Sens future looks bright; present not so much

Robin Lehner gloves an errant puck in NHL action against the New York Islanders January 13, 2011. Lehner earned his first NHL win in the start.
Photo courtesy of NHL.com.

Senators fans had two reasons to smile in December and January, and neither of them had to do with the Ottawa's play.

The 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships saw the emergence of Sens' prospect Robin Lehner as a top junior goaltending talent. To be fair, people "in the know" knew about how good of a prospect he is, but many may have received a rude awakening during the tournament. Just ask the Russians. Sure, they lost the semi-final game to the Russians, but Lehner did manage to shut out the Russians in group play. Also, Sens' fans had the privilege of seeing how much difference a year has made in Jared Cowen's development. Anyone who saw him play in the WHL v Russia Super Series games this year, or watched him during the World Juniors, can see how well he is developing. His size and skill set also make him on the cusp of playing the pro game. It is unlikely he will be a top defenseman next year with the big club, but he should get a fair shake at big minutes down in the A.

Speaking of prospects, defenseman David Runblad looks ready to make the jump to the AHL, if not the NHL. At 20 years old, he is in his FOURTH season in the Swedish Elite League. His point totals have increased every year, and this year marks his best so far. Runblad currently has 30 points in 38 games, including eight goals. Those stats, if you take into account he is playing against men, are extremely positive. The Sens traded away a high draft pick for him last year, which ended up becoming Russian World Junior Team stand-out Vladimir Tarasenko, but building from the defense up is a sound strategy for any team.

That being said, the Senators may want to draft a few more offensively-dangerous forwards. The Brandon Wheat Kings' Mark Stone is a promising prospect. The 18 year-old right wing is leading the Wheat Kings with 22 goals and 31 assists in 46 games. Right wing Bobby Butler, at 23 years old, has put up 30 points in 41 games with the B-Sens, which also shows promise.

Aside from these two, the Sens' forward prospects leave much to be desired. The Sens have been tanking, and currently sit in the fifth last spot in the league. This makes them eligible for the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, although they will likely end up with the 5th, or hopefully 4th pick. If they continue to bomb, they may find themselves with the likelihood of a higher pick, and a shot at a promising offensive talent like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier or Gabriel Landeskog. Even if they don't advance further in the draft, they have a shot at drafting one of these three promising offensive talents. My bets are on the Swede considering Ottawa's history, but who knows?