Senators News: August 8th

Ross MacLean offers his “best value” picks for the 2012 draft and two Senators make the list: third-rounders Chris Driedger and Jarrod Maidens.  “Driedger has great potential and brings a tremendous attitude and never-quit passion to the crease, while Maidens would have been a first-rounder if he hadn’t missed most of the OHL season due to injury. While Maidens’ long-term health status remains in the air, his upside is tremendous.”  Maidens mention is no surprise, but Driedger received little scouting approbation outside of MacLean’s own ISS.

Ed Benkin writes about Sens prospect Michael Sdao (7-191/09), who talked about his development experience:

It is a development camp. It’s all about player development and trying to improve your skills. The physical play is part of the game, so sometimes that does come up. It was great. It was good to go back there and see some of my friends and roommates from past years. It was my third time in camp, so I have a really good relationship with a lot of the guys. It’s such a great city and great place to be. You definitely get a taste of what it’s like to be a pro. It’s intended to make you hungry and get to the next level, and that’s definitely what it’s done for me. They’ve talked to me about my career after Princeton. They expect me to be a big part of the organization down the line. They’re very engaged in their prospects. Every year, they’ve been able to make it to some of my games and I’m thankful for that. I got to play more minutes and develop my skills [at Princeton; Sdao was named as a first-team All-Ivy League and second-team All-ECACH]. I also got some power play time and a lot of penalty-kill time.  Just to play as much as I was able to play made it a great year. You get through July and everyone is itching to get back to school. The way last season ended definitely left a bad taste in our mouths. That’s [fighting] definitely part of the game. It’s something that happens and there’s a time and a place for it. You just have to know when it is. But I don’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player. There’s so much more to the game. That’s [becoming a professional] in the back of your mind all the time. You just want to watch and learn from what those guys are doing. Watching Hockey Night in Canada makes you wish that someday, that will be you.

Ottawa’s last pick in the 2009 draft, Sdao‘s talents as a pugilist guarantee him a pro career of some extent, but his improvement in all other areas make him one of the Sens more intriguing prospects.

Nichols makes a number of interesting points in his latest article:

As a head coach who often employs the paired forward tactic (he doesn’t look at lines as a set trio comprised of a centre and two wings. Instead, a pair of forwards are the constant with the third member of the line being selected from a rotating a group of wingers), Paul MacLean joins the ranks of coaches like Alain Vigneault, Ken Hitchcock and Mike Babcock who have been recognized for using this strategy.

The link is from The Province‘s Gordon McIntyre, who notes the CBC’s Elliiotte Friedman also referenced it:

The Hitchcockian stuff came when we discussed Edmonton’s forward lines. In Dallas, Hitchcock once explained how he believed more in forward “pairs” than trios. For example, Mike Modano always played with Jere Lehtinen. The third could be rotated. [Ralph] Krueger wants to see if he can create a flexible, dangerous lineup that way.

Nichols brings up this strategy because he wonders if Milan Michalek would be better suited playing with Kyle Turris rather than Jason Spezza:

Last season, MacLean relied heavily upon the strong puck possession skills of the Kyle Turris/Alfie second line duo to shut down the opposition’s best offensive forwards; whereas the Spezza unit benefitted from: a) being frequently paired with Erik Karlsson; and b) a high offensive zone start rate (note: Michalek was at 61.5% and Spezza at 59.3%). Despite playing the bulk of his 5v5 shifts playing with Karlsson and Spezza, Michalek’s puck possession numbers are middling. It’s no coincidence that whenever the first line languished, MacLean would tap Alfie on the shoulder and send him over the boards. Unlike Michalek or Colin Greening, Alfie could help Spezza ease Spezza’s burden. Too often when the first line is struggling, it’s because the offence has to run through Spezza to create its chances. When he’s off his game, he’s like a collegiate student running around his campus bar in an effort to pick up women minutes before it closes – forcing passes in effort to score. Per DobberHockey, 34 of Michalek’s 60 points came at even strength while playing on a line with Spezza. Michalek may have benefitted from a career high shooting percentage of 16.5% — that conveniently coincided with his second highest regular season shot total (and highest while playing for the Senators) – but when taken into context with how unlikely it is that Erik Karlsson replicates last season’s even strength production, the odds of Michalek’s offensive numbers regressing towards his career norms are presumably quite high.

I agree wholeheartedly that Michalek‘s numbers will fall in the upcoming season and it’s just as likely he won’t be as healthy.  However, Nichols’ number crunching is all leading up to one purpose and that is to suggest who he would like to see play with Spezza:

Over the past two seasons, Latendresse has only played in 27 NHL games and prior to signing in Ottawa, the Montreal native had to pass a physical. In other words, relative to Latendresse‘s health, Michalek’s an ironman. An optimist may suggest that these injuries have prevented a physical presence like Latendresse from putting too much mileage on his body but staying healthy is obviously going to be a major factor in how much Latendresse can contribute this season with the Sens. Fortunately, in the event that he can’t, it’s not like his contract term or cost is a burden on the organization. As Jonathan Willis wrote for Oilersnation.com [speculating if the Oilers should pursue him], He’s young, big, often physical, and more importantly he’s a pretty good possession player who has consistently been a high-percentage goal-scorer over his NHL career (on 568 career shots, Latendresse is a 14.3% shooter; he’s never been below 12.0% in a single NHL season). He fits team need perfectly. When he has been healthy, Latendresse has shown some goal scoring ability. With a playmaker like Spezza, he hopefully improve upon his  offensive totals. (Albeit, he needs to significantly increase the number of shots that he takes.) Under the right circumstances, he should be able to approach 20 goals and 40 points and at the very least, he would certainly add the puck possession dynamics that the first line sorely lacks when Alfie is not on it. By using Latendresse on the top line for his puck possession skills, it affords MacLean the flexibility to continue using Alfie with Turris so that the second line isn’t marginalized.

It’s an interesting argument and quite frankly I have no idea where MacLean envisions Latendresse in his lineup.  When healthy he should play in the top-six, but given his injury history I don’t think anyone knows what to expect when he laces up his skates in the fall.  He will get his opportunities with Spezza, but I’ll agree with Nichols that in the best of all worlds he could make a better linemate for Spezza (I’ve always seen Michalek as a second-line player).

Mark Parisi thinks the injury to Philadelphia’s Andrej Meszaros opens the door to Ottawa trading Sergei Gonchar.  He suggests Ottawa could get a second round pick from the Flyers in return, but I don’t think he delves enough into the kind of hole moving Gonchar would create on Ottawa’s blueline.  Despite all the carping and whining about Gonchar‘s performance for the Sens, there’s no prospect even close to being the kind of player he is.  Moving him would put 100% of the offensive onus on Erik Karlsson and his numbers (and the team’s numbers) would suffer accordingly.  I think the blueline as is won’t be as proficient offensively as last year and moving Gonchar would make it worse.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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