According to his agent Wade Arnott (via SenatorsExtra), Ottawa has signed RFA Stephane Da Costa to a one-year contract leaving defenceman Jared Cowen as their lone remaining unsigned player.
Terms of the deal have yet to be released publicly, nor have they been revealed on the essential Capgeek, but it stands to reason that Da Costa will have inked a two-way contract.
The once highly sought after collegiate product arrived in the Senators organization with a lot of fanfare. The combination of: 1) an Ottawa system that hadn’t really peaked in terms of developing NHL-ready prospects; 2) a management group that had a strong track record for finding late-developing UFA collegiate prospects (especially from their time in Anaheim); and 3) the widespread NHL interest in acquiring Da Costa’s rights, created a situation in which expectations for the center were higher than they probably should have been.
There’s no question that the center is blessed with some innate playmaking talent and offensive skills – Bryan Murray incidentally has compared Da Costa’s skillset, perhaps unfairly, to Hall of Famer Adam Oates. However, the knocks on Da Costa have been his lack of strength and size, and defensive acumen.
Much has been made online and through the media over Da Costa’s choice to spend last summer training at Merrimack College. Now I’m not sure whether Da Costa returned to his College for credits to put towards a degree, but you have to wonder how this decision looked from an optics perspective – especially when many of the organization’s other prospects and young talents like Kyle Turris and Patrick Wiercioch were busting their asses in the gym working firsthand with Ottawa’s development staff (ie. Randy Lee, Chris Schwarz and etc.).
Between the optics and an illness suffered in the summer that affected his conditioning and carried over into training camp with Binghamton, Da Costa plummeted down Ottawa’s organizational depth chart during the 2013 NHL season.
After starting the season with the parent club who elected to bring Mika Zibanejad along slowly, Da Costa played nine games (and looked pretty good, even if the points were wanting) before being returned to Binghamton for the duration of the 2012/13 season. Just like his ineffective start of the 2011/12 season helped necessitate the trade for Kyle Turris to resolve the team’s second line center issue, his ineffectiveness helped create opportunity for many of the organization’s other prospects. Even as injuries decimated Ottawa’s parent roster throughout the season, the organization elected to bring up players like Derek Grant, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Dave Dziurzynski and Jean-Gabriel Pageau instead.
Now the Parisian-born center’s NHL career is at a crossroad.
HIs AHL production has been good, but not overwhelming. This is now a player who turned 24 in early July, and by and large if you're not a dominant AHL forward by that age your chance of making it as a top-six forward in the NHL is small.
The Senators organization does not lack depth or prospects, so health permitting, Da Costa desperately needs a strong offseason to show that he’s serious about his future and working himself back in the mix for a promotion.
Otherwise, it won’t be surprising to see him follow Nikita Filatov’s path to Europe where the allure of a higher base salary may be too difficult to pass up.