With the 2013/14 NHL season quickly approaching and training camp now just days away, the Ottawa Senators look to continue their successful rebuild under 2013 Jack Adams trophy winner, head coach Paul MacLean (NHL stats W:66-L:48-OTL:16). One of the biggest question marks heading into the upcoming season for the senators is: Who is going to play alongside Kyle Turris and newly acquired winger Clarke MacArthur, who appear to be “penciled in” to round out the Senators top 6 forwards to start the season. If we’re going by what we’ve learned thus far from coach MacLean, it’s that “the best player will play,” no matter how much that player’s payroll is or what that player’s intended role on the team may be. Guillaume Latendresse was a prime example of this from a season ago when his role was diminished significantly and often found himself a healthy scratch down the stretch and in the post season. Although we will likely see different players take on the 2nd line RW position over the course of 82 games, let’s look at the top 5 candidates within the organization. Who will play the majority of these valuable minutes over the course of the 2013/14 season?
5. Mark Stone (21, R, 6’3, 200)
Drafted in the 6th round 178th overall by the Senators in 2010, Mark Stone has the potential to be yet another late round steal for the Ottawa Senators. With just 7 games of NHL experience under his belt (3 playoff games) Stone will be one of many fighting for a spot in the lineup come training camp. Stone brings size at 6’3 and the ability to get to the front of the net as well as finish but has not yet put it all together at the NHL level. Last year Stone played his first pro season with the Binghamton Senators recording fair numbers 15g-23a for 38pts in 54 gp despite having a slow start. The biggest knock on Mark Stone’s game has been skating ability, something he has worked to develop since junior.
4. Mike Hoffman (23, L, 5’11,177)
Also another potential example of late round draft success by the Sens, Hoffman went 130th overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft, which was his final year of draft eligibility. Hoffman played 3 games in the NHL last season before suffering from an injury/re injury to his collarbone that set him back. I have to say that watching Hoffman play in the very little time he did play with the big club last season, I was very impressed. Hoffman’s speed and skating ability is certainly going to be his strongest weapon and one that might just land him that leading role with the Senators come October. Hoffman played 41 games last season with the B-Sens tallying 13g-15a for a 28 point total. If Hoffman can avoid major injuries and set backs this season, he should at the very least see time with the big club.
3. Cory Conacher (23, L, 5’8,179)
Cory Conacher is no stranger to overcoming the odds and surpassing expectations. Conacher has played against larger competition for his entire hockey career at just 5’8 and has made it this far. Along with being undersized Cory has also had to battle with type 1 diabetes, something that developed at age 8. With his impressive rookie season behind him tallying 29 pts in 47 gp, Cory would seemingly be a lock somewhere in the Senators starting roster come October But wait, not so fast. With the off season acquisitions of Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur as well as the emergence of many prospects within the Senators organization, Cory will once again have to prove himself to remain with the big squad. If Conacher uses his #peskysens mentality of playing with a chip on his shoulder while bringing his speed and energy he may give the coaching staff something to consider on the top 6.
2. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (20, R, 5’8, 163)
Pageau, Pageau, Pageau, Pageau,…….Pageau, Pageau! Ok now that that’s out of my system. JGP may be the quickest fan favorite in Sens history. After barely cracking the B-Sens lineup last season Pageau was supposed to be a long term project that might get some time in the NHL in a few years in a best case scenario. Apparently Pageau didn’t care much for what everyone else projected him to be, Pageau got a surprise call up near the end of the last season with the big club and took full advantage forcing a longer stay and earning the trust of head coach Paul Maclean. Pageau didn’t stop their, he went on to play hero in game 3 of the first round in the Stanley cup playoffs scoring a hat trick and also hearing his name being chanted to the tune of the rival Canadiens victory song . Still as impressive as he was last season he will have to earn his spot on the roster and if he wants to play on Turris’s right side he will have to make the case that his skill and speed is worth more than a bigger, more physical winger.
1.Mika Zibanejad (20, R, 6’2, 201)
With good hands, size, skating, an excellent release and a developing physical game Mika “DJ-ZBad” is my easy choice to play on the right wing in the top 6. There is however, one problem. Management and the coaching staff seem very determined to develop Zibanejad down the middle at Center as opposed to the wing. Strength down the middle has always been Bryan Murray’s direction and while it is important, is it more important than having a stronger group of top 6 forwards? In my opinion at some point during the season Mika will play on the second line and excel as a top 6 winger.
With the Sens depth chart being and I quote Mr. Melnyk “the envy of the league” the Sens have a number of young players that are not far from being NHL regulars. Here are some honorable mentions that may surprise us in training camp and win that 2nd line role: Shane Prince, Derek Grant, Andre Petersson, Dave Dziurzynski, Cole Schneider, Stephane Da Costa, Corey Cowick.