Top 25 Under 25, #3: Patrick Wiercioch
Despite being a healthy scratch for large portions of Paul MacLean's reign of terror, Patrick Wiercioch moves up to #3.
Since Dave Cameron took over as head coach, the Ottawa Senators outshot their opposition, won more games than they lost and vaulted into the playoffs. Since Dave Cameron took over as head coach, Marc Methot and Patrick Wiercioch both returned to the lineup while Chris Neil and Zack Smith were out injured. There was also the small matter of the historic run by Andrew Hammond and Mark Stone scoring like he is Alexander Ovechkin. There was no one reason for the Ottawa Senators turnaround but it is hard to argue with the fact that the team played a lot better when Patrick Wiercioch was on the ice.
Having firmly established himself on the second pairing for the end of the season and the playoffs, Wiercioch is going into the final year of the three-year deal that he signed before the start of the 2013-2014 season. At the moment he is at least the team's third best defenceman and one could make a decent argument that only Erik Karlsson is better than him.
Right now, his only competition for the second pairing on the left side are Chris Phillips, Mark Borowiecki and Jared Cowen. Phillips is going to struggle to get into the lineup at all, Borowiecki is a bottom pairing player on the best of nights. Cowen has had a nightmare over the last couple of years although the club does still have some hope for him. Nevertheless, he is likely to start the season below Wiercioch on the depth chart. So things appear to have cleared up a little bit for Wiercioch and if Cody Ceci can improve on last year, Ottawa could actually have a very good top four on defence. That would be in large part to Wiercioch's ability to carry the second pairing that no one else has been able to do so far.
Wiercioch's revival with the Senators culminated with a strong playoff performance and a gold medal for Canada at the World Championships. He isn't always appreciated by the fanbase due to the fact that he is neither physical nor a fast skater, but he is a very good passer of the puck and makes excellent decisions. When paired with Karlsson on the top pairing, the two have been absolutely dominant and are the best option for the Senators when trailing.
Before the start of the season, Wiercioch is going to be 25, thus he will be 26 before he plays his next game on his new contract. If he can be a regular in the lineup and with the lack of any alternatives, he just might get a long term contract with the Senators next season. This would be quite the turnaround after he was almost traded for nothing at the deadline earlier this year. I for one would welcome his presence for many more years.