Just the other day, Scott touched upon a report by Andrey Osadchenko indicating Ottawa was in talks to sign undrafted defenceman Viktor Antipin.
Although Ottawa’s depth in general is enviable – just ask Eugene Melnyk – there’s a discernible difference between quantity versus quality.
On the blue line, a number of players have graduated from Binghamton to join Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen on the Senators’ blueline. We’re only two games into the start of the 2013 NHL season, but Patrick Wiercioch has not looked out of place and Mark Borowiecki is still waiting to make his first appearance of the season.
There are other defencemen within the system too.
Eric Gryba is one player whose prospects the organization seem to be quite high on. Luke Richardson was on the Team 1200 yesterday afternoon singling Gryba out as being one of the key reasons why the B-Sens haven’t missed a beat despite the absence of the players who graduated to the NHL.
And I haven’t even mentioned 2012 first rounder Cody Ceci. Having participated in Ottawa’s improvised training camp, one can hope that an extended playoff run with the Owen Sound Attack will help expedite his development and put him on the fast track for success.
The problem for Ottawa is that Ceci may realistically be one to three years away from being a dependable NHL regular. While the ceilings of the Senators remaiing defensive propects are somewhat limited.
For an organization that seemingly has depth and skill at a number of positions, the hope for every Sens fan is that the team can create a balanced pool of prospects at every position so that when the team is poised to make its ascent to Stanley Cup contention, it has fewer internal weaknesses. Balanced depth allows the team to sustain its window of opportunity or at the very least, it allows the organization to peddle depth for better talent.
Having missed out on Justin Schultz earlier in the summer and with the team allegedly talking with the representatives for Antipin, the organization has obviously identified the backend as an area that needs addressing.
Besides pursuing Antipin, there are a number of other intriguing possibilities that are worth revisiting.
Let’s start with Danny DeKeyser.
The unrestricted collegiate defenceman is in his junior season for Western Michigan University – tallying 12 goals and 44 points in 103 CCHA games.
The numbers may seem paltry, but take it from his head coach and former NHL head coach, Andy Murray who assures everyone that DeKeyser is an NHL talent.
“He’s a really smart player. He’s a great leader, has a great stick, plays with some physical bite and makes good decisions with the puck. My feeling is, from my experience in the league, that he’s certainly capable of being an NHLer. When that happens, I’m not sure, but he’s capable.”
It’s an opinion that Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman agrees with.
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) March 13, 2012
The Michigan native has long been linked to the Detroit Red Wings because of his connection to Jim Nill, the assistant GM of the Detroit Red Wings. Having played with Nill’s son Trevor, this family link, coupled with the fact that DeKeyser attended the Red Wings’ developmental in 2011, has given many reason to believe that it’s a foregone conclusion that he dons the winged wheel.
Things may not be that simple however, especially since DeKeyser turned down an invitation to join the Wings’ 2012 development camp.
"He wasn't going to go to any camps this year," assistant general manager Jim Nill said this morning. "Every team is after him. He decided not to go into any camps. He wanted to focus on training."
With the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom and many of the team’s best players entering their mid-thirties, Detroit’s window has almost closed, if it hasn’t already. Although their system boasts a variety of celebrated prospects, Corey Pronman rated them as having the third best system in the NHL as recently as July 2012, none have really made their mark on the NHL yet.
Players aren’t stupid. They want to sign for a team that’s trending in the right direction and one that also gives them a chance to win.
Should Detroit continue to trend down and see their window close, the allure of playing for a young team on the upswing could be more enticing. Just ask Justin Schultz who picked the Oilers over his home province Canucks and the Eastern Conference upstart Senators.
For whatever it is worth, the Senators were allegedly in on DeKeyser last season as well, but ultimately, the player decided that he wanted to return for his junior season.
Danny Dekeyser from Western Michigan is the top College UFA. 25 teams chasing the D man. Ottawa in the mix. Still has two years of school.
— Shawn Simpson (@SSimpsonHockey) March 16, 2012
Which brings us to another unrestricted collegiate prospect, Andrej Sustr. At 6’8” and 225 pounds, he also opted to return to school and fulfill his junior season. In 96 games played, his offensive production — 12 goals and 43 points — has mirrored that of DeKeyser and this season, he’s apparently averaging more than 23 minutes of ice-time per game.
For some time, Sustr has been monitored by Pierre McGuire. In a Sports Illustrated feature last year, McGuire described the level of interest in the now 22-year old University of Nebraska-Omaha ‘monster’.
"Scouts from at least 20 NHL teams have journeyed to the heartland to watch 6'8" defenseman Andrej Sustr, a 20-year-old Czech-born sophomore at Nebraska-Omaha.".
More recently, Pierre has continued to bestow praise upon Sustr, telling TGOR on January 7th that "Tyler Myers is the last big person that I've seen that can skate like this person."
It’d be quite unlike Pierre to ever overhype the promise of a young player, so take that quote straight to the bank.
And as I wrote last March, "sometimes defensive partner At Omaha Bryce Aneloski is a 2010 Ottawa draft pick, which probably doesn't hurt."
Now why does any of this matter? Because like Shawn Simpson did with DeKeyser, CBC’s Tim Wharnsby linked the Senators to the Slovak defenceman as well, writing it is "believed that the Senators have an interest in this defenceman."
Before anyone gets ahead of themselves, according to one report from the Omaha World-Herald, (Sustr’s) tried to limit contact with NHL types, particularly between games during weekend series.
Sustr may be biding his time before entering the market, but the prevailing assumption is that this season will be his last; even his head coach Dean Blais is inclined to believe that this season will be Sustr’s last.
“I expect him to join an NHL team after this season,” Blais said. “But he'll decide that. He loves school. He's a good student. He likes his teammates and he likes Omaha. He might surprise me and stay.”
Like any undrafted collegiate prospect, there’s no guarantee that either DeKeyser or Sustr will ever be any better than some of Ottawa’s current prospects. Hell, we’ve endured the Bobby Butler era here in Ottawa, we all should know these players are far from sure things. But with the Senators being a young and competitive club that has a very identifiable need for more talent on the blue line, it’s the type of situation that could entice either or both of us these players.
Luongo and Ottawa?
From The Hockey News:
The San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators have been bandied about by rumor bloggers. Anyone watching the recent play of the Sharks’ Antti Niemi and the Senators’ Craig Anderson, however, would reject those teams as potential destinations for Luongo. The Capitals’ young tandem of Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth struggled in their club’s recent two-game losing skid, but that doesn’t mean management wants to shake things up right now.
Alright, who's the idiot who linked the Senators to Luongo and why hasn't this person been publicly outed yet?