly blog, Brain Pickings, which features fantastic content curated from Maria Popova. This piece on Barry Schwartz and human nature is a must-read and is especially relevant to analyzing humans (which we do all the time in hockey!) [Brain Pickings]