Top 25 Under 25, no. 4: Cody Ceci
The rookie D makes a jump from 9th to 4th on our list thanks to a strong debut season.
There's always something special about a hometown kid making his NHL debut. And maybe it's just a little bit more special when that player also played most of his junior years in that same city, and the debut happens on home ice. And just to put some icing on it, he's the first player to have grown up a Sens fan purely after the modern franchise hit the ice (though Boro is probably too young to remember the pre-Sens era).
It's your turn now @Cecer_83 . Dreams really do come true! #TBT #Sens #10yearsago pic.twitter.com/OZWxFZuGT2— Karen Sylvester-Ceci (@67sHockeyMom) December 12, 2013
That was the situation when Cody Ceci stepped on to the ice last December against the Buffalo Sabres in place of the ailing Marc Methot. Rather than ease him in, he led the team in ice time during the first, and was on the ice during an all-important late penalty kill in a one goal game.
By all accounts he had a solid game in his debut, but most figured he would be back to riding the bus as soon as Methot was healthy again. But that flu held on, and then this happened...
Oh, what a goal. It was only his third NHL game, but he showed veteran patience on that play to make it happen. He wasn't going to make it easy to send him back to Bingo. Hey, there were still 6 more games to go before they'd have to decide if it was worth burning a year of his ELC or not though.
Maybe it was luck, maybe it was fate - right when it was time to start making that decision, Chris Phillips got injured. Ceci wasn't going anywhere. He finished the season with 3 goals (including the Heritage Classic winner) and 6 assists in 49 games, but with respectably positive possession numbers.
While he did slow down somewhat after the Olympic break, his performance was good enough to net him the second highest average grade among defenders in our annual report cards, and the only one of the bunch other than Karlsson to get graded above a B+ by any of our writers.
Despite all of that, Ceci enters camp without a guaranteed spot on the roster this year. The sheer number of one way contracts on the blue line means that he is going to have to show that he's not just the better option, but the better option by quite a bit.
On top of the competition, there's also the risk of the sophomore slump. Between the two, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ceci riding the bus with the BSens for at least part of the season. That wouldn't be terrible for his development - he's young and can benefit from the increased ice time and responsibility he would be getting under Richardson - though I'm sure we would miss him on the blue line in Ottawa during that time.
One thing that was missing from his NHL game last season was the point production that he showed in the OHL, and to a lesser extent in the AHL. He was close to a point per game in his last two seasons of junior, and a little over two points every three games in his partial AHL season.
Even if he does spend some time in the AHL this season, rest assured it will be temporary. He showed last year that his place in the future is definitely with the NHL. For the sake of the Senators blue line, let's hope the future is now.