Seasons are ending, and excitement is in their air as fans of non-playoff teams look to their system for hope. We looked at the seasons of the Senators defense prospects last week, so this week, we'll quickly touch on how the forwards were doing. As cited before, more detailed profiles for many of the prospects were included in the December update, which will give you a glimpse of how these players' seasons were going up until this point.
Let's start with the lone European on the list: Filip Ahl. Ahl has put on SEVEN different jerseys this season, ranging from the main men's divisions (SHL, Allsvenskan) to junior (SuperElit, International Jr). I'll quickly note that Ahl performed very well in the junior leagues, and did not return there after December thanks to 31 points in 18 games, but only averaged 2 minutes and 36 seconds (yup) a night in 17 games with HV71 in the top league. I will note that Ahl was one of the youngest players to play this year -- in fact, he was the youngest player in HV71 history when he debuted last year -- so it's rare in general for young players to get ice-time against top competition, but even more so for HV71. Thus, much of his 2016 was spent with Sundsvall in the Allsvenskan, where he put up a respectable 6 points in 16 games. As I've said previously, it'd be interesting to see if Ahl applies for the CHL import draft and get some stability in his game and his coaching before transitioning over to North American pro hockey.
Canadian Hockey League (CHL)
Let's cross the pond and look at the three Canadian junior players currently refining their trade in the QMJHL. 2015 2nd round picks Filip Chlapik and Gabriel Gagne have had mediocre seasons, but for varying reasons. After 33 goals and 75 points in 64 games last year, Chlapik is currently at 12 goals and 52 points in 50 games. That's a slight decrease in points-per-game and a massive decrease from the second best rookie goal scorer last year. Now, I'll quickly note that Charlottetown as a team has had a tough year, as they likely planned to get Pens phenom Daniel Sprong back for the full year but only ended up getting him back for half as he surprised everyone by making the Pens opening night roster. Since Sprong's return, Chlapik's point production picked up. He has been playing top line minutes all year (~ 21 minutes a night) and when he's on the ice, Charlottetown scores 57% of the goals, but I did expect more from him. For those wondering if his goal totals are drastically down because he's shooting less, his shot rate has decreased from ~3/gm in his rookie year to 2.86/gm this year: thus, not enough to account for such a drastic change.
Gagne, the top rookie goal scorer from last year, has mainly had a disappointing year because of injuries. His 17 goals and 35 points in 40 games is just slightly off his 35 goals and 59 points in 67 games last year (0.425 G/gm instead of 0.525; 0.875 P/G instead of 0.88). According to the folks over at Prospect-Stats, he plays around 17 minutes a night and when he's on the ice, Shawinigan scores 60% of the goals -- all good things. The one worry, and it could be because of the upper body injury, is that his shot rate has gone from 3.80 in his rookie year to 2.75/gm this year. As we all know, shot rate is a decently good predictor of goal scoring, especially as you try to translate your ability from level-to-level, so look for Gagne to try to improve on that next year. Due to his age, he could actually play in Binghamton next year if the team wanted him to, but I'd personally let him dominate the Q first.
Speaking of dominating the QMJHL, that's exactly what Sens 2014 7th round pick Francis Perron is doing. Perron, who needs to be signed this year, currently ranks second in the league in scoring with 107 points in 61 games, a massive improvement over his solid 76 points last year, and 55 in his rookie year. Perron averaged ~ 4 shots a game last year and is slightly over that this year, so really, it's hard to find any reason to be worried about his progression this season. Keep in mind that most NHL top-six forwards have numbers like this in their first two junior years whereas Perron is doing this in his overage year, but he's definitely worth a contract and I hope he keeps his skill as he looks to translate his ability from the Q to the A.
I feel bad to leave Perron and transition over to the NCAA, where most of the Senators prospects have had a poor year with a notable exception. I noted back in December that Robbie Baillargeon, Shane Eiserman, and Chris Leblanc were disappointing this season, and unfortunately, their play never picked up. Baillargeon, playing for BU, went from 6 points in 17 games to 12 points in 35 games. Merrimack's Leblanc went from a dismal 2 points in 13 games to 12 points in 35 games - still a decrease on last year's totals. To wrap it up, New Hampshire's Eiserman -- the youngest of the group -- went from 6 points in 15 games to 12 points in 32, a decrease on his 15 in 35 rookie games last year. Baillargeon and Leblanc are in their third college year and were likely looking for contracts, but it seems likely that the Sens won't sign either. Eiserman has to really pick up his play and be the tenacious forechecker the Sens drafted to get on the radar next year.
