December 31-in-31: Ottawa Senators

Tony Ferrari

2020-12-21

Photo Courtesy of the Ottawa Senators

 

Typically a summer series, the December 31-in-31 series is taking place of the annual August 31-in-31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing the NHL season back to the summer, making for an atypical fall offseason.  December will feature part two of the 31-in-31 series and focus on the team’s depth charts, fantasy outlook, and begin to look at how the roster will shakedown when the next NHL season starts. The November edition of the series focused on the 2020 NHL Draft and the team’s off-season acquisitions through free agency and trades and how they affect the development paths for the team’s prospects.

 

The futility is finally paying off. Too harsh? Maybe, but the Senators have had a rough go of it since the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. Immediately becoming a bottom-end team, the Senators have taken a long and winding road to what has become a steady and solid rebuild. Most teams do things in a fairly simple and straightforward manner in a rebuild. Realize you’re bad, get worse by trading for picks, use those picks to play the lottery in the middle rounds of the draft, hit on your top picks each year. The Senators aren’t most teams. So before we can evaluate the offseason and get to what they’ve done for their prospect pool, it seems necessary to lay out how they got there.

 

November 5, 2017: Matt Duchene Trade 

This set the table for everything to come after. This trade was made at a time when the Senators were coming off an improbable conference final run and a hot start to the season despite analytics showing that they were likely not going to be able to keep up the facade. The price was an impediment to a team that would be in a rebuild by season’s end. Shane Bowers, a first-round pick in either 2018 or 2019 (They kept the 2018 pick and took Brady Tkachuk), Kyle Turris and Andrew Hammond were all exiting the Canadian capital with just Duchene coming in.

 

February 26, 2018: Trade Deadline sell-off

The Senators had realized the error in their belief that they were a contending team and began the sell-off. Trading Derek Brassard and flipping Ian Cole were smart moves that brought in some assets that were desperately needed. Finishing the day with Pittsburgh’s 2018 first-rounder and possible goaltender of the future, Filip Gustavsson, the Sens began to look to the future.

 

June 19, 2020: Mike Hoffman Trade(s)

The situation had clearly gone too far and there were fences that were unable to be mended. For the details on why Hoffman had to go, you can check out the Ottawa Citizen report. Why this is significant was that the Senators looked to have been fleeced by the San Jose Sharks. Here’s how it went down. The Senators traded Hoffman, Cody Donaghey, and a 2020 5th round pick to the Sharks for Mikael Boedker, Julius Bergman, and a 2020 sixth-round pick. Just hours later, the Sharks flipped Hoffman to the Panthers for a 2018 fourth and fifth-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick. The Sens HAD to trade Hoffman, the Sharks knew that and took advantage. They didn’t need the scoring help at the time and they knew they could recoup the assets and use the trade to clear Boedker from their books. Tidy work by the Sharks, as long as karma doesn’t come back for you.

 

June 22, 2018: Draft Pick Decision Day/Brady Tkachuk

The day had arrived and the Senators had to make a choice as to whether they would keep their 2018 first-round pick and send their 2019 pick to Colorado to help complete the Duchene trade or get the pain out of the way immediately and forfeit their 2018 4th overall pick. The team elected to make their 2018 selection and announce the pick of Brady Tkachuk. This would mean they would forfeit their 2019 first-round pick to Colorado.

 

September 13, 2018: Erik Karlsson Trade

I’m going to let our good friends at CapFriendly take this one. There was a lot. Did they win the trade? Not the day they made it. Some luck helped them win it in the end though. We’ll get to that.

Erik Karlsson Trade courtesy of CapFriendly

 

February 25, 2019: Trade Deadline sell-off of Duchene, Dzingel, and Stone

They didn’t have their own first-rounder because of acquiring Duchene in November 2017 but they did what they had to do. They traded Duchene, effectively admitting the mistake, collecting the Columbus first-round pick, and Vitaly Abramov who has shown some promise. For Ryan Dzingel, the Senators were able to add two second-round picks. Mark Stone, the biggest prize of the bunch, brought back highly touted prospect Erik Brannstrom and a second-round pick. Overall it was a solid step forward for a team in a rebuild that needed to add draft capital as they approached a draft where they were on track to give up a top-five pick.

 

June 21, 2019: Watching Colorado make their pick

The 2019 draft is still up in the air in terms of the results the Senators generated but they look to have found something interesting in Shane Pinto who is impressing in with the University of North Dakota. Lassi Thomson has had an up-and-down development with some playing time woes with Ilves of the Liiga, but he will look to make the team in the coming year. A decent haul.  The problem? They watched the Avalanche walk up to the podium at fourth overall and select defender Bowen Byram.

