If you worked your way through the Senators' roster, assessing and evaluating without a shred of mercy whether each player was skyrocketing over their potential, reaching it or failing to meet the requirements, you might come to the following conclusion.
Of the three categories, "fails to meet expectations" and "meets expectations" would likely be the most checked boxes.
A player like Alex Chiasson - who is essentially a third liner also racking up a decent amount of power play time - would be in the bottom tier, having only recorded 5 points in 38 games. And a player like Kyle Turris - a first line centre playing 20 minutes a night - would be deemed rather adequate, carting 13 goals and 15 assists in 38 games, as well.
Then there's the final group of those who have reached high above expectations halfway through the season.
It may include Erik Karlsson. Although, he has won two Norris Trophies, so no one really is surprised with the 25-year-old's spectacular campaign so far. The group also might include Craig Anderson. But then again, though he has kept Ottawa in many games and single-handedly won a few despite the team allowing a league-worst 1282 shots, Anderson's save percentage (21st in the NHL at .917) is only 2 points ahead of his career average of .915.
You might also argue that Bobby Ryan has exceeded expectations with 33 points in 37 games, but the only counter needed is the fact that he makes a team-high $7.25 million. Ryan is playing great, but those numbers seem to merely matchup with his paycheck.
No, the only player that is truly over-performing is Shane Prince.
But how on earth would you know at first glance?
With a team-high of 14 games spent in the press box, Prince has been a healthy scratch far more often than any other regular in the lineup. He also only has 10 points in 24 games, making it hard to believe that the Rochester native has earned the honour of the Senators' biggest overachiever.
In hindsight, it may seem strange going to bat for a player who was once scratched five consecutive times in favour of Mark Borowiecki as a forward, but before you realize how good Prince has been, you need to understand how much he's been held back by his coach.
Excluding the amount of games the 23-year-old has had to watch with a bird's eye view, when Prince does find his way onto the ice, he's only played in a small number of favourable situations.
Of the many areas Dave Cameron refuses to play him in, the top six and power play seem to be the most baffling.
With Milan Michalek and Clarke MacArthur injured - not to mention Curtis Lazar was missing for the week prior to Thursday - the forward corps and the man advantage is already damaged. What's even more detrimental to the offense has been Cameron's decision to deploy Zack Smith - who has zero even strength points in his last 14 games - on the first line with Turris and Mark Stone, and on the power play's first unit.
All this has left Prince, an arguable top-six talent, on the fourth line and off both power play units. Max McCormick actually records more time on the man advantage with 10 seconds per game to Prince's nine.
But even with the weight of the coach's disapproval and suboptimal linemates, Prince has found a way to be overwhelmingly effective and productive.
At even strength, Mike Hoffman is the only Senator outproducing Prince.
But it's not just point totals and offensive prowess. While Prince has been called out for his supposed poor play in his own end, he currently has the best possession numbers on the entire team (minimum 100 minutes played). He leads in Corsi, Fenwick and shots for, and that's where he's been most helpful to the fourth line.
With 91 total minutes played together, Chris Neil is Prince's most consistent linemate. And it's clear to see who is benefitting from who here.
While admitting that Neil has been serviceable on his own this season, it's obvious that Prince is the one stabilizing and igniting the fourth line. It's odd watching the two work together so well, seeing as they are complete opposite players, but it is, without any doubt, better than having Prince sitting out.
Maybe there's a problem behind the scenes or maybe Cameron disapproves of Prince's work ethic in practice, who knows. It certainly can't be his performance so far, because we've established that he's much more valuable to the team than a handful of others.
Whatever the problem is, it's holding the Senators back from an optimal lineup and strong deployment.
What's the worst that could happen from giving an over-performing player more of an opportunity?
With the current roster, where do you think Shane Prince is best suited?
|First line with Turris and Stone.||133|
|Second line with Zibanejad and Ryan.||200|
|Third line with Pageau and Chiasson.||65|
|Fourth line with Neil and Lazar.||15|
|In the press box.||21|
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