During the intermission panel of last night's game Bryan Mudryk asked the panel an interesting question about which Sens youngster would be the most important to the team in three years. It was an intriguing question and the panelist had a variety of answers. I thought we could revisit the question with some modifications.
The question I want us to consider is which youngster will be the most important to the Sens chances next season? Things to consider: age, NHL experience, position, and point production.
Mark Stone (66 GP, 17 G, 28 A, 45 P)
After bouncing around the lineup for the first part of the season, Stone has found a place on Kyle Turris' wing and as a possession driver. The 22-year-old has had a great 2015 with 28 points since January 1st heading into last night's game. He's also one of the most complete forwards the Senators have, and his takeaway ability has started to attract attention. He has 75 takeaways, good for third in the NHL behind only Ryan O'Reilly and John Tavares. He's nearing the century mark for NHL games played (he's currently at 90) but you forget how young he is because his career path has closely followed that of the older Mike Hoffman.
Mika Zibanejad (66 GP, 17 G, 21 A, 38 P)
Like Stone, the 21-year-old also bounced around the lineup under Paul MacLean but was put on a line with Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman, putting up 33 points since the start of that month. He's looked more and more comfortable as a top line pivot, and is a big reason why his line is often the best on the ice for the Sens. He's played almost 200 games at the NHL level (187) over the course of four seasons, which often leads fans to forget just how young he is.
Curtis Lazar (53 GP, 3 G, 6 A, 9 P)
No longer a teenager (he turned 20 at the start of February), the NHL rookie has defied the odds and stayed in the NHL the entire season, minus a World Junior sabbatical. He captain Canada to a World Junior gold medal, and is often lauded for his leadership and positive attitude. However, producing at the NHL level has been harder for Lazar, and has just three goals and nine points in 53 NHL games.
Cody Ceci (67 GP, 5 G, 14 A, 19 P)
It's been a tough year for the 21-year-old blueliner. The injury to Marc Methot forced Ceci into a bigger role than he could handle for much of the season. To make matters worse, he was paired with Jared Cowen for long stretches and the duo looked awful on good nights. He's past the century mark for games played in the NHL (117). For much of the past month he's been playing with Patrick Wiercioch and has looked better. Defensemen typically take longer to develop and it's possible that next season, his third season in the big leagues, Ceci turns a corner.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (36 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 11 P)
Since being called up in mid-December, Pageau has helped stabilize Ottawa's bottom-six. As much as Andrew Hammond deserves full credit for Ottawa's surge back into playoff contention, Pageau's line, comprised of Pageau, Erik Condra, and Lazar, has been the Sens best lines on many nights. He has just four goals and 11 points in 36 games, but his chemistry with Condra in particular has helped get the veteran player going point-wise and helped create a third line that's very difficult and tiring to play against. He's helped improved Ottawa's chances on the draw and is currently the team's best faceoff man at 50%. He's played 74 NHL games over the course of three season.
Which young player will be the most important to Ottawa's success in 2015-16?