With training camp quickly approaching, your Ottawa Senators go into this season with so many questions yet to be answered. How will new head coach Paul MacLean fare? Who will play on the first line with Jason Spezza? What will be the defense pairings? Can Craig Anderson keep up his super human play?
One of the big questions yet to be answered is: will be who will be our third line center?
Our strength the last few seasons has been down the middle as Ottawa has had solid centers on each of the forward lines. (Granted, we don’t match up to Pittsburgh with Crosby and Malkin, but which team does?) We had a true number one center in Jason Spezza, a solid two-way center in Mike Fisher, and a defensive two-way center in Chris Kelly. But with Ottawa trading half the team away last season as they began their rebuild, our strength the past few seasons know has become one of our greatest weaknesses with Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly now gone.
The third line is typically meant to shutdown opponents, bring energy and provide a little bit of offense. Chris Kelly was the perfect third line center as he had a high hockey IQ, a strong defensive game, was a good skater and was able to chip in once in awhile with usually 30 points a season. Ideally, Mike Fisher would have been an amazing third line center on any team as he is a strong defensive player, is hard on the puck and is a beast on the ice.
But with these two centers gone, who will fill the role of an effective third line center for your Ottawa Senators? Let’s take a look at a few of the candidates:
At this year’s training camp, there will be eight natural centers auditioning for three open center positions. Spezza will hold down the number one center position, and the second line center will be a battle between Peter Regin and 2011 first round draftee Mika Zibanejad. Regin and Zibanejad have the offensive tools to play in the top six forward ranks and are thus in a two man race for that spot. If Regin wins the job, Zibanejad will head home to Sweden to play this season. If Zibanejad should win the job, Regin will then have to battle with the remaining six centers for the third line center position.
**For the purpose of this piece, I am going to assume that Regin earns the second line center position and Zibanejad heads home to Sweden for one more year. **
So we have six natural centers left going for two open center positions. Lets look at each center to see if they fit the mold of a perfect third line center.
Now entering his fifth season as a NHL pro, this year will be a make-it-or-break-it season for Foligno in a Sens jersey. With a career high last season of 34 points, Foligno has yet to reach his potential in the NHL. With a good frame (6’0″, 209 lbs), Foligno has the tools to score more points. Probably topping out at 50 points, there is no reason Foligno has not been more productive in his career.
Drafted as a center, Foligno was moved to the wing in Ottawa when he began his pro career. This may be the reason to his production woes as he never has been a great finisher. As a good skater with decent passing ability, Foligno could see some time in the middle this season as he could be moved back to his natural position. As a strong two-way player, Foligno may fit the mold as a third line center who can bring strong defensive play, energy and chip in a few goals here and there.
The gritty two-way center has the potential to be a force in this league. Hitting everything on the ice, Smith rarely backs down from a fight and has shown glimpses of a scoring touch. His defensive game is strong and he is a good penalty killer and will get in the face of opponents. The knock on Smith will be the on offensive side of the puck. With only 12 points in 71 career NHL games, is Smith better suited for the fourth line then the third line?
Stephane Da Costa:
Brought in as the best available NCAA free agent last season, Da Costa has the offensive tools to generate a lot of points. However, standing only 5’11″ and 180 lbs, the playmaking center may not have the stature to shutdown opponents or get in their face. And to be truly effective, Da Costa may need to play in a top six forward position to succeed in this league.
Coming into his third NHL season, the 27 year old Winchester has yet to define a role for himself in the NHL. Playing most of his pro career as a fourth line center, can Winchester step up his game and hold down the third line center role? The 6’1″, 203 lbs center has shown toughness in his tenure in Ottawa and has built a good defensive game. As a playmaker in his collegiate career, Winchester may have the offensive tools to be able to put up a few points from the third line center position.
Signed as a free agent this past July, Konopka comes to Ottawa from the New York Islanders. A solid veteran, Konopka is a excellent face-off center and has tons of grit and character. With a strong defensive game, Konopka lacks the offensive tools to skate on the third line. With a career high last season with nine points, Konopka actually had more fights (25) than points last season. Konopka is more suited to a fourth line center role.
As a first year pro last year, Greening had quite the year. Not only did Greening make the AHL Binghamton Senators squad out of training camp, he also got to suit up in the NHL this year too. Called up for 24 games, Greening notched six goals and 13 points for Ottawa. He then ended his year with a AHL playoff run all the way to the Calder Cup. He then signed a new three-year one-way deal to stay with Ottawa.
Along with a great frame (6’3″, 211 lbs), Greening also has great speed (he actually won the fastest skater competition last year at the Sens skills competition) for his size. With a strong defensive game, Greening would need to work on his offensive game to be able to hold down the third line center position. But along with his 13 points in 24 games in the NHL, Greening also added 40 points in 59 AHL games, not bad totals for a first year pro.
Out of these six candidates, I think it comes down to Foligno and Greening. These two centers have all the tools to be an effective third line center in the NHL. Foligno has the NHL experience and may be given a shot first to handle the third line center role. But this means he is giving up on being a top six forward on this team. If he can be happy with being a third line player in the NHL, then I think Foligno may be the right fit at center.
Greening has proven this year that he is very versatile player that learns how to adapt quickly. His transition from the college game to the pro game went very well and there is no reason to doubt that he could not be a good third line center. He will be in tough to win the job, but don’t consider him out of the running as this dark horse may surprise a lot of people at training camp this fall.
As for the rest, I think Da Costa will need some seasoning in the AHL as he adjusts to the pro game, and Winchester, Smith and Konopka are better suited for the fourth line.
Now you know what I think, let us know what you think.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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Topics: AHL, Binghamton Senators, Colin Greening, Jason Spezza, Jesse Winchester, Mika Zibanejad, NHL, Nick Foligno, Ottawa Senators, Peter Regin, Stephen, Sweden, Who Should Be Our 3rd Line Center?, Who Should Be The Ottawa Senators 3rd Line Center?, Zack Smith, Zenon Konopka