FACES OF THE SENS’ FU­TURE

Ken War­ren looks at play­ers you’ll see more of in Ot­tawa some­day

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

Mark Stone has put up some im­pres­sive numbers so far this year, but he knows that’s only one part of the big pic­ture in his dream to play in the National Hockey League.

The 19-year-old cap­tain of the Bran­don Wheat Kings racked up 19 goals and 27 as­sists — 46 points in his first 22 games — to lead the en­tire Cana­dian Hockey League in scor­ing. The right winger is also one of the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors’ most en­tic­ing young prospects.

“Most peo­ple look at the points and think I’m hav­ing a good year,” Stone says, “but there are other things that I want to bring to the ta­ble.”

Stone’s goal is to be a well-rounded player and he’s get­ting ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to do that in Bran­don: He plays on the power play, he kills penal­ties and he has been solid de­fen­sively. In an im­por­tant game, he might be on the ice close to 30 min­utes.

If, as ex­pected, he turns pro next sea­son, ei­ther with Ot­tawa or its Amer­i­can Hockey League af­fil­i­ate in Bing­ham­ton, he’ll be sur­rounded by count­less other former ju­nior scor­ing stars the Sen­a­tors have been col­lect­ing in re­cent years.

Af­ter dump­ing vet­er­ans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Chris Cam­poli for high draft picks late in the 2010-11 sea­son, the Sen­a­tors fo­cused on se­lect­ing skilled for­wards at June’s NHL draft. There have been strong early re­turns from young prospects Shane Prince, Jean-gabriel Pageau, Matt Puem­pel and Ste­fan Noe­sen with their re­spec­tive ju­nior teams. Cou­pled with the prom­ise that Swedes Mika Zibane­jad, An­dre Peters­son and Jakub Sil­fver­berg could also de­velop into good NHL play­ers, there’s no short­age of young, tal­ented for­wards within the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Ac­cord­ingly, be­ing strong in a va­ri­ety of ar­eas is an im­por­tant com­po­nent of Stone’s chances to reach the top level.

“I’m a big guy (6-3, 203 pounds),” Stone says. “I like to go to the net and score those (ugly) goals. I try to be as big of a power for­ward as I can be.”

Should Stone make it as an NHL reg­u­lar, it would be the quite the coup for the Sen­a­tors, who se­lected him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, 178th over­all. At the start of the 2009-10 sea­son, he was rated as a po­ten­tial Top 50 pick by some scout­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, but his sta­tus slipped. He had a con­cus­sion and a thumb in­jury and played in only 39 games with Bran­don.

On top of the that, he was crit­i­cized for be­ing a weak skater. Af­ter the 2010 draft, Stone an­swered back by scor­ing 37 goals and 69 as­sists last sea­son, tied with cur­rent Edmonton Oil­ers star rookie Ryan Nu­gent-hop­kins for third in the Western Hockey League scor­ing race.

All along, Stone has been de­ter­mined to im­prove his skat­ing.

“Skat­ing is an is­sue for me,” he ad­mits, “but I spent a lot of time in the sum­mer with (Sen­a­tors power skat­ing spe­cial­ist) Mark Power, and I made strides.”

The Sen­a­tors re­warded Stone by let­ting him play in a pre­sea­son game with the big club and by sign­ing him to his three-year en­try-level con­tract be­fore he re­turned to ju­nior.

“I started the year with quite a bit of con­fi­dence,” he says. “They showed a lot of in­ter­est in me. That was a big boost.”

While Stone may have orig­i­nally been con­sid­ered a long-shot to make the Cana­dian world ju­nior team, he had a strong per­for­mance at the eval­u­a­tion camp in Au­gust while scrim­mag­ing on a line with Florida Pan­thers draft pick Jonathan Hu­berdeau and Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets star rookie Ryan Jo­hansen.

Now, it would be a sur­prise if he didn’t make the squad, es­pe­cially af­ter his per­for­mance for the WHL all-stars against Rus­sia in Thurs­day night’s Sub­way Se­ries game. He was named player of the game with a goal and an as­sist and plus-three rat­ing.

An in­ter­est­ing twist in the story of Stone’s de­vel­op­ment is the pres­ence of Cory Clous­ton. Clous­ton, who coached the Sen­a­tors in 2009-10 and 201011 be­fore his fir­ing in the spring, is now Stone’s head coach in Bran­don.

What’s Clous­ton has seen so far im­presses him.

“Ev­ery player has strengths and weak­nesses, but he has def­i­nitely im­proved from the player I saw at the start of (Sen­a­tors) camp last year,” Clous­ton says. “His core strength is stronger. At the prospects camp (in July), they asked him to work on those ar­eas and it shows.”

When line­mates change, Stone works to their strengths and Clous­ton says “he has the in­tel­li­gence to match his skill.”

Tim Murray, the Sen­a­tors as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager, isn’t sur­prised at Stone’s high point to­tals this sea­son, say­ing it’s a car­ry­over from his strong per­for­mances at the world ju­nior camp and Sen­a­tors train­ing camp. He ex­pects that Stone will be “on the bub­ble” dur­ing Sen­a­tors train­ing camp next sea­son, sim­i­lar to the sit­u­a­tions that Zibana­jad and cen­tre Stéphane Da Costa faced this sea­son.

“He knows he has to im­prove his skat­ing,” Murray says. “He scores goals. He sets up goals. He has great of­fen­sive in­stincts. He has the size. He has the tal­ent level. He will be given ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to make it.”

Should Stone be asked to spend some time in Bing­ham­ton, don’t ex­pect a Nikita Fi­la­tov-type of re­bel­lion. Long bus rides are al­ready old hat to him.

“We are on the bus all the time,” he says of bru­tal Western Hockey League travel. “One trip was 5,000 kilo­me­tres. It’s some­thing you get used to.”

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY, TIM SMITH OF THE BRAN­DON WHEAT KINGS HOCKEY CLUB

MARK STONE Age: 19 Po­si­tion: Right wing Stats (as of Thurs­day): 22 G 27 A 46 Pts. Drafted: Sixth round, 178th over­all, 2010 Scout­ing re­port: Stone’s skat­ing has been ques­tioned, but he seems to have every­thing else: a scor­ing touch, play­mak­ing...

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