With the NHL lockout in full swing and no end in sight, many Ottawa Senators fans can turn their attention to the American Hockey League (AHL) where the Binghamton Senators play. Many NHL caliber players that are still on entry-level contracts are eligible to play in the AHL this season which has upped the level of competition around the league. Here are five players on the Binghamton Senators who you will see playing for Ottawa in the not-so-distant future.
Lehner is still very young – especially for a goalie – but he has already put together a rather impressive resume. After coming to North America to play in the OHL for one season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he quickly turned pro. In his first season in Binghamton, he went 10-8-2 in the regular season before leading Binghamton to the Calder Cup championship going 14-4 with a 2.10 GAA and a save percentage of .939, and was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the 2011 playoffs MVP.
2011-12 was a struggle for Lehner at the AHL level but he showed flashes of brilliance in five starts for the Ottawa Senators, going 3-2 with a save % of .935 and a 2.01 GAA. This season Lehner has come into Binghamton in excellent shape and has gone 4-2 with an impressive .933 save percentage and a 1.99 GAA. With Ben Bishop on the team, Lehner realizes he cannot afford another shaky season.
The Senators’ top pick in 2011 is coming off an odd 2011-12 season. After suiting up in nine games for Ottawa, he was sent back to Djurgardens where he and the team struggled and was eventually relegated from the Swedish Elite League at the end of the season. Zibanejad did score the overtime winner securing the gold medal for Sweden for the World Junior Championships (WJC) in 2012.
With Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris pencilled in at centre on the top two lines in Ottawa, Zibanejad was asked to play left wing coming into the Binghamton camp. Moving to wing should give him a better shot at making the top six forward group with Ottawa. Zibanejad has shown flexibility in the 2012 WJC lining up on all three forward positions. Playing in Binghamton, Zibanejad has started off slowly putting up just three assists in nine games as he adjusts to playing on the North American ice size. Once Zibanejad is acclimated to his new surroundings, expect to see him show off his offensive skills and above average ability to read and create plays.
Silfverberg created tons of hype about himself in 2011-12, putting up 54 points in 49 games to win the Swedish Elite League (SEL) MVP award. He continued his success in the SEL playoffs scoring 13 goals in 17 playoff games, breaking the SEL record that was held by none other than Daniel Alfredsson. He joined the Ottawa Senators for game 6 and 7 of their first round playoff series against the New York Rangers, seeing limited action in both contests.
Heading into the 2012-13 season in Binghamton, Silfverberg has a great opportunity to receive top quality minutes while adjusting to playing in North America. He already boasts a smart two-way type of game that makes him seem more mature than most 22 year olds. Nine games into the season, he has two goals and two assists and has been an asset on the penalty kill.
Jared Cowen can hardly be considered a prospect for Ottawa as he made the team in 2011-12 and played his way onto a top four defence pairing in Ottawa while playing in all 82 games. There is no doubt that if there were an NHL season Cowen would be on the big club. For now he has an opportunity to play top pairing minutes and hone his shutdown and penalty killing skills in Binghamton.
In three games played this season, Cowen has put up three points and is poised to play in many offensive situations that he may not have gotten the chance to take part in with Ottawa. At 6 ft. 5 in., 230 lbs., Cowen uses his strength on the puck and high hockey IQ to help shutdown opposing players. With his size and strength, the Senators have a valuable asset on the backend who stands up for his teammates and is not afraid to drop the gloves.
20 year old Mark Stone is more physically developed than the average prospect. At 6 ft. 3 in., 203 lbs., he may be ready for NHL duty sooner than expected. Stone doesn’t just have size to his advantage as he has shown great offensive pedigree in his final season of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings, piling up 41 goals 82 assists for 123 points. Stone earned a spot on the 2012 Canadian World Junior team and won a bronze medal while leading the team in goals scored.
Stone played for Ottawa in game 5 of their first round series against the Rangers in the 2012 playoffs assisting on the game winning goal. This season Stone joined Binghamton and collected four assists in four games. Stone is a power forward who projects to be a top-nine NHL player.
Creator of the Bettman Stand Up hockey blog. I cover the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers, In Hossa we trust! I also write for publications such as Arbitrage Magazine and Elite Sports Blog. You can follow me on Twitter @RickEmrith