 

July 1, 2019: Ceci for Zaitsev and Brown 

The Senators traded Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk, and a third-round pick in 2020 for Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev. This trade got them a good player in Connor Brown who can help play in the middle-six and has the experience from being around the Leafs rebuild and a defender who provided negative value on what Ceci was providing. For a longer-term. Head scratcher to say the least.

 

February 24, 2020: J.G. Pageau traded to NYI

The Senators sent one of their most productive players to the Islanders for what resulted in a first and a second-round pick in the 2020 draft. The first was used to select Ridly Grieg and the second was used to trade up for Tyler Kleven. Pageau proved valuable for the Islanders and re-signed with the club long term. The Sens also sent out Tyler Ennis and Vlad Namestnikov for late-round picks as well.

 

October 6, 2020: The Game-Changing Draft 

Although they may not have won the draft in the eyes of many like they were expected to with their glut of picks, they added some very good talent to their prospect pool. Tim Stuetzle, Jake Sanderson, Roby Jarventie and Tyler Kleven have all gained fans in the Senators’ fan base with their play thus far in the early going of their draft+1 year. For a more in-depth breakdown of their 2020 NHL Draft, check out the November 31-in-31!

 

Lady Luck was on their side!

There were a few moments where luck played a major role. The first time we saw luck play a role was when the Colorado Avalanche were awarded the Senators pick, it had fallen out of the top-two to the fourth overall pick, giving up Byram rather than Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. This little gift of luck was enough to make the loss of the pick, and the decision to take Tkachuk the year prior, look much better in hindsight.

 

The Karlsson trade looked like one gold bar for a pocket of change when it was made. Now it looks like that gold bar was fake and the change had a few coins worth some money. Josh Norris has turned into a legitimate top-six prospect who should be a valuable piece to the Senators’ rebuild over the next couple of years. The first-round pick they acquired netted them Tim Stuetzle at third overall in the 2020 draft. They also collected a couple of second-round picks, including one in the upcoming 2021 draft. Chris Tierney filled a role and gave the Senators some valuable minutes to get through their rebuild. Rudolf Balcers looks to make the jump full-time this upcoming season.

 

As for Erik Karlsson? Let’s just say that his Ottawa highlights will be what we all remember unless something drastically changes as the aging blueliner has been decimated by injuries. Not only that but the wheels fell off for the San Jose Sharks this past season as the team finished in the bottom three after being a perennial contender to make deep playoff runs. Maybe the karma from the Mike Hoffman trades came back to bite them. Whatever happened that made all this lineup, that’s a decent bit of luck.

 

Had those two lucky twists of fate never occurred, the Senators may still be looking to kickstart this rebuild. So here we are. The Senators have a top-10 prospect pool, the roster is young and improving and they will likely get a couple more high draft picks. At least this upcoming season should be fun with the injection of youth.

 

Graduating

This is an interesting area for the Senators. The general threshold for this group is 35+ NHL games in the previous season. For the purpose of this exercise and the circumstances around the Senators, prospects play last season with a shortened year due to COVID and their desire to ease prospects into the lineup, we will focus on players who are on the cusp of graduating and who should be stepping into the lineup fulltime this year.

 

LHD Erik Brännström

The prize piece of the Mark Stone trade, Brännström will look to take the step into the NHL that many looked for him to take last year. He started the year off well, playing in the Senators opening night lineup against the Maple Leafs where despite the loss, he played well and made an impact on a full-effort play by stopping Auston Matthews’ hat trick goal with an empty net and taking a beating because of it.

 

 

At the end of the season, Brännström had played 31 games with the big club over two stints in Ottawa. His play at the AHL level has warranted an extended look in the NHL and he should get that this year. He has the skating, smarts, and skill to play in the world’s best league but is he physically mature enough? He hasn’t looked out of place in Switzerland playing in the National League. Only time will tell if the uber skilled Brännström will be able to reach his potential.

 

C/W Drake Batherson

In the past two seasons, Batherson has played 20 and 23 games with Ottawa respectively and this season he should double his games played total with a full season in Ottawa. Even in a shorted 56-game season, the expectation at the moment, Batherson should be a fixture in what will likely be an interesting mix of youth and veterans. The forward with the third most production on a per-game basis at the AHL last season should be one of the Senators’ most exciting forwards.

 

He should be able to secure top-six minutes and he will likely get a chance to play with some of his Belleville teammates as the lineup will be littered with prospects. Batherson’s versatility and adaptability will be an asset as the Senators look to mix and match their lines until they find out what works. Some early projections have him on a line with 2020 third overall pick, Tim Stuetzle, and perennial hard worker, Connor Brown.

