After a Brief Lull, Ottawa's Farm System is Re-Stocked
Two years ago the Senators farm system was in dire straits. Now they have themselves a good group of prospects once again after these last two drafts.
Between about 2008 and 2013, the Ottawa Senators farm system had been consistently lauded as a top-notch group. At its peak the organization had blue chippers like David Rundblad, Jared Cowen, Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Wiercioch, Robin Lehner, Mark Stone, Stephane Da Costa, Matt Puempel, and Stefan Noesen. Not only that, they had some "lesser" prospects at the time such as Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Shane Prince, Erik Condra, and Colin Greening. It was pretty clear that the Senators were going through a youth movement and that their rebuild was going well.
Back in the fall of 2011, here's what Hockey's Future had to say on the league's 2nd best system:
"The Senators have top-end talent at every forward position, headlined by wingers Matt Puempel and Stefan Noesen, and center Mika Zibanejad. The organization possesses one of the best one-two punches on defense in physical stalwart Jared Cowen and puck-mover David Rundlad. There are also a deep group of players who can fill a variety of roles and provide depth at the NHL level including Stephane Da Costa, Jim O'Brien, and Bobby Butler."
Every publication was very bullish on the Senators future, as they had prospects at each position. The funny thing is, the only "weakness" Hockey's Future listed was the fact that they didn't have prospect goalie depth beyond Lehner, and that with Bobby Butler and Colin Greening graduating they would have a few holes to fill. That doesn't sound like a system that had a whole lot of problems.
Since their high point of 2011, many of their prospects have graduated. Rundblad, Cowen, Zibanejad, Silfverberg, Stone, Hoffman, Wiercioch, Lehner, Da Costa, Puempel, Prince, Condra, Greening, Butler, and Noesen (as well as a few other draftees) have all played games in the NHL, which is absolutely astounding.
Zibanejad, Stone, Hoffman and Pageau are likely the only players who will make an impact with the team moving forward, but the fact that this group produced four quality NHLers for Ottawa and four other regulars who are elsewhere (Condra, Silfverberg, Lehner, and I'm assuming Wiercioch) is a true testament to the scouting that the Senators did in the drafts between 2008 and 2011.
However, after many of these players graduated or got traded, Ottawa's system was stripped quite bare. It's not as if the Senators had no young contributors on their team, in fact it was quite the opposite. But once all their prospects got there, there was essentially nobody to replace them in the pipeline.
The 2011 draft has been magnificent for the team which gave them Zibanejad, Pageau, Fredrik Claesson, Ryan Dzingel, Max McCormick, and even Puempel and Prince. But 2012 looks like a huge disappointment as Cody Ceci is the only big name there (who still has to prove himself), with Chris Driedger having a bit of potential left in him. The 2013 draft was similar in that they got an NHLer in Curtis Lazar, although he hasn't been a difference maker so far. The only other notables were Tobias Lindberg (who was traded) and Marcus Hogberg.
So by the end of the 2013-14 season, Ottawa's system was barren, and it didn't help that they traded away the 10th overall pick in the Bobby Ryan trade. It was a perfect storm for Ottawa's farm system to go down the tubes since all their prospects were graduating, but they weren't getting much progression from their other draft picks. Obviously if the NHL team is doing great, then having sub-par prospects isn't something to worry about.
However, it was clear that the team had stagnated after missing the playoffs in 2014, and there weren't any players we could point to and say "just wait until player x comes in." We had been waiting for the prospects to arrive, and all of them had come. Just two short years ago the system was as bad as it's been since Bryan Murray had taken over. Their top-5 prospects at the time were Nick Paul, Chris Wideman, Fredrik Claesson, Shane Prince, and Matt Puempel. No offense to those players, but I don't think any of them will be big impact players. NHLers most likely, but they aren't at the top of prospect lists.
Luckily for the Senators, it looks like they have rebounded and re-stocked the farm. The 2015 draft gave them two legitimate top prospects in Colin White and Thomas Chabot, and they are looking like better picks after each game they play. Forwards like Gabriel Gagne, Filip Chlapik, and Filip Ahl are more lottery picks, but they're good prospects to have in the 8-10 range.
From the 2014 draft, Francis Perron has emerged as a potential NHL sniper, and Andreas Englund could be an injury or two away from making his NHL debut. Now the 2016 draft has brought in some fresh faces like Logan Brown, Max Lajoie, and Jonathan Dahlen, and all of a sudden there is some life in the organization.
I don't think Ottawa's group of prospects is anything amazing, but their top-3 of Colin White, Thomas Chabot, and Logan Brown has to be up their as one of the best (considering White and Chabot were ranked 15th and 38th respectively for The Hockey News). As a whole, I would think they are about middle of the pack, since Hockey's Future put them at 21 in the fall.
This group does not come close to stacking up against the group the Senators had after the 2011 draft, but I can actually picture some of these prospects making an impact with the team either this year, or a year or two from now. I could not have said that at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Take a look at how I see their top-10 prospects:
1. Colin White
2. Thomas Chabot
3. Logan Brown
4. Francis Perron
5. Andreas Englund
6. Jonathan Dahlen
7. Filip Chlapik
8. Marcus Hogberg
9. Max Lajoie
10. Gabriel Gagne
There are certainly better top-10 lists out there, but I am totally fine with this group. I like that there is some optimism again with the prospects, and we should be seeing guys like Perron, Englund, Chabot, and White relatively soon.
Every organization will go through a lull in prospects. It seems like Ottawa has gotten out of it.