Top 25 Under 25, #5: Cody Ceci

Ceci moves down two spots after a disappointing season

No. 5: Cody Ceci (Reader Rank: 4, Last Year: 3)

At only 23 years old, Cody Ceci is already going into his fifth season with the Ottawa Senators (or fourth full season, if you don’t want to count the 49 games he played in 2013-14). For most young athletes, this would be an excellent sign: it’s rare for players, especially defensemen, to make the NHL at such a young age. The fact that Ceci has already spent so much time with the Sens must mean that he’s proven to management that he has the maturity and the skills to compete with men, right?

Unfortunately, 2017-18 has the feeling of a make-or-break season for Ceci. After he underperformed yet again in 2016-17 despite ranking 2nd on the team in TOI behind only Erik Karlsson, many fans have started to question the confidence management clearly has in the young defenseman.

Ceci might be the most controversial player on the Ottawa Senators right now, and it’s not hard to see why. He grew up in Orleans, cheering on the Sens, which makes for a great story. He played for the OHL’s Ottawa 67s, meaning a lot of Sens fans knew who he was even before he was drafted. He’s also a 15th-overall draft pick. As a result, people really, really want him to succeed.

The problem is that Cody Ceci has not had much individual success over the last few seasons. Anyone who watched him in the OHL would describe him as a speedy, offensively-inclined defenseman. However, he only managed to rack up 17 points and 143 shots this season, which is worse than partner Dion Phaneuf (30 points, 156 shots) and hardly any better than Chris Wideman (17 points, 123 shots), who received significantly less ice time. Previous seasons tell the same story: in 2013-14, he managed only 9 points in 49 games; in 2014-15 he had 21 points in 81 games; in 2015-16, he had 26 points in 75 games. Those stats aren’t bad for a defenseman, but they are definitely not the stats of a so-called “offensive defenseman.”

So if Cody Ceci isn’t exactly an offensive defenseman, then what is he? Well, he’s definitely not a defensive one.

If Ceci’s offensive stats are underwhelming but passable, his defensive stats are inexcusable.  As Ross pointed out in an earlier piece about Ceci, he had only 45.7% of the 5v5 shot attempts last season, which is a step up from 2015-16, when he had only 44.6%. Not to mention that just watching him play can be an exceptionally frustrating experience: he struggles to clear the net, his gap control is bad, and though he does come up with the puck fairly often in battles along the boards, he never knows what to do with it. He’ll hesitate, protect the puck for a bit, maybe pass it off the boards to himself a few times, then sloppily send it to a teammate in the hopes that they’ll know what to do.

Basically, Ceci can generate some offence, but not nearly enough to justify his shortcomings on defense. That means that, most of the time, he’s more of a liability than an asset.

There are plenty of possible explanations for Ceci’s struggles in the NHL. Maybe his skills just don’t translate well to the big leagues. Maybe he’s been saddled with mediocre partners that don’t compliment his particular skillset. Maybe he was rushed into the NHL and never quite gained the confidence he had in junior. Or maybe he’s still finding his feet and one day he’ll blossom into a perfectly serviceable defenseman.

Whatever the explanation, and whatever your personal opinions might be about Ceci, it’s hard to justify the huge leash he’s been given. As I mentioned above, he’s seeing more ice than any other Sens player not named Erik Karlsson. He’s also getting really tough matchups, often in high-pressure situations. The Sens even decided to protect him in the expansion draft instead of Marc Methot, meaning that they clearly expect him to pan out.

Ceci has become a bit of a whipping boy in the Sens fanbase, but that’s largely due to the frustrating way in which he’s been deployed. He’s logging minutes he clearly can’t handle while more promising prospects such as Chris Wideman and Freddy Claesson are being relegated to the press box, and nobody in the Sens organization seems to realize what a liability he is on the ice. Considering the multitude of reasons why the organization might be biased toward Ceci (local kid, 67s history, draft position, etc), it’s easy to be frustrated that he’s getting so many opportunities to succeed when they are clearly not panning out.

Whether or not Cody Ceci has it in him to become a serviceable NHL defenseman, it’s clear that what the Sens are doing with him right now is not working. He can’t handle the amount of responsibility he’s being given, and he has not yet proven that he’s a better player than the guys who are being scratched in his stead.

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