Ottawa - Sep. 5, 2011 - The Ottawa Senators rookie camp opens this Friday with 23 future prospects invited to the camp. After a one day practice in Ottawa the rookies travel to Oshawa for the annual rookie tournament where they will complete against rookies from Chicago, Pittsburgh and Toronto. I thought I would take a look back at the Senators summer and comment on the draft prospects and development camp that was held June 28 - July 4th at the Bell Sensplex including the 3 on 3 tournament. Next week we’ll discuss the rookie camp and what we’ve seen so far.
Zibanejad has the tools
Senators first round pick Mika Zibanejad appears to have all the tools. At 6-2, 192lbs. he appears to have the speed and quick shot necessary to play in the NHL. During the 3-on-3 tournament he looked like a man playing with boys. Last year, Zibanejad debut in the Swedish Elite League playing 26 games for Djurgardens. It was quite evident that he was used to playing with men. So time will tell whether he will make the Senators this year or in the future, but from what I’ve seen I expect him to be a good NHL player. If there was one criticism I had of Zibanejad during the 3-on-3 tournament, it was that he didn’t use his teammates effectively, trying to do too much himself. Whether that was because the other players couldn’t match his speed or he was trying to impress, who knows. However at this point it is nothing to be overly concerned about.
Noesen and Puempel
Stefan Noesen, 6-1’ 193 pounds (Plymouth OHL) and Matt Puempel 6-0’ 190 pounds (Peterborough OHL) were the Senators other 2 draft picks in the first round. Noesen didn’t look out of place during the 3-on-3 tournament. We’ll have to keep a close eye on him to see how he performs during the rookie camp. I expect however, that he will be either sent back to his junior team or sent down to Binghamton.
Puempel to me is the player that puzzles me. I’m going to keep a close eye on him at the rookie camp. Drafted 24th in the first round, Puempel missed the final 11 games of the regular season due to a hip injury, which caused his stock to drop. Rated at least 10 spots higher in central scouting, if he can fully recover from his hip injury, one wonders if the Senators may have gotten a steal with this pick. Time will tell?
Local players impress the most
Two local players impressed me the most at the 3-on-3 tournament. Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the Gatineau Olympic and Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67’s were constantly around the puck. Pageau 5-9, 164 pounds is small by NHL standards. However, his lightning quick speed and excellent anticipation of where the puck was going had him buzzing all over the ice. Prince, who is a little bit bigger at 5-11, 185 pounds, is more like an HNL forward and was equally as effective as Pageau. Both players were invited to rookie camp and should benefit from the experience. I expect both players to be sent back to their junior teams for further experience and it will be fun to see how they both progress this season.
I kept a close eye on former first round picks Jared Cowen (2009, 6-5’ 228 pounds) and David Rundblad (6-2’ 189 pounds) and second round pick Patrick Wiercioch (2008, 6-4’ 192 pounds). The first thing you notice is their immense size. All three are defencemen and they all look imposing on the ice. Wiercioch looked the best of the three. It’s nice to see the Senators draft some size, especially when you look at the Senators current defensive core which looks small by NHL standards and has often been accused by team fans of being too soft. The biggest question will be how these three can adjust to the speed of the NHL. This question won’t be answered until we see all three in the main camp later in the month. Figure David Rundblad during the 3-on-3 rookie tournament.
At this point it’s hard to tell if any of the Senators young prospects will turn into bona fide NHL players. Zibanejad appears to have all of the tools. If you look over the last 15-20 years of drafts, with the exception of a few players, the top 5-6 players in the first round turn into solid if not excellent NHL players. Outside of the top 5-6 players it’s a crap shoot. There is no guarantee that players will pan out. With 3 first round draft picks, based on the odds, one would have to think that one or two of the three first round picks the Senators had would turn into good players. With two other former first round draft picks Cowen and Rundblad expecting to compete for a spot and prospects from the Calder Cup Champion Binghamton Senators, including Patrick Wiercioch, the Ottawa Senators future seems to be going in the right direction.
Did you know that the very first Hart Trophy winner was an Ottawa Senator? That’s right. During the 1923-1924 season the National Hockey League announced that a special trophy called the Dr. Hart Trophy would be awarded to the player judged most useful to his team during the regular season. The first winner was long-time Senators' star Frank Nighbor who edged out Sprague Cleghorn of the Montreal Canadiens by a single vote.
Julius Francis Nighbor, known as the “Pembroke Peach”, was born in Pembroke on January 26, 1893. One of the last of the 60 minute hockey players, Nighbor was an excellent defensive forward and often frustrated opponents’ with his aggressive but clean style. Nighbor was an important part of the Senators dynasty of the 1920’s; winning 4 Stanley cups (1920, 1921, 1923 and 1927).
At the end of the 1923-1924 season Nighbor was the first player ever to be awarded the Hart Trophy and the first to be awarded the Lady Byng Trophy. Nighbor was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947 as well as the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame. In 1998 he was ranked 100 on the “Hockey News’ list of the 100 greatest players”. Nighbor lived in Pembroke in his later years until he died on April 13, 1966.
The NHL was struck by the sad news this week of the passing of Wade Belak formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators. For a tribute to Wade, read Dean Eastman’s weekly column “Hockey is Canadien”.
Thanks to everyone who posted comments last week in relation to my article. Here are the best responses:
“Very impressive!!! Look forward to reading more!” - Sherri Carson
“None of the teams in Eastern Canada are any good. They all could miss the playoffs” - Rita Reardon
“Did Ottawa make the play-offs last year? Montreal Canadiens did!!” - Liane Whiteman
Thanks for the comments. Remember if you’d like to make a comment and possibly end up in this article e-mail me at email@example.com