Thursday, August 21, 2008

Which prospect has the best chance of making the cut?

Going into training camp this season, the Sens have a number of promising prospects who should get a good shot at making the NHL. It's largely assumed that those prospects who finished the 2007-08 season with the Sens--including Brian Lee, Cody Bass, and Nick Foligno--will start the 2008-09 season.

Despite these newcomers filling a few full-time roster spots, there still could be another opening--whether full-time or part-time--at forward for another young prospect. It's possible Josh Hennessy could get a look, but in my opinion his recently-declining performance in the AHL (63 points in 2005-06, then 57 points in 2006-07, then 51 in 2007-08) means his potential isn't as high as some others. The race, then, will likely come down to one of Jesse Winchester, Ilya Zubov, Alexander Nikulin, James O'Brien, or Peter Regin to be among the Sens' 13 forwards. I've ordered the prospects from most likely to least likely, in my opinion, but there's a diversity of factors on any side of the debate.

  1. Jesse Winchester: After finishing his four-year career at Colgate University, Ottawa won the bidding war to attract Winch into a contract. He only played one game last season, but GM Bryan Murray was satisfied enough with his scouting report to sign Winchester to a two-year, one-way contract. Although the unidirectional nature of that contract gives him a pretty good chance of making the team, I think Murray signed him for one reason: a big player who can make plays, but isn't afraid to work for the puck. Although the Sens have no shortage of gritty forwards this season, most of them are--how should I put this--offensively challenged. If Winchester can play alongside Mike Fisher, and complement his grind-style to produce some offence, the Sens may have some secondary scoring based on a totally different offensive style than the CASH Line's primary scoring.

  2. Ilya Zubov: Zubov played one game last season for the Senators, and he didn't look too badly out of place. His first year in North American pro did alright, and he scored 38 points for the B-Sens in 74 games. Although he's got some speed, Zubov definitely has some work to do in terms of upper-body strength, according to an scouting report. According to Hockey's Future, he's the Sens' third highest-ranked prospect, after only Foligno and Lee. He'll get a shot, but he's really going to have to earn any time he gets in the NHL this season.

  3. Alexander Nikulin: SputNik is already a fan-favourite in many circles, despite the fact that he's only played two NHL games. His blog (which you can read translated on HFBoards) is quite popular, and Nikulin's openness is respected. His play, too, is respectable; Nikulin's got good vision and at least some level of defensive responsibility, so he could very well see some NHL time later on. He was visibly nervous in his first two NHL games, though, and will likely need more seasoning in the AHL before becoming a full-time NHLer.

  4. James O'Brien: O'Brien played a year of college hockey for the University of Minnesota, but left after that year to play pro hockey full-time in the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds. The fact that he's never played pro hockey might be a deterrent, but he's apparently got the potential to be a second-line power-forward, according to Hockey's Future's scouting report on the 2007 first-round draft choice.

  5. Peter Regin: A relative unknown who's quickly climbing the ranks of the Sens' prospects, Regin jumped from 14 to 9 on Hockey's Future's prospect rankings for the Sens. He's got a small chance of playing for the Senators, but some time with Binghamton will certainly help Regin's development as he gets used to the professional game in North America.

It would be great if one of the Sens' blue-chip prospects could step in and produce offensively right away--that would solve our secondary scoring problems pretty quickly. Unfortunately, that's highly unlikely, and all five of these players will probably be project-players who will take at least a season, or a few of them, to become bona fide NHL point-producers.
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