Sens assistant GM Randy Lee joined TSN 1200 on Friday morning for some prospect talk ahead of the Binghamton Senators opening up their first round playoff series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Binghamton tonight. He offered thoughts on Mark Stone, Matt Puempel, Cody Ceci, Fredrik Claesson and more.
Here's what he had to say...
On Mark Stone's development:
For me it's a great story because he's such a hard-worker. When we drafted him, like you said before, he was not the best skater. I really had doubts whether he could be a player because of his skating but he really applied himself, he really worked hard at that aspect of his game. He got himself stronger, he's got such great instincts for the game, he's got an absolutely amazing stick. He just plays the game right. I think you guys saw it this year that he took another big step and I think this playoffs is going to be a great showcase for him to show what he can do in a real tight playoff series.
On Stone as proof that hard work can offset shortcomings :
Yeah, without question. We used to argue with players years ago saying you can't make guys faster, they are what they are. One of the guys was Mike Fisher, I used to argue with one of our vets who said he's just a puck chaser, I'm not sure about this guy. I said trust me, this guy has so much character, so much work ethic. Guys like that who want to commit themselves — Matt Puempel is another guy, he really invested himself. If you want to take the time and reach out and do the things you need to do, not the things you like to do, you can make that difference regardless of age. Sometimes we get guys who are college guys who are 22, 23, 24 but still have deficiencies in their game. If they're willing to step back and look at themselves, figure out what they need to do and apply themselves, they can make that difference.
On what led to the improvement in Stone's skating:
All of it — single leg stability, strength, core stability, leg power, skating mechanics — he had all of it, trust me. It's like you've got so much more upside if you've got so many things you can fix. He had all of those deficiencies and he worked at all of them.
He was a guy that scared us because he missed a lot of hockey due to injuries and suspensions and it wasn't going well for him. We were worried about him as a prospect. He was our third first rounder that year but we just weren't sure if he was going to have it. He invested himself, he worked really hard with our skating coach, he worked really hard to get stronger. We sent him down, he's one of those guys who went to play in Binghamton at the end of his season and that really opened his eyes to how much of a jump the American League is. I think that sort of invigorated him to invest and work that much harder. He's a guy that I don't think we expected to get that many goals (30) this year but I think if you look at him, he's much grittier now, Luke (Richardson) and Steve (Stirling) have done a great job with him, he plays much better without the puck and he's much more competitive — I think he actually had three or four fights this year.
On if Puempel could make the jump next season:
I think he'll challenge but I think for him he'll be able to play games next year for sure and I think the best course of action is for him to have another big year in the American League, but you never know. In one big offseason guys change and you never know what happens in a playoff series, he could really establish himself. Sometimes the playoffs are the platform they need to really showcase themselves so we'll see guys take big steps here.
We projected him to get some games in this year but we didn't project him to play this year. We weren't on on this guy. We thought he needed to improve without the puck, his stick position, how he leveraged his body, how he protected the front of the net and boxed out guys — we thought, okay there are a bunch of things in his game he needs to work on but having Luke there is an absolutely amazing resource for him and he did all that. So we brought him up and thought okay, we'll get him some games, he'll get a taste, he'll go back down and he'll be really hungry. He took a job from us. We're a team that's a budget team, we did not plan to have eight defencemen, but he forced our hand. He just came in, earned the spot and kept the spot. Give the kid credit.
On the importance of Binghamton making a run:
It's incredible because in the past a lot of times Bryan would give us a mandate of get me guys who can play games, get me guys who can play in the NHL. Now he has changed that; he wants to win. He's saying find me guys who can raise their game up, elevate their game and be competitive in the playoffs; guys who can help us win in the playoffs. This is the best case. We can get them stronger and faster and get them to eat better and sleep better but can they win the playoffs? Can they step their game up when the chips are on the line? This is going to be a good test for them. If you look back on the Calder Cup run so many of those guys that played integral parts of that championship team who were the key guys were the prospects, not just the American League guys. The Robin Lehners and Zack Smiths and Cowens and Boros and all those guys, Daugavins and Jimmy O'Brien. It paid huge dividends for them so we're hoping for the same thing this year. We can get guys to put them out on a platform where they've got to perform under pressure situations and they've got to deliver.
Well you saw his plus/minus this year, Freddy did a great job. He was voted the team's best defencemen this year, he's a very competitive guy, he's a great guy in the dressing room, he's not 6-foot-4, he's 6-feet, but he plays really hard. He defends really hard, he's great at killing penalties, he moves the puck well and he's one of those guys that wants to be out there in pressure situations. He's a guy that, seriously, we had a lot of confidence telling Bryan, "If you need a call-up guy, Freddy can come up and deliver for you."
Those of you who would like to hear the interview can listen here.
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