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Comparing the Senators 2011 Prospect Pool to 2020s

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In 2011, Ottawa’s prospect pool was stacked. Can we learn anything from how that turned out?

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Think back to 2011. The Ottawa Senators were going through their mini rebuild after trading away Mike Fisher, Brian Elliott, Chris Kelly, and Alexei Kovalev, and they had one of the best, if not the best farm system in the NHL.

Ottawa’s future was looking bright as they still had Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, plus a bevy of talented prospects such as David Rundblad, Jakob Silfverberg, Jared Cowen, Mika Zibanejad, Robin Lehner, and many others. Although many of these players developed into good NHL players, not all of them did it in Ottawa, and not all of them reached the ceilings they were supposed to.

The Senators never fully embraced the rebuild back then as they made the playoffs the next two seasons in a row, and it is interesting to look back on a group that looked elite at the time. Nine years later, I see a lot of comparisons to the current Senators farm system. There are similar discussions about how they are set at certain positions based on the prospects they have, but we know that not every player reaches their potential, and bad trades can ruin things as well.

I wanted to go through many of the top prospects that the Senators had back in 2011 and compare them to current prospects in order to see if this group really is the best they have had. To do that, I looked at Corey Pronman’s top 10 prospects for Ottawa from 2011. I will give other mentions afterwards, but I’ll focus on these main ten who were seen as the cream of the crop.

Each 2020 comparable is based on a mix of playing style, potential (at the time), position, time in their development, and of course not every example is the best. I will also include the NHL role that the 2011 prospect ended up having, as well as an evaluation of who would’ve been the better prospect at the time between the 2011 player and the 2020 comparable.

That exercise is a bit challenging because I had to put myself in a 2011 mindset, thinking about who would’ve been ranked where. Nevertheless, here are Ottawa’s top prospects from 2011 and how they match up with the 2020 group:

1. David Rundblad

Current prospect comparable: Erik Brannstrom

NHL role: Bust

2011 or 2020: 2011

Rundblad was similarly hyped up an incredible amount after Ottawa acquired him in 2010, as he put up a whopping 50 points in 55 SHL games before coming to the NHL. He was projected to be something similar to Brannstrom—an elite puck-mover that was going to be stuck behind their #1 defenseman, Erik Karlsson. He obviously never stuck with any organization, which just goes to show that even the seemingly most elite prospects can flame out for mysterious reasons. Having said that, Rundblad was still the better-ranked prospect than Brannstrom, but that doesn’t mean Brannstrom is bound to fail.

2. Mika Zibanejad

Current prospect comparable: Tim Stuetzle

NHL role: 1st line centre

2011 or 2020: 2020

Zibanejad never exploded onto the scene, but his steady progression has turned him into a legitimate first-line centre...in New York. Although Zibanejad was the 6th overall pick (hence the comparison to Stuetzle), I get the sense that Stuetzle is being talked about much more. Although Senators fans don’t remember Mika being an elite scorer, if Stuetzle turned into who Zibanejad is as a Ranger, fans should be ecstatic with that.

3. Nikita Filatov

Current prospect comparable: Vitaly Abramov

NHL role: Bust

2011 or 2020: 2011

Filatov was ranked higher than Abramov ever has been so I have to give 2011 the nod here, although Filatov was coming off an AHL season with 20 points in 36 games (46 per 82), and Abramov was on pace for 66. Abramov was also a year older than Filatov in 2011, but their production was actually quite similar. Throw in the Russian factor, and there’s your comparison. Filatov was only acquired for a 3rd round pick because he was either boom or bust, and Abramov has an element of that as well...let’s hope he goes in the boom direction though.

4. Stephane Da Costa

Current prospect comparable: Logan Brown

NHL role: Bust

2011 or 2020: 2020

Da Costa was heavily talked about and was a regular in the top-5 of the Senators farm system rankings. He was 22 in 2011, the same age Brown is right now. They both have a ton of skill and have/had the potential to be great, with one or a few things holding them back. The funny thing is despite those similarities, they could not be further apart in height (eight inches—and probably more).

