For the most part, Ottawa goes as its “Big Three”’ go. Last season, Dany Heatley (50), Jason Spezza (34) and Daniel Alfredsson scored 113 of the team’s 288 goals. That means three players accounted for 40 percent of those tallies. The disparity was even more stunning in the playoffs, when those three players played on the same line and ravished opponents by scoring 28 of Ottawa’s 59 goals.
New coach John Paddock will have to decide whether he wants to keep these three players together again or spread them out for more depth. The problem becomes a more dicey because Ottawa lost scoring forwards Peter Schaefer and Mike Comrie during the off-season.
Yet, there are still options available on the Ottawa roster. Antoine Vermette should develop into a consistent 20-goal scorer this season after getting 23 and 19 in his first two seasons. Mike Fisher has authored back-to-back 22-goal seasons and was one of Ottawa’s best players in the postseason.
Chris Kelly scored a career-high 15 goals last season, but could reach a higher total with added ice time. Vet Dean McAmmond still knows how to find the net and Patrick Eaves has shown a goal-scorer’s touch at times, although the youngster has been far too inconsistent.
Heatley and Spezza form one of the deadliest one-two punches on the power play in the NHL. Heatley had a team-high 17 power-play goals last year among his 50 markers. Spezza added 13. Fisher and Alfredsson had seven goals apiece.
Energy players like Fisher and Chris Neil were also occasionally used on the power play with great effect by then coach Bryan Murray, who is now just the GM after handing over the coaching reigns to Paddock.
Paddock will need to find a way to make Ottawa a two-line threat in man-advantage situations if he hopes to improve on last year’s 84.5 power-play conversion rate, which was good for 10th in the League.
Shorthanded, Ottawa uses its speed to full advantage, relying on players like Fisher, Kelly and Vermette.
Up and Coming
Josh Hennessy – Obtained in the Martin Havlat trade, Hennessy showed during the 2006-07 season that he was as good as advertised. In the same mold as many of Ottawa’s forwards, Hennessey is a smooth-skating, offensively inclined forward who netted 27 goals and 57 points for a weak Binghamton team. He also earned a 10-game call-up to Ottawa and did not look out of place, scoring one goal and taking two minors.
Nick Foligno – A monster 2006-07 season with Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury squad (88 points in 66 games), followed by an even bigger postseason (29 points in 21 games), earned this first-round pick a pro contract this summer. Foligno still has a year of junior eligibility available, but it appears that he will have a chance of making the Ottawa club out of training camp.
Alexander Nikulin -- After playing in the Russian Super League for the past three seasons, Nikulin is ready to start his North American pro career. A solid two-way forward with the sound skating skills that have become a hallmark of the Russian game, Nikulin had five goals and 16 points with CSKA Moscow last year. He added two goals and six points in 12 playoff games.
Shawn Weller – A crash-and-bang winger, Weller signed a pro deal last spring with Ottawa after finishing his third season with Clarkson University. He scored 40 points in 39 college games last year and should get some valuable seasoning with Binghamton this year.
James O’Brien – Ottawa’s marquee pick from the 2007 Draft, O’Brien left the University of Minnesota and joined the Seattle Thunderbirds after siging an entry-level deal with the Senators. It is unlikely that O’Brien has the maturity or strength to make the parent club this year, but he projects to be a second-line power forward for the Sens in the near future.
Chris Neil – A classic power forward, Neil has been shedding his tough guy persona for the past few years, concentrating more on goal scoring. The results have been stunning. Two years ago, Neil netted a career-best 16 goals and 33 points. This past season, however, he scored four fewer goals and had five fewer points. For Ottawa to reach its full potential, Neil must keep on moving forward with his offensive numbers, not stagnating or regressing.