The media was abuzz this week with the news that Nikita Filatov was apparently promised top 6 minutes and power play time by Senators GM Bryan Murray heading into the new season. If this is indeed true, the question begs where will he find his niche. The greater question in my mind is who gets the plum assignment of playing on Jason Spezza‘s wings?
The first obvious choice would be the Captain, Daniel Alfredsson. If healthy Alfie is easily the best right winger on this team, definitely the one with the most scoring ability. Gone are the days of the prowess of Spezza, Alfie and the other guy. In those days the arguement could be made that they should spread the offense around and break up the big three. The Senators will not have enough offensive punch to have that luxury this season. Keeping Spezza and Alfredsson together makes too much sense. So who gets to patrol the left side? There are two leading contenders, in my opinion:
Nikita Filatov shows probably the most upside in terms of potential. He has the speed and offensive instincts to play a top line role, and he will likely be given the opportunity early in the season. Meanwhile, Bobby Butler is a sniper who plays like the former Senator who manned the left side during the golden years. He is not the swiftest skater, but seems to be able to find the open areas and he knows what to do with the puck on his stick.
In my mind, the line of Butler-Spezza-Alfredsson provides the best opportunity for offensive punch. I look at Butler as a poor man’s Heatley, who should be able to get 30 goals with his skill if he plays with Spezza all year. Butler is less likely than Filatov to be able to create his own opportunities, and he will rely on the playmaking abilitiy of his linemates to create chances for him.
Filatov who has more skill, would be more suited to play with whomever gets the second line centre role, whether it be Peter Regin, Stephane Da Costa or the wildcard Mika Zibanejad. Either way, Filatov will be counted on to create chances for himself and his teammates on what could be a revolving door of line-mates both in the middle and on the right side. Another contender for the top 6 slots will be Nick Foligno who needs to show his wares in his 5th NHL season, to show that he can be a consistent offensive contributor.
(NOTE: HOLY BRAINCRAMP BATMAN! I guess that is what you get for blogging before breakfast, I completely missed/overlooked Milan Michalek somehow. He would also be in the mix, probably knocking Foligno off the 2nd line but also could be in the mix for a first line winger. Could he be relegated to third line duty depending on how Foligno fares? Michalek hasn’t lived up to expectations and has shown speed but a significant lack of finish in his time in Ottawa, and hasn’t shown much progression. I am not completely sold on Michalek as a first liner, but to put a 20 goal scorer on the third line of an offensively starved team would indeed be silly.)
So there are 8 names presented for 6 spots. How coach Paul McLean chooses to use them will be up to him, and it may involve some early line shuffling in an attempt to find the right fit (if the “right” fit even exists). The talent is there, but showing it consistently has been (and will continue to be) a challenge to all contenders.
My guess would be that the line of Butler-Spezza-Alfredsson will be supported by Filatov-Regin-Foligno as the second line. Da Costa is still on his entry level deal and can play in Binghamton to get some professional seasoning. Unless he surprises in camp, Zibanejad could use a full year in the Swedish Elite League before coming to North America the following season, as there is no need to rush him. Regin might have a short leash, however, and if he goes 16 games before scoring his first goal and another 32 games before scoring his second, as he did last season, he won’t have the job for long. Hopefully it was just a sophomore slump and the Danish forward will return to the promise that he showed as a rookie and into the 2010 playoffs.
The Spezza line should be good for 100-110 goals this season, but who really knows what to expect from whatever combination composes the 2nd line. There are question marks and wildcards all over each of the contenders for those spots. At best, they will be a good supporting unit capable of 60-75 goals, but at worst, Filatov and Regin continue to search for their games and it is a colossal failure. The key to any success the Senators will have in making a run at a playoff spot will be determined by how the second line fares.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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