Sens' Mark Stone emerges as leader despite team's struggles
Forward learned from sitting next to Chris Neil last season
In a year that has been nothing short of disappointing, Mark Stone has been a rare bright spot for the Ottawa Senators.
The winger, who plays with a level of maturity and accountability well beyond his 25 years, has emerged as the Senators best player on the ice this season as well as a valued leader.
"I was brought up by my parents to carry myself with professionalism and character and that's stuck with me so I'm trying to do that through the tough times and the good times," Stone said Tuesday.
Senators coach Guy Boucher recognized Stone's leadership qualities early on last season and had the winger sit next to alternate captain Chris Neil in the locker room, as he felt Stone would benefit from the veteran's experience.
Stone was named an alternate captain this season after Neil's departure, and the Winnipeg native has developed into a quality leader.
"He's one of those guys that leadership just comes naturally," said teammate Bobby Ryan. "It's not always about you say, whether it be media or in the room or anything like that, it's just about your actions and in [Mark] you have a guy that recognizes that if you're going to lead by example you have to be best player everyday in practice, one of the first ones here and putting in time with your teammates, getting a pulse for the room and I think he has a really good handle on all of that at a young age.
"It's pretty impressive."
Stone didn't mince words after his team dropped a 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night to close out 2017. It was the fifth time in December that the Senators had been shut out, leaving them with a 4-14-3 record for the month and sitting 12 points back of the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot and 16 back of Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.
"It starts at the top," he said. "Our best players haven't been our best players and it's a trickle-down effect. Guys see top players cheat and they do too."
With 15 goals and 19 assists Stone leads the team in goals and points and has been one of the few players to escape criticism.
"It's been a total buy in from [Stone]," Boucher said. "It's been a great season from him. He's been consistent. Look again today he came out and he was the hardest working guy out there and that's what you see if your top guy is there and he wants to be on the page with everybody and the plan and he totally is.
"He's definitely a guy that's representing everything we're trying to do ad he's doing extremely well and having a very good season."
The Senators open 2018 with a game against the Red Wings in Detroit on Wednesday night followed by a three-game home stand where they will host San Jose, Tampa and Chicago. All three teams have the potential to embarrass the Senators if they continue to underperform.
In an effort to shake things up assistant coaches Marc Crawford and Martin Raymond have switched duties on special teams with Crawford handling the power play and Raymond on the penalty kill.