Top 25 Under 25, #4: Cody Ceci
Ceci holds steady at number four on this year's list.
Cody Ceci has had a very interesting career path so far. He was drafted 15th-overall in 2012 by the Senators, and for a team that values local players, he's far and away the most local player in the team's history. He was born in Ottawa, grew up in Ottawa, and played major junior hockey for the Ottawa 67s until a trade midway through his final OHL season. Not many expected Ceci to fall all the way to the Sens at 15th in that draft, and his promise coupled with the local aspect was definitely a huge PR boost.
Ceci was off to a decent start for the B-Sens in 2013-14 when a bout of the flu hit Marc Methot, and suddenly he was pressed into NHL action. No one could've quite been ready for what came next. In only his third NHL game, this happened:
As if the kid needed more press. Suddenly people had dreams of a player who was NHL ready now. Such poise, such patience. Maybe the next Erik Karlsson was waiting in the wings. His offence cooled off to only 9 points in 49 games that year, but respectable possession stats had most people confident in this young defenceman.
Ceci came into training camp in 2014 without a guaranteed spot due to his two-way contract, because there were seven defencemen on one-way contracts. Still, he managed to impress in training camp enough to get a spot. His right-handedness may have played a role, as well as Methot's early season injury, but he managed to find his way into 81 games last season. Of the defencemen, only Karlsson found his way into all 82.
Early in the season, many were worried as his possession stats disappointed. As it turned out, being paired with Jared Cowen may have been the biggest reason for that. During the infamous run, Ceci was paired with Patrick Wiercioch, and the two formed Ottawa's most reliable second pairing of the season. The two put up a Corsi percentage of 53.4% at 5v5 in 400 minutes, meaning Ottawa got the majority of the total shot attempts when the two were on the ice together. It looks like Wiercioch was the driver on that pairing, since Ceci's number dropped away from Wiercioch, while Wiercioch's actually went up without Ceci. The two also benefited from some favourable zone starts, since most of the defensive starts were mopped up by Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba during the run. Still, the ability to play above-average second-pairing defence as a 21-year-old should not be discounted. Ceci looked a little shaky in the playoffs, especially in his first game, but some jitters are to be expected for a young player in his first career NHL playoff games.
Though Ceci is only entering the final year of his ELC, there are no questions this year about whether he will be returned to Binghamton. His place with the big club is cemented. There are many positives about his future. He has draft pedigree. He has shown development in his short stay with the team. He has shown the ability to play well when put with a competent partner. He has consistently played well enough to prevent the team from sending him down despite his waiver eligibility. He has shown flashes of offensive capability. What is desired for this year is to see him continue to grow into a top-four role. To continue to grow in his offensive ability. To become a regular contributor on the PP and the PK.
There are two incentives for Ceci to have a big year. First, he needs a new contract at the end of 2015-16. Based on this past offseason's RFAs, he's likely to get a bridge contract. His play will determine what kind of money he's looking at in that contract. And second, a top-three spot in the Top 25 Under 25 is opening up next year. He has a real chance to move up, provided he can hold off players like Curtis Lazar and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.