The Ottawa Senators season opener is just eight days away, and after a fantastic finish to last season, there is plenty of hype mounting. I'm sure fans don't need much more optimism for the upcoming season, but I am going to give some anyway. There are some reasons to believe this team can be quite good, and here are five of them:
Erik Karlsson Playing With a Healthy Marc Methot
Last year Methot missed 37 games, and in those 37 games it was quite apparent that Karlsson needed his old partner back. It's not that Methot is an All-Star or anything, but he is a perfect compliment to Karlsson, and he's infinitely better than the other players that played on the top pairing such as Chris Phillips, Mark Borowiecki, and Jared Cowen. I mean, all three of those players were somehow able to make Karlsson look average, and Phillips managed to drag the duo's CF% all the way down to 46.2%.
Karlsson won a Norris trophy with a little over half of the season with Methot, and if both of them are healthy then the top pairing should be lethal throughout the year. I don't see why Karlsson can't get his third Norris trophy in just his seventh season.
Chris Wideman/Patrick Wiercioch Providing Offence on Defence
Wiercioch finally started to show his true value down the stretch last season, and Bryan Murray is extremely happy that he didn't trade him at the last minute. He has always been undervalued by the mainstream media, but he actually showed a valuable skillset that people can see with the naked eye, rather than just underlying stats. He only had 13 points in 56 games last year, although over the past three seasons his points per 60 production has been that of a quality top-four defenceman.
He also has an amazing first pass out of the defensive zone, as we saw just last week. He can be a great secondary offensive defenceman to Erik Karlsson, but so can Chris Wideman. Wideman is technically still fighting for a job, but I think he deserves to be on the third pairing night in and night out. He would provide Ottawa with another offensive weapon from the back-end, something that the team hasn't had in years.
Wideman was the AHL's best defenceman last year, and in the past two seasons he has racked up 112 points in 148 games. He may be a solid counter-balance to a defensive Mark Borowiecki, which would be refreshing to see. For the first time in a long time, the Senators may have lots of offensive threats on the blueline.
Mike Hoffman on the Power play
Last year, Hoffman was eighth on the team amongst forwards in power play ice time. He had 134:42 in ice time, compared to Kyle Turris with the most at 238:47. This is despite that fact that Hoffman lead the team with 27 goals. Granted, Hoffman struggled on the power play with only three points in that time (even three fewer than Alex Chiasson), but there is no way that he will continue to struggle so much. He was a dominant player at 5 on 5, and with more power play ice time you would think he would score more.
David Legwand can no longer take ice time away from him, and hopefully Dave Cameron realizes that he's probably their best weapon. He may regress a bit from his 13.6% shooting percentage, but hopefully that gets mitigated by his higher production on the man advantage.
Mika Zibanejad Evolving
Zibanejad had a very solid season in 2014-15, netting 46 points and improved his game to become a legitimate top-six centre. That said, the "Mikachu" isn't necessarily done evolving. He's only 22 years old, and he looks to be getting stronger and stronger. I don't think he will become a star centre in the league, but I think he can be a consistent 50-60 point player, which is first line production.
Kyle Turris is already at that level, and having another centre reach those heights would be immensely valuable. Look at other forwards who have broken out recently around his age like Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Jaden Schwartz, Filip Forsberg, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and even Mark Stone. Not all forwards come into the league at 19 or 20 and dominate, and I really do believe that Zibanejad can make a real leap forward this year.
Bobby Ryan Bouncing Back
Ryan was on his way to having a good season around the All-Star break when he made the All-Star team, but from the end of February on he was stuck in a massive slump. People's perception of him is very clouded because of the recency bias, and we forget that he was a very good player for most of the 2014-15 season, who was on pace for about 65 points until the last 20 games.
His shooting percentage was only 8.2% last year, while his career number sits at 12.9%. I don't think he'll revert back to a 35-goal sniper, but he should be able to bounce back with around 25, plus keep around the same amount of assists. If his shooting percentage was just at his career average last year, that would have equaled 28 goals. His 221 shots last year were the third most in his career, and with just a few bounces here and there the perception of him could change quite quickly. A 54 point player is nothing to scoff at.
So there you have it! I am expecting a jump in production this year from the team, but at the same time I can easily see a slight dip in the standings. I'm not 100% sure which way the team will go, but at least there are reasons to believe the Senators can be a quality team. I may or may not also post five reasons to be pessimistic, but that is depending on the feedback I get.
Let me know, would you want to hear some depressing thoughts to get people back to Earth? Just as it was easy to think optimistically, I can definitely think the opposite.
Thanks for reading!