The last two players are likely the two with a future in pro hockey: Quentin Shore and Colin White. Shore, who's hoping to conclude his fourth year with an NCAA Championship for Denver, was named as a nominee for the NCHA's Best Defensive Forward of the Year. A 6th round pick in 2013, Shore has always been around 19 - 25 points and is at the same pace again, sacrificing assists for goals, including three shorthanded markers. His defensive ability -- on the penalty kill and on faceoffs -- is where he has value, and given the lack of centremen in the system, this is where Shore can earn an entry-level deal in Binghamton. The Senators can't sign him until his season is over, so look for news on Shore in the next month. If they choose not to sign him, he could be picked up by another NHL team as a college free agent.
Colin White is also shooting for an NCAA Championship with the Boston College Eagles, but is doing so as a freshman. White is only one of 12 Hockey East players to be putting up above a point-per-game (he's third in the conference) and joins Arizona's Maxim Letunov as the only freshmen on the list. Although White has three more years of college eligibility, there's been talk that he may turn pro as soon as next year and join either the NHL club or the AHL club in September for training camp, a la Dylan Larkin. If he chooses to turn pro, White can play in the AHL first despite being a teenager, which is an added benefit to college hockey over the CHL. Due to my risk aversion and hesitance to rush players, if the team decides that White is done with the college level, I'd prefer him to play in Binghamton for a year first while the team decides what they have in Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Nick Paul, and Curtis Lazar as NHL centremen.
- WE BEAT THE LEAFS (this is always deserving of all-Caps, despite how mediocre they are this season) [Silver Seven, Ottawa Citizen]
- The BSens went 1-1 on the weekend. First, they lost in OT on the back of three Jim O'Brien points (remember him?). They did, however, win in the battle of the blockbuster trade teams, with Phil Varone showing up Cole Schneider and co. in Rochester. [Silver Seven - v. Albany, v. Rochester]
- I hope some of you had the chance to attend the Clarkson Cup game in Ottawa over the weekend. Michaela was there to see Hayley Wickenheiser and the Calgary Inferno hoist the Cup. [Silver Seven, The Victory Press]
- What's on tap for the Sens this week? Let Chet Sellers walk you through it! [WTYKY]
- Zack Smith remains hotter than the sriracha-flavoured chips I'm having, but says that he's the same player that he's always been. [Ottawa Citizen]
- Nichols news + notes column for this week touches on Eugene Melnyk, some Sens-specific thoughts in Elliotte Friedman's weekly column, and observations about Zack Smith and Mike Hoffman. [6th Sens]
- Regarding Mike Hoffman, Travis Yost explores whether he's second-half 'slump' is more than just that. [TSN]
- What has Dion Phaneuf's impact been thus far? It's an extremely expensive question. Trevor has more. [Silver Seven]
- Chirp has some thoughts on Smith, Wiercioch, Chiassion, and Coach Cameron. [SensChirp]
- Mika Zibanejad has had a solid, if not unspectacular year. The production is there, but we could all agree that he needs to be consistent. He knows that, too. [Ottawa Citizen]
- Does Mike Borkowski just sound like Mark Borowiecki's evil twin? He did to me, until I read about him in Peter's news and notes column. [Eye on the Sens]
- The team is more likely to keep Zack Smith and trade Mike Hoffman, perhaps because of how their play has been trending recently. [Silver Seven]
- Max Domi shared his perspective about playing high-level hockey while living with diabetes. [The Players' Tribune]
- Two pieces on the NWHL's Isobel Cup, which was won by the Boston Pride over the weekend. [The Victory Press, Sports Illustrated, Victory Press Photoset]
- Also of note in women's hockey this week was news of potential NWHL expansion into Canada. Zoë Hayden has more. [The Victory Press]
- Over at InGoal Magazine, Greg Balloch has been ranking each team's goaltending depth. The Senators rank... last in the Eastern Conference. [InGoalMag]
- The NFL has officially recognized a link between playing football and brain disease. [ESPN]
- How do rebound shots impact shooting percentages on the powerplay? Let Arik Parnass take you through it! [Special Teams Project]
- Your end-of-Nuggets audio courtesy of 'That's what she said!' on TSN1200, where Michaela and Shalia talk with Olympian Tessa Bonhomme about the Clarkson Cup and the Canada - USA rivalry. [TSN 1200]