With the regular season quickly approaching the Senators faithful have had a pretty decent opportunity to get a look at what our team might look like on opening night in Detroit. With an unprecedented amount of roster turnover in the offseason, the Senators find themselves with a new crop of young talent vying for a spot in the NHL.
- Jared Cowen
He’s ready. This kid has done everything right. After a solid showing at the team’s rookie camp in Oshawa, Cowen has consistently gotten better and better. In his first preseason game he scored 2 goals and beat the crap out of Dion Phaneuf (which he claimed “calmed him down”) What’s not to love about that? No one expects Cowen to be a contributor offensively, but if he can chip in here and there he could be a 15-20 point defenseman on a team that will gladly take any offence it can get its hands on. His skating is super smooth for a man of his stature, and his defensive game seems very well rounded. He uses his long reach to break up offensive rushes and makes smart pinches when he thinks he has a chance to score (i.e. The goal he scored off of that nifty pass from Filatov). Unless he absolutely blows it in his first 9 games here, expect to see Jared in the Sens lineup for the rest of the season.
- David Rundblad
Unlike Cowen, David Rundblad (or is it Rumball…or Roonblad) seems to be struggling. I had mentioned in a previous post that I thought that Rundblad would struggle with the transition to the North American game and it looks like I may have been right. When Rundblad has the puck he is dynamic. He makes strong first passes and is quite creative in the offensive zone, but once that puck is off his stick and he has to turn back to the defensive side of the game, that’s where things get a little iffy. He just doesn’t seem to be able to handle the speed and size of the NHL game yet. There is no doubt he is a supreme talent and will be an unstoppable player for us one day, but I think he would be best served with some time in Binghamton to gain some confidence and to learn the North American game. I will say that he seemed to get better with every game he played, but he is still struggling a bit and it will only get more difficult for him once the real games start. I’ve heard a few rumors here and there that Rundblad hasn’t decided on if he will play in Bingo or go back to the Swedish Elite League, but if I’m Paul Maclean or Bryan Murray I tell this kid that he is just on the cusp of cracking this lineup and if he plays his cards in the right in the AHL he will be on the first plane to Ottawa when the opportunity presents itself (injury or trade).
- Mika Zibanejad
Mika, Z-Bad, Zibby, or just Mr. Smith if that announcer from Leafs TV had his way. Whatever you want to call him there’s no denying that Zibanejad is making things awfully difficult for the Senators brass. Zibanejad has been pretty consistent throughout the preseason, scoring timely goals and contributing defensively. His skating is what always strikes me when I watch him. He is unbelievably smooth and his acceleration is second to none (watch his first 3 strides when he gets the puck. The kid can fly). On top of his obvious offensive gifts, Mika plays with a physical edge and finishes his checks. He has the grit of a North American mixed with the skill of a Swede. If the team can find a way for him to play significant minutes in Ottawa, then I have no doubt he will be able to contribute. With the injury to Peter Regin’s surgically repaired shoulder in Tuesday night’s game against the Leafs, Mika’s chances have increased significantly. I’m going to guess the Senators give him at least a 9 game try out and see what he can do with the big boys when the game are more important and the competition level has increased.
- Stephane Da Costa
I’m pretty sure Da Costa is the dark horse to make this team out of camp. Everything he does is under the radar. He doesn’t have the spotlight on him in the same way that Zibanejad, Rundblad and Cowen do, but he has definitely made an impression. One of the big stories leading into camp was the battle for the second line center position. Regin, Zibanejad and Da Costa are all in the running. Regin has hurt himself, Zibanejad has played very well, but Da Costa has found an inside track. One of the best ways that a young player can steal a spot out of camp is to show chemistry with a veteran player and Da Costa has found that with Milan Michalek. The two seem to be on the same page and have a found a nice little comfort level with each other. Da Costa has great vision and can place a puck just about anywhere he wants to. So far in this preseason he has placed it on Michalek’s stick more often than not and that can only be a good thing for the team, for Michalek and for Da Costa himself. I’m not saying he has that second line position locked up, but he has definitely shown he can play with the vets and should have a good chance to play some significant minutes in Ottawa this year.
- Brian Lee
Seriously, what the hell is going on with Brian Lee? Labelled a bust by nearly everyone, this kid has suddenly become one of our most consistent blue liners. Every game I have seen him in this preseason he has been making high percentage plays, not taking many risks, and actually shutting down the opposition. Who would have thought!? After a stellar end to the season, Lee seems to have carried his new found confidence over to this year where he has been paired with Chris Phillips for the majority of his games. Lee and Phillips seem to have developed a little bit of chemistry and a bit of a familiarity with one another (something that seems crucial to Phillips success). Lee seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, which is a good thing for a guy in his position. He will most likely never be a lock to play 82 games for us, but he is making it difficult for the Senators coaching staff to pass him over for someone else on the depth chart. I still see the organization using Lee or Carkner as the 7th defenseman this season (depending on the oppositional matchup or if Cowen plays himself out of the lineup) but Brian Lee deserves to be in the NHL and is showing why he was thought to be a high end talent.
- Nikita Filatov
Nikita Banana (just go with it) has been looking mighty fine. This guy is buzzing every time he is on the ice. He has very soft hands and can dangle his way across the ice with ease. He is a very good skater, and has good speed. He seems to be working hard to stay committed to back checking and I’m sure the coaching staff has been drilling the defensive game into his head. The key for Filatov is to put all of his talents into one beautiful Russian bowl cut package. So far in the preseason he has been a scoring threat every single time he is on the ice. His playmaking abilities are making Chris Neil and Jared Cowen look like potential 50 goal scorers! I’m excited to see what Filatov can bring alongside Jason Spezza and Bobby Butler. The line obviously is a bit of a defensive liability, but this trio is the epitome of high risk high reward.
- Filip Kuba
Kuba doesn’t really belong on this list. We all know he is going to make this team, but he sure does like to make thing difficult for himself, doesn’t he? Kubs needs to pick it up or he will find himself sliding down the depth chart quickly. With young guys like Cowen and Rundblad waiting in the wings to snatch his job, and guys like Carkner and Lee fighting for more ice time, Kuba will need to figure it all out sooner rather than later. I still have hope for him, but seeing him get beat by a bunch of bums in the preseason makes me worry for the guy (guess who was on the ice in the final minute of that Habs game we lost). He is a talented NHL defenseman, but you have to wonder if he is in his own head a little bit.
- Honorable Mention
Mark “BoroCop” Borowiecki. I seriously love this guy. The fact that he is destined for Bingo this season pains me. He has outperformed guys like Kuba and Carkner and will mostly likely be riding the buses because he is on a 2 way contract, but the Sens found a diamond in the rough when they drafted him in the 5th round a couple of years ago. Look for him to cement himself this season in Bingo where he will be expected to be the team’s top defenseman and take on a leadership role. I honestly can’t wait for this guy to be a regular in Ottawa and we can probably expect to see him at some point this season as an injury call-up. The organization is definitely very high on him, and it probably won’t be long until we see him full time.
So that’s the way I see it so far. There are going to be many more storylines to follow once the season gets going so let me know what you think in the comments section, or send me a note on Twitter (follow me @TomSENS).