Ottawa Senators That Need to Step Up in Jason Spezza's Injury Absence
The Ottawa Senators' great start to the 2013 NHL season has taken a back seat to the news that top-line center Jason Spezza will be out for quite some time while he recovers from back surgery (via Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun).
Spezza back surgery herniated disc Friday in Toronto. Out "indefinitely" says Murray, who hopes he gets back for latter part of season— Don Brennan (@SunDoniB) January 31, 2013
After losing their best forward, several Senators players will need to step up and help give the team some added offensive production during Spezza's absence.
Ottawa currently ranks fifth in goals scored and sixth in power-play percentage, but maintaining this level of success won't be easy without the team's most skilled center.
Let's look at four players who must play a larger role with Spezza out of the lineup.
Young star Kyle Turris will likely become the team's No. 1 center while Spezza is injured, and if the 23-year-old forward continues to play like he has through seven games this season, head coach Paul MacLean will be a very happy man.
Turris will likely see an increase in ice time during 5-on-5 situations and on the power play, and he's certainly capable of excelling in a larger role.
He leads all Senators forwards with four goals and seven points, and is the team's best playmaker with Spezza unable to play.
Turris will have to improve his faceoff percentage because winning 48.8 percent of draws isn't good enough for a first-line center.
For the Senators to maintain their impressive power-play success this season they need Turris to win the majority of his faceoffs. Spezza is the only Ottawa player ranked in the top 25 in faceoff percentage.
This is a great opportunity for Turris to prove that he can perform at a high level as one of the most important players on the team—and for the Senators to compete for the Northeast Division title, he needs to play at an all-star level.
Asking a 19-year-old center to play an important role in the team's offense and the power play isn't an ideal situation for a playoff contender, but the Senators don't have a choice.
Zibanejad has only played in two games this season, but he does have two points (a goal and an assist) and has received 3:05 of power-play time.
The Swedish forward has all the tools to be successful at the NHL level. He has a powerful shot, great passing skills, a high hockey IQ and is capable of impacting the game physically in all three zones.
Zibanejad has already shown in his brief NHL career (11 games) that he has the level of maturity needed to succeed at such a young age.
He is now under a lot of pressure to reach his potential and prove why he was the No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft, but Zibanejad has the talent and mental toughness needed to become a valuable part of this team.
After spending most of his professional career in the AHL, 24-year-old center Jim O'Brien has played in all seven games this season for the Senators and is quickly becoming an important part of the team's fourth line.
O'Brien has scored three goals and has played over 10 minutes in six of Ottawa's seven games. He's a physical player who is responsible defensively and is also a good penalty killer.
As a player motivated to keep his spot on the team and not get sent back down to the Binghamton Senators, O'Brien brings some needed determination and intensity to the Ottawa lineup.
He's one of the toughest players on the roster, but with Spezza missing a few months recovering from surgery, O'Brien will have to make a bigger impact offensively as one of the team's healthy centers.
If O'Brien is able to add some scoring depth to the Senators, he will become a very important part of the team and won't have to worry about being demoted to the AHL.
The Senators blue line will need to be more productive offensively with Spezza's scoring absent from the lineup, and veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar's role will become even more important as a result.
We know that reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson is going to score points on a consistent basis, but the only other Senators defenseman capable of performing at a high level offensively is Gonchar.
He has four points (one goal, three assists) through six games, and as expected, he's also getting a lot of power-play minutes.
Gonchar is also in the final year of his contract, so he certainly doesn't need any more motivation to have one of his best offensive seasons in recent memory.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.
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