5. Jared Cowen

Current prospect comparable: Jake Sanderson

NHL role: Bust

2011 or 2020: 2020

This probably seems harsh at first, but if you remember, Cowen was also a top-10 pick and was also ranked incredibly high. In fact, it wasn’t until 2014 when people started to realize that he probably wasn’t going to pan out as they had hoped. Sanderson is certainly a much better skater than Cowen and is better offensively, but it is interesting to look at two top-10 defensemen picks who were known more for their defense than their offense. Suffice it to say, if Sanderson is out of the league seven years after being drafted, that will be a massive failure.

6. Jakob Silfverberg

Current prospect comparable: Drake Batherson

NHL role: Top-6 winger

2011 or 2020: 2011

It’s easy to forget how hyped up Silfverberg was. He was coming off a 34 point season in 54 SHL games as a 20-year-old in 2010-11, and the following season he ended up winning the SHL MVP. By the time he began his rookie season in Ottawa in 2012-13, he was one of the top prospects in the NHL. Batherson doesn’t quite have the same stature, but he has similarly dominated a lower league and projects to be an impact winger. The edge barely goes to Silfverberg on this one, although I think most people would be a bit disappointed if Batherson had the same NHL career. Silfverberg has been fine, but he’s never even hit the 50-point mark.

7. Patrick Wiercioch

Current prospect comparable: Jacob Bernard-Docker

NHL role: Depth defenseman

2011 or 2020: Tie

Both are College defensemen, although Wiercioch was obviously more of the offensive type. People forget that Wiercioch had a wicked freshman season at U. Denver where he notched 35 points in 36 games. After that, he was still expected to be part of the next “core” on defense with Karlsson, Cowen, and Rundblad. Bernard-Docker has a similar amount of pedigree, as people are pencilling him into the top-4 for years to come. It seems like JBD might be more well-rounded, so hopefully he can have a longer career than Wiercioch did. In the end though, I see their values as the same so I gave this a tie.

8. Derek Grant

Current prospect comparable: Shane Pinto

NHL role: 4th line centre

Edge: 2020

Pronman might’ve been higher on Grant than others, because his appearance here is a bit of a surprise. Then again, he’s still in the NHL as a 4th line centre, so he’s at least carved out a role for himself. Grant was just under a point per game player at Michigan State, similar to what Pinto is doing right now at UND. Although Pinto would be ranked lower in the Senators system right now than Grant was in 2011, I’d give the slight edge to Pinto because the excitement around him seems to be growing by the day. Grant was always a prospect to keep an eye on, but he was probably just below Pinto in terms of excitement. If Pinto turned into a 4th liner, that would be quite the letdown.

9. Matt Puempel

Current prospect comparable: Lassi Thomson

NHL role: Bust

Edge: 2020

Listen...I know they’re not the same position. But there was no winger that matched up with Puempel at all (Järventie is used later on), and Thomson wasn’t going to be anybody’s comparable, so it makes sense to put these two together since Puempel was taken 24th overall and Thomson was taken 19th. Prospect value-wise, these two would’ve been pretty similar, but I gave the slight edge to Thomson here. Although they are different positions, it’s ironic that they are both known for their wicked shots but needing refinement in other areas—hopefully that’s not a sign of things to come for Lassi.

10. Robin Lehner

Current prospect comparable: Joey Daccord

NHL role: Starting goaltender

2011 or 2020: 2011

I like Daccord as a prospect, but he doesn’t come close to how highly rated Lehner was at the time—no current Senators goalie prospect is on that level. Lehner struggled to assert himself despite showing flashes of brilliance, but he has been one of the better goaltenders in the league over the past few seasons. If Daccord becomes ~85% of what Lehner is, that is a win for the Senators. At the same time, the 2011 system is clearly better in this example.

