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Top 25 Under 25: Staff Questions Part 1

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Looking at how we got to our T25U25 rankings

Ottawa Senators v Calgary Flames
The real reason he’s our number-one guy under 25 — that pouty face
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

We’ve been counting down the top-25 players under 25 for over a month (you can fund the full summary here), and now as promised, here’s a look at how we got here. Below you can find the full rankings of each of our staff members:

Staff voting top 25 under 25

You may notice that there’s a column up there entitled “Readers”. That’s because this year, one of the votes came from the readers’ rankings. Here are the results from the online reader poll:

Top 25 Under 25 reader votes

The points above are the totals from the 85 submitted ballots (+ 6 completely blank ballots). A player got one point for a 1st-place vote, two points for 2nd, all the way down to 26 points if they were left blank. Mark Stone got all place first-place votes, except for the blank ballots, of course. I went to change that mistake, but realized it didn’t affect anything. Incomplete ballots that did affect the rankings (looking at you, person who ranked Jean-Gabriel Pageau 1st and left everyone else blank) were removed.

As we always do, staff got a chance to answer some questions about their votes. Here are their answers.

1. Ary, Matt O'Connor didn't make you top 25 -- did one bad year make him fall that far in your rankings? You also were the only person to put Marcus Hogberg in the top 10 -- did not having O'Connor increase the importance of the other goalies?

Ary: I had to look back to last year’s T25U25 rankings to confirm that I even had Matt O’Connor high in the first place (I did - 12th, with Hogberg at 15) so I guess that my answer to your initial question is: yes, one bad year made Matt O’Connor fall that far in my rankings.

I think last year, I probably bought into the “Best College FA available” hype and though I don’t think he’s as bad as I have him now, it’d be unfair for me to rank him over players who are either 4-5 years younger or had better seasons. I have no doubt in my mind that O’Connor will put up better than his .895 sv% this year in Binghamton — my guess is that he’ll likely be around .912 to follow his NCAA trend of linearly increasing his sv% year-to-year — but I don’t think he’s the best or even second best goaltender prospect in the Sens organization. Likely NHL backup at some point, Chris Driedger, is two years younger than O’Connor and outplayed him last year following some great final years in the WHL.

The jewel of the system is Hogberg, who was lauded by Sens scouts Vaclav Burda and Mikko Ruutu as the best Swedish goaltender available back in 2013. He turns 22 in November, and has already spent three seasons playing against men in the Allsvenskan (Jonathan Dahlen’s league), and the SHL. Although he had a worse year statistically than 2014-15 (.911 sv% in 27 games vs. .917 sv% in 28 games), I think he’s going to be a full-time starter this year and will impress before coming over to North America. With Lehner gone, Anderson old, and Hammond a career backup - Hogberg is undisputedly Ottawa’s #1 goaltender. With a ceiling as high as that, I think he’s worthy of being a top 10 player under 25 in the Sens mediocre system.

2. Ary, Callum, Trevor, you guys had Nick Paul lower than most people. Do you think people are too high on him because of his size, or are people too low on Ottawa's other prospects?

Ary: I had Paul 9th last year while I put him at 15 this year. I think it’s mainly because he’s been passed by Perron and Dzingel, while giving up spots to the younger and higher ceiling Logan Brown and Jonathan Dahlen, but Paul is an interesting case. I think the fact that he’s never been known as a top scorer has made it easier for us to have lower expectations for Paul, which is something he can surpass with bursts of potential like he did at the end of the 2015-16 season and by being a standout at development camp. However, even *good* bottom-six NHLers are top scorers in junior, so Paul’s OHL numbers and especially AHL numbers need some work before I’m ready to christen him as an NHLer. If you look at my rankings, I tried to keep the top-10 as players who were either performing well in a top-6 or top-4 capacity already OR had the potential to do that. My 11 - 15 went: Dzingel, Jaros, Gagne, Bailey, Paul and in hindsight, I could probably have Paul at 13 - after Christian Jaros (who has slight T4 potential) and Ryan Dzingel (who’s NHL ready now).

