Well, the NHL preseason is in full swing and the 2014-15 regular season is just around the corner. With a 2-1-0-1 record, including two wins over their arch-rival Maple Leafs in one night, the Ottawa Senators seem to be doing fairly well. There’s been some good signs, like Erik Karlsson‘s skating, Cody Ceci‘s maturation, and Curtis Lazar and Matt Puempel’s instant chemistry, but also some bad, like Chris Phillips‘ defensive play and Chris Neil‘s overall play. I know we shouldn’t read too much into the preseason, but where’s the fun in that? So, without further ado, here is my 23 man roster for the Ottawa Senators on opening night, based on my observations from the preseason and training camp thus far.
The first line:
Why mess with a good thing? This trio has seemingly picked up from where they left off last season. They were too much for the Leafs’ B-squad to handle on the majority of their shifts.
The second line:
This has been another strong line in camp. Chiasson in particular has impressed me with his skating and strength. I’m not the biggest fan of keeping Michalek given his injury history and approaching 30 years of age, but he’s looked solid with the young guns. Perhaps keeping him for his veteran presence will pay dividends.
The third line:
Matt Puempel-David Legwand-Curtis Lazar
This isn’t a line that’s played together yet, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from all three in camp. Legwand has been reliable all over the ice, Puempel has shown his goal-scoring ability, and Lazar has consistently shown his great two-way game in addition to having great chemistry with Puempel. Having a veteran like Legwand to help guide these rookies through the rigours of an NHL season seems like a fine idea to me.
The fourth line:
There’s nothing special here, but it’s a decent line with some speed, an edge, and size. Hoffman has looked great in the preseason, seemingly all over the ice, and Smith is a faceoff ace who can play the checking-line centre role perfectly. Stone has shown some great hands as well, and deserves a spot on the big club.
As the 13th forward, you’ve got either Erik Condra, Colin Greening, or Chris Neil. The other two can be traded. Greening could be moved since he isn’t close to over the hill at 28 years old. His contract however is a bit much for a fourth liner, so I imagine some teams would be less than keen to take him on. Neil meanwhile can serve no purpose other than to please old school fans. His days as a competent third line player to go along with being the team’s pugilist are behind him, so I don’t see a point in giving him a roster spot over the likes of Hoffman or Condra. While many will take issue with this because Neil is a “leader,” I ask what good is leadership when you can’t take a regular shift without being a liability in your own end? Condra is the one I would keep as he’s a smart defensive player who can easily slide in on the fourth line.
The first pairing:
No surprises here. Karlsson plays well with just about everyone, but he and Methot together provide a nice balance of offense and defense. It’s even better that Karlsson’s skating looks much closer to where it was before his achilles injury, and Methot is a good skater in his own right. Hopefully he can get some preseason games in at some point.
The second pairing:
Some will probably question having him this high, but I’m a big fan of Wiercioch. He’s a smart and effective puck-moving defenseman, and while he didn’t look great against the Leafs, he wasn’t as bafflingly out of position as, say, Jared Cowen was. Ceci on the other hand has looked great in camp. His ability to rush the puck up the ice is second on the team only to Karlsson. Having these two together on the second pairing should provide the secondary scorers like ZIbanejad and Chiasson more opportunities to break out of their own end.
The third pairing:
I’m as hard as anybody on Cowen for his play last year, which was at times atrocious. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has something of a bounce back year in 2014-15 with over a year of recovery time from his hip injury at the start of the 2013-14 season in the AHL. I just think that sheltering him in third pairing minutes, building his confidence back up until he’s ready to push for a spot in the top four, is the best course of action. As for Gryba, he is what he is: a decent number six or seven defensive defenseman. Nothing special, but he gets the job done. Use this pairing against the opposition’s bottom two lines.
This means that the extras are Chris Phillips and Mark Borowiecki. In all honesty, Fredrik Claesson has outplayed them both this preseason, but he’s on an entry-level contract. Thus, he gets sent back down. Borowiecki hasn’t been bad at all this preseason, but he hasn’t been better than anyone I’ve placed in the top three pairings. He’s had some big hits, but not much else. Perhaps he could adapt to playing the right-side and take Gryba’s spot, but that’s about it. As for Phillips, he’s shown nothing this preseason and training camp to indicate last year’s play was just a blip on the radar as opposed to the beginning of a once solid defenseman’s decline. He often looks lost in his own zone and gets beaten by faster and smarter players regularly. Sorry, Big Rig, but your best days are far back in the rearview mirror.
Again, there are no surprises here. While Lehner is undoubtedly the goalie of the future, he’s not quite ready to take the reigns in my opinion. Plus, Anderson has looked pretty sharp this preseason. He has a history of being inconsistent, but after last season’s subpar performance let’s hope he’s especially fired up to have a great 2014-15. Lehner will push for time and likely get around 30-35 games regardless, but Anderson is still the man for this season. The good news is that, whenever Lehner is ready to take over as the bona fide number one, Anderson doesn’t have any sort of no-trade or no-movement clause in his contract.
Thanks for reading, and catch you later.