Reasons for Optimism: The Rookies

The struggles of this decade's Ottawa Senators and the consequent Senate Reform have accomplished one thing, at least: It's allowed management to re-stock the prospect cupboard. We'll soon be seeing more of those kids stepping into bigger roles in the NHL.

Ottawa Senators fans have dealt with more highs than lows since the team's historic 2007 Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Things looked peachy to start the next season, but declined precipitously and simply haven't been the same since.

But on the bright side, Ottawa's prospect pool today looks much better than it did in 2007--back then, the group was headlined by Josh Hennessy and Alexei Kaigorodov. Today, the names come with a bit more hype and a lot more pedigree. So let's take a look at a few of the potential rookies who could suit up for the Senators this upcoming season and hope (pray?) their development proceeds as well as we all expect it could.

Curtis Lazar

The darling of Ottawa Senators fans, Lazar was already hyped before leading his team to the WHL and Memorial League championships. Things are getting a little ridiculous now, but there's no denying that Lazar is a tremendous prospect for the Sens heading into this season. With two or three of Ottawa's top-six forwards likely leaving this off-season, there's an opening for Lazar to jump in to--whether he plays his natural position at centre or moves to the wing remains to be seen. Still, I expect Lazar will at least play a few games with Ottawa before the team makes their decision on whether or not to send him back to junior.

Mark Stone

Although it might be surprising to hear, Mark Stone will still technically be considered a rookie heading into this season. A few people were down on his game heading into the 2013-14 season, but his great work filling in for Bobby Ryan late in the year really had people talking about his future with the team. It would seem that a spot in the team's forward group is Stone's to lose at this point; depending on how this year's off-season moves shake up, he could be back in the top six. Whatever the case, Stone has NHL-calibre vision and strength--we'll see if he can turn that into consistent, reliable offensive production.

Matt Puempel

Although Puempel's development has had some setbacks due to injuries, he played a near-full season for the Binghamton Senators last year, leading them in goal scoring through the regular season in his first year pro. His offence was heavily concentrated to the second half of the season, as well, indicating the possibility that his first half was mostly him getting comfortable in his new surroundings. Unfortunately, Puempel was injured in the first game of the AHL playoffs (not sure what the extent of it was; reports aren't clear), but he will have an opportunity in training camp to make an impression with the Senators as long as he's back to full health.

Shane Prince

Fans in Ottawa got the chance to watch Shane Prince while he played for the OHL's Ottawa 67s, where his goal-scoring prowess nearly had people going out to buy Sens jerseys with PRINCE on the back. His development in the AHL has been steady and his point totals last season were good (he was third on the BSens in goals and tied for fourth on the team in points), so the question is whether he's ready to make the jump to the NHL this year. Ottawa's left side is definitely desperate for a goal-scorer, but Prince might not be ready for that just yet--although I expect we'll see him make his NHL debut at some point in the 2013-14 season.

Corey Cowick

Although Cowick isn't flashy like the guys above him in this list, he's the type of player who will always have a roster spot on a Bryan Murray-managed hockey team. After four pro seasons between the ECHL and AHL, Cowick's on the verge of joining Ottawa as a physical, speedy fourth-liner modelled after the New York Islanders' Matt Martin--a guy with the edge that the Senators want Colin Greening to incorporate into his game. Cowick may not take the next step right off the bat, but once he gets a chance I expect the energy he brings to the table will quickly impress Paul MacLean.

Add to this group young players like Mika Zibanejad, Cody Ceci, Mike Hoffman, Robin Lehner, Jared Cowen, and even Erik Karlsson (who's the same age as some of this year's rookie crop) and the emergent core of this team is readily apparent. A number of them played together for the Binghamton Senators' storied 2011 Calder Cup run, and most of them know each other very well. A few of these rookie candidates will gain some more experience this season, and we'll get a better idea of just how well this developing cohort meshes together.

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