 

C Logan Brown

It’s finally going to happen. Probably. The cups of coffee with Ottawa have been frequent since the 2017-18 season but he hasn’t established himself in the Senators lineup. That is expected to change this upcoming season with holes down the middle of the Senators’ lineup and ample opportunity to claim a spot. The 6’6″ pivot has been progressively more productive at the AHL level with over a point-per-game last year.

 

 

His playmaking ability ranks among the best in their prospect pool and he has the size and skating ability to play at the NHL level. This season will go a long way in establishing what the long term outlook will be for the former Windsor Spitfire. Can he continue to develop into that top-six center who can be a playmaking stud or will he be relegated to bottom-six duty and playing a depth role? Only time will tell but I’d bet on the former.

 

Risers

C Shane Pinto

Pinto didn’t get the respect that he deserved coming out of the draft from anyone, including myself. His impressive play continued into this year as well with the University of North Dakota, the Senators’ unofficial NCAA team.  Every chance he has been given to shine, including at the World Juniors with Team USA last year. He has surpassed expectations offensively with 28 points in 33 games last season and 12 points through eight games so far this year. If he can keep up his hot play to start the year, it may well end up being his final season in college with the next stop being pro hockey.

 

 

Josh Norris

Norris was expected to make an immediate impact at the AHL level last season in his first pro year but no one could have expected him to be over a point per game and among the AHL’s top scorers finishing third in the league scoring race. He may not be able to crack the NHL lineup on day one but he should be among the first call-ups and if he gets minutes in the top-nine with some of the other youth expected to be in Ottawa, he could pop off a bit at the NHL level because of his speed and skill.

 

Fallers

F Filip Chlapik

Having played about half his games with Ottawa, Chlapik is an old 23-year-old. He seems to have been almost ready for a while. This is the second year in a row that he’s been on the ‘Fallers’ list and it’s much of the same. He’s almost too good for the AHL and not quite good enough for a full-time NHL role, even on a team with a lack of top-end talent. Chalpik did show some progress last season in the NHL and showed that he could play a bottom-six role with a solid two-way game. Maybe there were some higher expectations at one point but a solid bottom-six NHLer should be the expectation at this point.

 

LHD Jonny Tychonick

Tychonick has had a bit of a rough development path to this point. He never really worked himself into the University of North Dakota lineup in any prominent way and struggled at times. He understood that a change of scenery could be beneficial and he transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He will need to figure a few things out and take on a bigger role as the year goes on. The smooth-skating defender should be able to make a difference at the NCAA level if he is able to utilize his skillsets.

 

Organizational Depth Chart

The organizational depth chart is a combination of NHL readiness and NHL potential. The legend on the left gives an indication of where they should be expected to play this upcoming season but there are no locks outside of the NCAA players for the most part as the COVID-19 pandemic, limited seasons, and more could affect the outcome of where and when players get on the ice. You can check out the DobberProspect Profiles for these players here.

 

 

 

Top-10 Fantasy Prospects

These rankings are based on fantasy hockey projections for a points only league. Players indicated with (*) will get an added boost in multi-cat leagues that will lean heavier on peripheral stats such as hits and faceoffs.  

  1. Tim Stuetzle
  2. Erik Brännström
  3. Josh Norris
  4. Drake Batherson
  5. Jake Sanderson (*)
  6. Roby Järventie
  7. Shane Pinto (*)
  8. Lassi Thomson
  9. Vitali Abramov
  10. Alex Formenton
  11. Jacob Bernard-Docker (*)
  12. Ridly Grieg (*)
  13. Filip Chlapik
  14. Rudolf Balcers
  15. Egor Sokolov
  16. Jonathan Davidsson
  17. Jonny Tychonick
  18. Mark Kastelic (*)
  19. Victor Lodin
  20. Tyler “K-Train” Kleven (*)

 

I hope you enjoyed our run-through of the Ottawa Senators organization and our quick look back at how the rebuild has gone. To check out the November 31-in-31 on the Ottawa Senators draft and focused on the 2020 NHL Draft and the team’s off-season acquisitions through free agency and trades and how they affect the development paths for the team’s prospects.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @theTonyFerrari for NHL Draft and prospect coverage. Be sure to check out Dobber’s DraftCast, an NHL Draft-centric podcast that is hosted by myself and a guest host from the DobberProspects Scouting crew. We have a full World Juniors preview up now! Also, be sure to check out the Game Tape with Tony series on the DraftCast Youtube channel where I recently sat down with one of the top Swedish prospects, winger Fabian Lysell from Luleå HF in the SHL, the top men’s league in Sweden.

 

 

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