|Swedish forward Jakob Silfverberg is at the front of the next wave of young Senators prospects aiming to make an impact at the NHL level as soon as next season in Ottawa (Photo by Matthew Healy/OSHC).
The future is already at hand for the Ottawa Senators.
Even in the crucible of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the organization had the opportunity to put some of its brightest prospects into the glare of the spotlight. And Senators general manager Bryan Murray surely liked what he saw.
Even in the wake of a season in which the Senators infused their roster with plenty of new talent, the now-vibrant pipeline of prospects — the envy of many a National Hockey League team, no doubt — promises to push even more of them toward contention for a roster spot when Ottawa opens its 2012-13 training camp in mid-September.
"I've (already) told a few of them that played this year that you better come to camp and be real good and improve, because there are people waiting to take your job," Murray said when asked how competitive he thinks that fall camp will be. "Unfortunately, that's the business. We're going to keep the best guys. Even a few guys that we liked at the end of this year may have a struggle.
"We've got seven pre-season games and I think they'll be fun for a lot of us as we sit in judgment. I think there'll be competition big time."
The playoffs provided a healthy glimpse at the type of players the Senators have lying in wait on the horizon. Forward Mark Stone, the 178th overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, showed during back-to-back 100-plus point seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League that he's looking very much like a sixth-round steal.
When Senators head coach Paul MacLean gave the 19-year-old Winnipeg native a shot in Game 5 against the New York Rangers, all Stone did was set up Jason Spezza for the eventual winning goal with a pass that put his hockey smarts and vision on full display.
"Just a flat out NHL play," MacLean would say a day later.
Perhaps no Senators prospect is more heralded at the moment than Jakob Silfverberg, the 6-1, 187-pound left winger who earned the Golden Helmet Award as the Swedish Elitserien's regular-season MVP — an honour bestowed upon him by a vote of the league's players. Then he led Brynas IF to its first playoff crown since 1999, broke Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson's record for most goals in the post-season, and earned the playoff MVP award.
The Senators inserted Silfverberg into their lineup for Game 6 and 7 against the Blueshirts and, in the deciding contest in particular, the second-round pick (39th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft showed the kind of impact he can make, controlling play along the boards in the offensive zone for several stretches as Ottawa pressed for a tying goal in the late going.
"He's a very good player," Murray said in assessing Silfverberg's NHL playoff debut. "I think he's a very talented player. There were several shifts in a tight series (against the Rangers) wher he showed that he's going to be a good hockey player in this league. He's going to be a point getter. My expectation is that he'll be exactly that.
"He'll probably come to camp and force me to talk to Paul once in awhile and suggest that maybe he play in a top-six position at times. He's that kind of player."
The Senators will no doubt have a close eye on the 21-year-old Silfverberg over the next two weeks, as he joins Alfredsson and Ottawa blueliner Erik Karlsson in their quest to bring Sweden a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship, which begins Friday in Stockholm and Helsinki.
Silfverberg and Stone are merely the beginning of the wave. Mika Zibanejad, another Swede who was the Senators' top pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 draft, showed so well in camp last year that he suited up for the first nine games of the season in Ottawa before returning home to Sweden. Though they didn't see playoff action, Binghamton Senators forward Mike Hoffman and defenceman Mark Borowiecki were at least considered possibilities to join the lineup at various points during the series against the Rangers.
That the Senators have amassed such a wealth of young talent is a credit, Murray said, to the work of director of player personnel Pierre Dorion and his scouting staff, who have set the organization on track to prosper for years to come.
"Now we have a crop of young guys coming," said Murray. "We're probably as deep as most any organization at this point in time ... If we can inject a couple of these higher-end skill guys (next year), things are only going to get better. That's my feeling."