FACES OF THE SENS’ FUTURE
Ken Warren looks at players you’ll see more of in Ottawa someday
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.”
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...