Top 25 under 25, no. 20: Patrick Wiercioch
The next big name in the Ottawa Senators prospect cupboard is defenceman Patrick Wiercioch, drafted in the second round (42 overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
For a time, Wiercioch was one of the most highly-touted prospects in the system after Erik Karlsson, as he was billed as a puck-moving defenceman with good size and mobility. He remains a mobile puck-mover, but so far he's had a hard time transitioning his junior- and college-level success to the professional ranks. A scary throat injury didn't do anything to help Wiercioch's development this season, but his development continues and he's built on his tough start from last season.
Wiercioch joined the BCHL as a 16-year-old, putting up good points in his only season before jumping to the USHL--the top junior hockey league in the USA--in 2007-09 and, once again, putting up decent (if unspectacular) regular-season point totals (3G, 18A in 40GP). In the 2007-08 USHL playoffs, though, Wiercioch stepped up with 11P (2G, 9A) in 14GP to help his team, the Omaha Lancers, win the USHL title. That season, and especially those playoffs, is probably what got him noticed by pro scouts, and likely what drove the Senators to pick him in the second round.
After just one USHL season, Wiercioch went to play in the WCHA with the University of Denver, and had a tremendous freshman year by scoring 35P (12G, 23A) in just 36GP. He stepped back offensively in his sophomore season, notching just 27P (6G, 21A) in 39GP, but he was named to the WCHA first all-star team. After just two seasons with Denver, Wiercioch left college to start his pro career with the Binghamton Senators.
Wiercioch's rookie season wasn't a great one, although he came on strong in the second half. In 2010-11, he scored just 18P (4G, 14A) in 67 regular-season GP (he also had two assists in 8GP with Ottawa). On the B-Sens' Cinderella run to the Calder Cup Championship, Wiercioch's played just 15 of the 23 playoff games, and scored just one assist.
Wiercioch's junior career has been smattered with accolades and success, including a USHL championship and an AHL championship. However, personally, Wiercioch's had a hard time so far adapting to the pro game--and that one serious throat injury sure didn't help him out. He's steadily moved down the Senators' depth chart, and has been passed by other prospects, including Mark Borowiecki and newcomer Matt Gilroy.
Wiercioch, however, is still just 21 years old, and defencemen traditionally take some time to get used to playing pro hockey. He's a tall player at 6'4", and he weighs in at just under 200 pounds these days--very good size for a mobile defender. If he can work on making decisions fast enough to stay ahead of opposition players in the NHL, he could hearken back to Wade Redden during his glory days; if his development falters, though, Wiercioch might resemble someone like Brian Lee or Alexandre Picard instead.