There comes a point in many NHL players careers when they need to prove that they can stick in the league or else they might not get much of a chance down the road. There are so many players around the league that are just on the cusp of being good, but need to take that extra step to become something better.
The Senators have a few examples of these players, although some of them are in different circumstances than others. For these five guys, this season is crucial in their development, because if they do not progress, then they risk management potentially wanting to cut ties with them.
It’s essentially make or break for these Senators below.
Everyone knows Puempel’s story and the fact that he’s the lone first round pick (out of three) from the monster 2011 draft. People had extremely high hopes for him coming out of the draft, as he scored 33 goals in his first season in the OHL at the age of 16.
He had two mediocre years in junior after 2011, and has yet to cement himself as a regular in the Senators lineup. In the AHL he has been quite good, averaging 29 goals and 54 points per season, and last year his 30 points in 34 games looks very impressive.
However, at the age of 23, he needs to prove himself or else he’ll be bypassed by younger prospects like Francis Perron, Logan Brown, Colin White, etc. It’s not impossible to break-out at age 24 or 25 (as Mike Hoffman can attest to), but it’s very unlikely.
That’s why it’s important Puempel shows what he can do at the NHL level, not the AHL. The fact is, he hasn’t looked like he belongs so far, as his 6 points in 39 games and -4.7 CF% relative shows. Of course, he hasn’t had the greatest linemates or opportunities, although good players should be still be able to look good on the 4th line (like Shane Prince did).
I’ve definitely soured on Puempel over the past couple years, but I hope he can turn it around. After all, he’s played all of 39 NHL games. Maybe he just needed some time.
Claesson seemed like he might be going back to Sweden in 2016-17, especially when he wasn’t getting called up to Ottawa last year. But he’s still in the organization, and has something to prove.
It’s certainly an uphill climb for him, as the top three defense pairings are already set, a PTO/UFA may be coming in, and Thomas Chabot will be battling for a spot as well. It’s unlikely that he starts the year in the NHL, and that’s tough because he does have to go through waivers in order to be sent down.
Perhaps he’s claimed right away in October, but I doubt it. Once an injury strikes to Ottawa’s defense, he should be one of the first players called up, and he should be getting some more games to show what he has.
Out of all the players listed, Claesson seems to be in the worst position. The only position he can overtake right now is Mark Borowiecki’s spot, but that might just go to Chabot. If not, then there’s a chance he can win over the team.
But if he isn’t a regular by the end of the year, it’s perfectly reasonable for the the team and player to mutually split. There may not be a whole lot of opportunity for him anyway.
Lazar is the youngest one on this list, but I strongly stand by including him here. Although he’s only 21 years old, I need to see some sort of progression in his game or else I don’t see him as anything special.
He’s a former first round pick, so I understand that it’s hard to give up on those. But if Lazar fails to reach 30 or even 25 points again, then it might be time to realize that he’s a bottom-six player. However, if he can show he has some offensive creativity and can score some goals, then all of a sudden he is a valuable player that has some more rope.
I know it’s early to judge a developing player at 21 (although he’ll be 22 when we can evaluate him further), but over the course of three seasons, we need to see something that convinces us that he’s a solid contributor. At age 20, Mika Zibanejad had 33 points in 69 games so we could at least see that he was growing even though he wasn’t amazing.
That’s the sort of progress that needs to happen this season because we can’t wait on him forever.
While O’Connor probably won’t play many (or any) games in the NHL this year, this is one of the biggest years of his life. He looked abysmal at times in Binghamton last year, as he posted a .895 SV%, which was extremely disappointing for Ottawa after winning the “O’Connor sweepstakes.”
Goalies develop slower than forwards and defensemen, but O’Connor isn’t that young for a goalie prospect: he’s 24, turning 25 in February. He needs to at least show that he can play in the AHL first, let alone the NHL.
If he shows that he has a shot at being an NHL starter, then that would be a massive boost for Ottawa’s future, since goaltending will be a huge question mark in a couple years time. However, posting another sub-.900 SV% in the AHL wouldn’t scream “top prospect” at all.
Ceci is different than everyone else on this list, because he’s easily the best player right now. He is good enough to be an NHL player, I think we can all agree on that. No matter what happens this year, he should be playing in the league for years to come just because of how good he looks via the eye test and the fact that teams are always looking for offensive defensemen.
However, in general people see Ceci as a capable second pairing defenseman already, and I’m not so sure about that. He played better after Dion Phaneuf got here, but he needs to be better for an entire season before I can say that Ceci is a legitimately good defenseman.
It does not look good that he gave up the third most shot attempts against per 60 on the team, and hopefully Guy Boucher can improve his overall game. I think to the organization and to most fans, their opinions on Ceci won’t change much this year. But for me at least, this year is going to be very telling.
If the underlying numbers actually improve and he gets more points, then we have a solid player on our hands. But if he stagnates and continues to have defensive lapses, then I’ll be quite low on him. The good news is he has time to prove himself, and that’s exactly why his contract is perfect for both sides.
It isn’t completely make-or-break for all these players, but the stakes are high nonetheless. They should be fighting for their jobs this season.