I am firmly in the “Paul should be a full-time AHLer in 2016-17” camp, though, regardless of his size, character, and defensive accolades, as he can stand to improve his offensive totals (17 points, 45 games) and would give the Senators more flexibility when it comes to asset management. Currently, Paul isn’t vastly superior to the older Matt Puempel and Ryan Dzingel - his main competitors for a bottom-six spot.

Callum: It could be a combination of both, but I don't see the potential big power forward in him that others do. While he does have the hands and seems to play in the offensive zone with complete awareness of his surroundings, to me, his skating is lacking and he's slower to react than others. I loved his play at the World Juniors in 2015 and he meshed well on the fourth line in the few games he played last season, but a bottom line NHLer is the most I can see out of him.

Trevor: I look at Paul and just don't see him as someone that should be a top-rated prospect in an average system. He certainly has a very good shot at making the NHL, but his upside is going to be limited since he's never put up the points to suggest he can be a top six (or maybe even top nine) forward. I'd still like to see what he can do, and there's nothing wrong with developing a bottom six player.

3. NKB, Trevor, you guys seem unimpressed by Casey Bailey compared to the average. Do you think it's just a case of people overrating a new commodity?

NKB: Besides his size, there's very little about Bailey's resume that suggests he's anything but a decent-to-good AHLer. The farm team could use the depth, but unless he suddenly turns a corner at age 25 I can't imagine he'll see significant time with the big club.

Trevor: Casey Bailey is turning 25 in October. I know lots of people can point to Mike Hoffman now and say "he broke out when he was older," but Bailey isn't someone who is knocking on the door to the NHL like Hoffman was for years.

4. Ian, you put Max McCormick higher than anyone else. Are people to quick to discount someone who already has 20 games of NHL experience?

Ian: I really think it came down to the mentality that each person took in making their rankings. While some may have taken a "how can you help me in the future?" approach, I took slightly more of a "right-now" mindset. In McCormick's short call-up last season, I think he did exactly what he was asked to do. He played the same role as he did in Binghamton; hard-hitting, fearless, high-energy hockey. While his up-side is likely a fourth line player, I would said that he's tracking well towards that goal. But of course, how relevant that role will be in the Boucher/Dorion era is still to be determined.

5. Callum, you were the only one to put Max Lajoie in the top 20. What makes you think so highly of the Sens' fourth-round pick?

Callum: We're going to be hearing a lot more about Maxime Lajoie in the coming years. A lot of scouts saw Ottawa picking him in the fifth round as an absolute steal, and I could see why after watching some tape and talking with his coach. Nowadays in the NHL, you want to see speed, eye-hand coordination and offensive abilities. Lajoie has that already at an elite level. The areas where he's lacking can be developed. Size will change, competitiveness will increase, physicality will be more prominent and his defensive play will improve. It's harder to teach skill than it is structure and responsibility.

6. Ross, you had White and Chabot ahead of NHL regulars Pageau and Ceci, and also were the only one to put Ceci ahead of Pageau. Do you value potential that much more?

Ross: In a word, yes. I look at Pageau and Ceci and see “3rd-line centre” and “2nd-pairing defenceman” as their respective ceilings. Chabot and White should both be higher than that, and I value that more when looking at their worth to the organization. Both were projected to be game-breakers a year ago, and have built on their reputations through impressive seasons. Mark Stone is the only true under-25 star on this team, but Chabot and White could very well get there.

As for Ceci ahead of Pageau, I looked at the value of their respective ceilings. Second-pairing d-men play a lot more minutes than third-line Cs, so I value Ceci more in the long-term. We’ll see how that plays out.

Tomorrow we’ll have Part 2, looking at each writer’s overall thoughts about the final rankings, and the differences between the staff and reader rankings