Of course, there were other prospects outside of the top 10 that made it to the NHL, and I wanted to quickly mention those players as well:

Comparisons Outside the Top 10

2011 Role 2020 Comparison 2011 or 2020?
2011 Role 2020 Comparison 2011 or 2020?
Mark Stone 1st line winger Roby Järventie 2020
Mike Hoffman Top-6 scorer Alex Formenton 2020
JG Pageau 3rd line centre Philippe Daoust 2011
Stefan Noesen 4th line winger Ridly Greig Tie
Ryan Dzingel Middle-6 winger Angus Crookshank Tie
Chris Wideman Depth defenseman Jonny Tychonick 2011
Eric Gryba Depth defenseman Tyler Kleven 2011

Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and JG Pageau weren’t actually ranked that high in 2011, it was a year or two later when their stock finally started to rise, so the 2020 crop edges them out there (except for Pageau). Mark Borowiecki also became an NHLer and others such as Freddy Claesson, Kaspars Daugavins, Jim O’Brien, and Shane Prince played some time in the league, but there were no legitimate comparisons for them.

2011 has a slight edge in the table above, and Stone and Hoffman would undoubtedly increase that lead in the years to come by improving their stocks. The interesting thing is that there has been no good comparison for Josh Norris, so adding him is a huge boost for the 2020 group. Furthermore, I also have not mentioned Kevin Mandolese, Filip Gustavsson, Mads Søgaard, or Leevi Merilainen, as Ottawa’s goalie prospects used to be very limited.

In the end, how does 2011 compare to 2020 then?

Out of the top 10 prospects, just four of them remain in the NHL, with three of them (Lehner, Silfverberg, and Zibanejad) actually being impact players. Despite that, I gave 2011 a higher value in 4.5 out of the 10, so almost an even split between the two years. Luckily for Ottawa, nine total former prospects are still in the NHL, with Stone, Hoffman, and Pageau also being impact players. Overall, 2011 still produced a bunch of NHL talent—but not necessarily where you’d expect.

Let’s break it down by each NHL role that they ended up with:

  • 1st line winger
  • 1st line centre
  • Starting goaltender
  • Top-6 winger
  • Top-6 winger
  • Middle-6 winger
  • 3rd line centre
  • 4th line centre
  • 4th line winger
  • 3rd pairing defenseman
  • A bevy of depth defensemen and forward “tweeners”

The 2011 group has some solid players (especially at forward), although they weren’t even able to fully enjoy Zibanejad, Stone, and Lehner at their peaks, making it look worse than it should have been. Plus it’s hard to ignore very highly-rated players such as Rundblad, Cowen, Puempel, Da Costa, and Filatov who simply amounted to nothing. It’s not as if they got nothing out of this group, but expectations were sky-high—that they were going to make the Senators into contenders.

2020 had the slight edge in the top 10 with 5.5/10 comparisons going in their favour, plus they have Josh Norris and four goaltending prospects on the sidelines, so they might be slightly ahead here. However, the table with the other NHLers sided with 2011 and even more so after factoring in Stone and Hoffman’s development, so these two years might be close. Anecdotally, I would probably side with 2020 because it seems to have more depth. They could be better this time around, and one would certainly hope so.

But at the same time, this exercise should show us that although so many of these players seem like sure things to be not only NHLers but quality NHLers, it frequently doesn’t work out like that. We love to pencil in Stuetzle, Formenton, Batherson, Sanderson, Daccord, etc. into the lineup, but the reality is that players will falter.

Fans of course don’t want to believe this because it’s fun to hope and have dreams! Of course it is. Just be wary of expecting all of these top prospects to pan out though, because even the best farm systems don’t get all of their top players through.

Let’s hope that this current group is better than the last because the last great farm system in Ottawa produced a few very good players but it didn’t get them where they needed to be.