Lucky 7 for Sens?
An early report card on the young players whose development could decide just how good their club is in 2011-12
The Senators’ young guns clearly knew the midterm report card was coming down this week.
How else to explain Bobby Butler and Colin Greening ending lengthy slumps on Alberta rinks, or a checker like Kaspars Daugavins blasting a top-shelf beauty on Thursday?
At the quarter-point of a rebuilding season, the Senators are one of the NHL’S mildly shocking stories, a pleasant surprise at 10-9-1, hanging around the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
For the Senators to crack the top eight, it could come down to the continued development of seven Senators who headed west this week having played fewer than 50 career NHL games. What follows are early grades turned in by Ottawa’s not-so-silver seven, the Senators’ latest wave of fresh talent, with more kids on the horizon. Some of these marks jumped practically overnight as a few of the NHL students aced their final mid-term “tests.”
DEFENCE JARED COWEN: AIn
his first 20 NHL games, Cowen has been everything the Senators hoped he would be. Tough. Physical. Strong defensively. A player on track to be developed into a top-pairing, shutdown defenceman in the mould of a Zdeno Chara, if not quite as imposing at 6-5, 230 pounds. While Cowen has just one goal and no assists, the points will come as the rookie becomes more comfortable in the league. Cowen produced 48 points in 58 Western Hockey League games with Spokane last season.
DAVID RUNDBLAD: CThe
transition for Rundblad has not been as smooth as Cowen’s for two reasons. 1. The Swedish rookie is adjusting to a completely different style of game and size of ice surface. 2. Unlike Cowen’s stay-home approach, Rundblad’s game is predicated on skill and risk, and it will take time to do this at the NHL level. Rundblad has been a healthy scratch this week, played in just 13 games overall and could probably use some time in AHL Binghamton to develop as opposed to more time in Sweden. Rundblad has shown brilliant flashes (remember the stretch pass to Greening and the blue-line move that led to Nick Foligno’s lastsecond goal versus Florida?) and horrible giveaways. On balance, Rundblad could be an intriguing offensive defenceman down the road.
BOBBY BUTLER: C
Butler has also battled the healthy-scratch disease, and a groin injury, all part of a horrific first few weeks of life on a one-way NHL contract. With 10 goals in 36 NHL games last season, big things were expected of BB, and so a nine-game drought, in and around being out of the lineup, was agonizing for Butler and Senators fans alike. Aloha, Alberta — two goals against Calgary on Tuesday and an assist on Thursday while seeing his ice time boosted could be the spark of daylight Butler needs to turn his season around. He’s a shooter, right? Then shoot, Bobby, shoot! Fourteen shots in 11 games (10 prior to Calgary) does not a sniper make. If he keeps this up, he might even get reintroduced to the power play.
STEPHANE DA COSTA: C+
The jury is out on Da Costa, a small, likeable centre with terrific vision. He has three goals and two assists in 20 games, but just one point in his past seven, an assist against the New York Rangers on Nov. 9. His faceoff numbers are horrendous (6.25 per cent against the Oilers, 36.6 per cent overall) and he will have to show he can compete in the heavy going. With Peter Regin out, the former Merrimack Marvel is getting the opportunity — 15:04 of ice in Edmonton with 3:25 on the power play.
ERIK CONDRA: B
You could set your watch by this dependable checking winger, who will neither bring you out of your seat nor cause you to throw things at the television. The organization loves his smarts, although his six goals, five assists in 26 games last season may have been misleading. So far, Condra is 1+3 for four points with a handsome plus 3. Good on the PK, as is …
KASPARS DAUGAVINS: B+
When a Binghamton oral surgeon fixed Daugavins’ wisdom teeth, he also mended Ottawa’s penalty killing issue — at no extra charge. The unit has been vastly improved since Daugavins rejoined the team early this month. After opening the season in the minors, Daugavins has made the most of his promotion, ripping a goal past Edmonton’s Nikolai Khabibulin for his second goal of the season. Goals are a bonus from the industrious, worklike-a-dog Daugavins.
COLIN GREENING: A-Of
all the Binghamton grads, none has had more opportunity than the man his teammates call the Cyborg: a spot on the first line alongside centre Jason Spezza and 17 minutes per game of ice time on average, including five minutes of PP time in Calgary. With five goals and four assists, Greening has taken his chance and run with it, although that goal in Edmonton ended a sevengame pointless drought dating back to Oct. 30 versus Toronto. Greening is minus-8, tied with Da Costa for the team worst. But he has the makings of a good NHL power forward, and a 3.95 grade point average from Cornell suggests a quick study. In fact, he’ll be so sore about an A- he promises mom and dad an A+ next term.
A– COLIN GREENING AND JARED COWEN