Top 25 Under 25, no. 12: Stephane Da Costa
When Stephane Da Costa was signed as a free agent by Ottawa a few summers ago, he seemed like a potential solution to Ottawa's then-longstanding need for a second-line centreman. Since then, the Sens have gone out and acquired a bunch of other young pivots, so it remains to be seen where Da Cost
The timing of this is pretty good: Just as Stephane Da Costa comes up as the twelfth-ranked player under 25 in the Senators' system, he's recalled to Ottawa from the Binghamton Senators (according to the usually-reliable @SensProspects) to join the team for what will be his best opportunity to date to show what he can do at the NHL level.
Stéphane Da Costa
#24 / Center / Ottawa Senators
July 11, 1989 (Age 23)
Da Costa has fallen four spots in our rankings since last season, in part because of less-than-expected production levels in the AHL and also because other young centremen (Zack Smith, Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad) have severely lowered his chances of making much of an impact in the NHL (at least with Ottawa). But the injury to Jason Spezza and the uninspired response to that by Peter Regin pushed Ottawa to bring up Da Costa, so he's going to get a good chance soon.
Despite the fact that Da Costa was technically the leading scorer on Binghamton's active roster before being called up to Ottawa, his season started really slowly. Injuries restricted him to five games in the first two months, but he returned in a big way: For his first game back on Dec. 2, Da Costa scored a hat trick and added an assist in Bingo's 5-2 win over Syracuse. Including that four-point effort, Da Costa has 23P (9G, 14A) in his last 26GP. It's a marked improvement over last season, which certainly bodes well as he heads to Ottawa.
A few big questions remain about Da Costa, most pressing of which being whether his size is an issue. But seeing a guy like Cory Conacher--who's the same age as Da Costa and a fair bit smaller--have so much success in Tampa Bay, the "undersized" argument won't hold much water, even if it does present a challenge for Da Costa to overcome.
More importantly, though, is whether or not Da Costa is able to process developing plays quickly enough to become a playmaker at the NHL level. That's the trick with Da Costa; his hockey IQ is extremely high, and he's got outstanding set-up abilities. But he needs to be able to speed up his vision even more at the NHL level, and, aside from fleeting moments, he wasn't there last season. Something that will likely work in his favour is the fact that he'll be surrounded by former B-Sens teammates with whom he should feel comfortable playing. That on-ice rapport may mean he can hit the ground running whenever he makes his season debut.
But this report has probably spent too much time talking about short-term opportunities for Da Costa, and not enough about his long-term prospects of becoming a regular NHL player. It won't be easy. It's unlikely he'll be able to switch from centre to the wing, because playmakers are usually pivots (for good reason). If he's going to stick to centre, though, Da Costa will have to get stronger and a lot better in the faceoff circle; he won only 65 of 177 draws taken in the NHL last season (I don't think AHL numbers are recorded, so I'm not sure if that's improved this year). That added strength would also benefit Da Costa in board battles and when supporting his blueliners in the defensive zone.
Really, Da Costa isn't far from the NHL. He does have the raw ingredients that could set him up for a respectable career, even. But even his above-average playmaking skills aren't good enough to do it on their own; Da Costa will need to round out his game and become more of a two-way threat in order to make the NHL and stick around.