Stepping away from the Senators' negative cash flow, let's focus on an area where most people feel the Senators have built up some currency - the prospect pool.
In his yearly organizational rankings, Hockey Prospectus' Corey Pronman finally published his assessment of the top ten Ottawa Senators' prospects.
Thanks to the graduation of Mika Zibanejad, Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch and the loss of prospects Stefan Noesen and Jakob Silfverberg to Anaheim (via the trade for Bobby Ryan), the Senators fell in Pronman's organizational rankings from 5th to 18th.
Pronman had Zibanejad and Silfverberg as the organization's first and third-best prospects last season, so this slide in the rankings is easily explained.
With Mika Zibanejad and Patrick Wiercioch graduating, and Ottawa trading Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen, the Sens' prospect outlook is quite different from a year ago. They do not have a dominant top prospect (outside of Lehner, who is discounted for position), but they have several toolsy/high-upside prospects to go along with several good, safe players like Curtis Lazar, J-G Pageau, and Derek Grant.
While that comment about the lack of highend prospects may ring true, there's something to be said for getting Cody Ceci out of junior hockey. As a player, who Pronman noted, was saddled on a terrible Ottawa 67s team for the bulk of the year, I have some optimism that whatever development was stalled last year could be made up with a full season under Luke Richardson in Bingo. Furthermore, for a player who reportedly had an off-year, Ceci was still voted as an OHL second team All-Star. Mind you, that accolade could be more reputation-based more than anything, but the point to be made is that there's still some substantial talent in Ceci that remains untapped.
Ceci actually wound up headlining Pronman's top ten:
1. Cody Ceci, Defense
2. Robin Lehner, Goaltender
3. Mark Stone, Right Wing
4. Curtis Lazar, Center
5. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Center
6. Shane Prince, Left Wing
7. Mikael Wikstrand, Defense
8. Matt Puempel, Left Wing
9. Stephane Da Costa, Center
10. Mike Hoffman, Left Wing
The biggest riser on this list is defenceman Mikael Wikstrand, who wasn't even amongst Pronman's top 15 Sens prospects in 2012. After a strong showing with Mora in the Allvenskan (11 goals and 25 points in 45 games) and at the 2013 World Juniors with Sweden (4 points in 6 games), Ottawa's seventh round pick from 2012 garnered attention for his offensive acumen. He finished fifth amongst d-men in scoring in the Allvenskan and his heavy shot became a weapon that teams had to respect. (Note: steffeG has written on Wikstrand a few times for the site, so if you'd like some more information on him, click here and here.)
The second biggest jump belonged to Robin Lehner who went from 12th to the 2nd best prospect. Talent has never been an issue for the big Swede, but his maturity and commitment to developing into a professional hockey player left something to be desired. After the organization acquired Ben Bishop to send a message and give Lehner the boot in the ass that he needed, he rewarded the Senators by: 1) showing up to Binghamton's training camp in exceptional shape; 2) having an improved attitude; and 3) killing it during the regular season when the NHL lockout finally ended.
Given the attrition rate and the volatility that so frequently accompanies goaltending prospects, it should be noted that Pronman has been rather hard on goaltending prospects in the past (ie.last year's Lehner assessment). So it is more than a little encouraging to see a third party evaluator like Pronman, give Lehner his due.
Not surprisingly, other risers on Ottawa's top ten board included Mark Stone (4th to 3rd), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (13th to 5th) Shane Prince (7th to 6th), Matt Puempel (9th to 8th), Mike Hoffman (11th to 10th) and Derek Grant (15th to 13th). With the exception of Pageau, who began the season as a prospect who looked like a candidate to the 2012/13 season in Elmira and finished it with a hat-trick versus the Habs in the playoffs, these improved rankings can be attributable to the absence of guys like Ziba, Silf and etc.
First time appearances on the list belong to 2013 first rounder Curtis Lazar (4th), Jarrod Maidens (11th), Troy Rutkowski (14th) and Freddy Claesson (15th). It's worth noting that Maidens received some love from Pronman, because if healthy, he probably would slot anywhere from sixth to eighth on these rankings. He has really good hockey sense in both ends, and a solid skill level.
An honorable mention went to Quentin Shore who is a good-sized forward with versatility, and his offensive potential is on the uptick.
The Senators only had a few prospects who had their stock fell -- Stephane Da Costa (6th to 9th), Andre Petersson (10th to unlisted) and Mark Borowiecki (15th to unlisted). As undersized prospects who boast some serious offensive tools, it's not surprising to see the first two players drop down the list. Injuries and improved depth at the minor league level effectively helped curb their offensive outputs. It'll be interesting to see what another offseason can do for either player, since it's safe to assume that their time is running short with the organization. In Borowiecki's case, he's simply a victim of his six or seventh defenceman ceiling.
Although the lack of high-end offensive prospects within Ottawa's system is concerning, especially in light of the impending UFA status of players like Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan, Ottawa's boasts one of the youngest rosters in the league and that isn't reflected by this evaluation. The important takeaway is that the organization, despite the trade with Anaheim, still boasts a relatively deep system with prospects at each position. And with some smart trades here and there, Bryan Murray has the ammunition necessary to supplement the roster and give Ottawa its best opportunity to win...
... Now whether Eugene Melnyk will provide his GM with the budget necessary to bring in some complementary pieces is another matter.