As the 2011-12 season fades into the distance, one of the best battles at training camp will be among a group of young players for a couple (assuming Daniel Alfredsson returns) or possibly 3 (if he doesn’t) top-6 forward spots. Incumbent pairings of Jason Spezza-Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson-Kyle Turris anchor the top 2 lines, but there are openings for the third member of each line. There was a revolving door in those spots for much of the season, with Coling Greening, Bobby Butler, Peter Regin, Stephane Da Costa, Nick Foligno, Chris Neil and Erik Condra all getting at least an audition for the spots.
Some of these players will be back and fighting for the top 6 minutes with a bunch of upstarts looking to play their way into the lineup. I will look at the chances for the top contenders for the top 6.
1. Jacob Silfverberg – Appears to definitely have the inside track to ride shotgun with either Spezza or Turris. The fact that he was not asked to attend this week’s prospect camp tells me that he is a lock for the big club and will be expected to be a prime time player after a decent beginning in the playoffs.
2. Mika Zibanejad – If he can make the transition to the wing, like I expect he will be asked to (and personally think he is a better fit), he could fit in nicely as a budding power forward with his strength and skating ability.
3. Mark Stone – Made his NHL debut in the playoffs, and is a natural goal scorer who will battle with Zibanejad for an NHL job this season. If he improves his skating over the summer, he will stand a better shot at making the lineup.
4. Peter Regin – Chances are running out for the Danish forward who hasn’t been able to stay healthy. That will be the key for him to prove that he should be included in the mix, and he might be cast in a support role and have to bide his time to get a shot at the top 6.
5. Stephane Da Costa – Overlooked in favour of Silfverberg and Stone when the call to the farm was made in the playoffs. Despite playing well after his demotion to Binghamton, he might be sliding down the depth chart at centre, and I don’t know how effective he could be on the wing.
6. Nick Foligno – At the end of the season, Foligno fit in nicely on the second line, and it could be his spot to lose. However, putting him on the third line, with Smith and Neil (or Greening, or Condra) could be a key move to add depth and make the Senators a dangerous club to deal with.
7. The Field – Colin Greening played well in spots, but on a contending team I don’t think he has enough finish to be a top 6 forward. Shane Prince, Stefan Noeson and Matt Puempel will be contenders in the future, but all need more development in either the AHL (Prince) or OHL (Puempel and Noesen).
Barring a big trade (the Rick Nash rumours have quieted) or free agent signing, the Senators appear content to see what happens with their top level prospects.
For my money, Silfverberg and Zibanejad will start with the Senators, while Stone could be the guy they look to send to Bingo but with a quick recall if required. Regin can stick around and play on the fourth line and fill in higher when necessary, and work his way back into form. If Alfredsson chooses not to return, Stone could be in line to occupy his position, making the Sens top 6 very young and a core that could be together for years to come.