Elliotte Friedman’s always interesting 30 Thoughts column came out yesterday, and as has been the case recently, there were a few Ottawa Senators-related nuggets. Here are my thoughts on Friedman’s thoughts:
4. Among early NCAA free agents, the top name is probably Zach Aston-Reese of Northeastern. He had a big year, with 63 points in 38 games, mainly because he did a great job as net-front presence on the power play. It’s interesting. At different times, different teams made their push. Some of those involved changed their predictions. Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion went and saw him in person, but the Senators pulled back. Pittsburgh took a real run at him. So did Edmonton and Vancouver. Anaheim and San Jose made pitches. It’s probably one of those five. Tuesdays are quiet for Aston-Reese, so it won’t be surprising if he makes his call.
It’s interesting to me that Dorion pulled out of a player having a great season. To be fair, he is 22 so he’s beating up on younger players. He’s 6-feet and 204-lbs so it’s not as if he’s too small for GMPD’s liking. Maybe they saw some flaws they didn’t like, maybe they decided they’d rather have experience (Alexandre Burrows) than another young-ish player, maybe he wasn’t open to coming to a team with likely no NHL spots next year, or maybe this is a sign that Colin White could actually be joining the Sens at the end of this season. What’s interesting is Friedman listed Brock Boeser and Clayton Keller as locks to leave NCAA to join their NHL teams (Canucks and Coyotes respectively). White wasn’t listed among those, which might mean he’s not going to join the Sens this year.
6. If Ottawa makes any NCAA foray, watch the goalies.
After all, it went so well for them last time. But seriously, this isn’t surprising at all. The organization seems to have decided neither Matt O’Connor nor Chris Driedger has an NHL future. (Remember both are RFAs after this year and will need qualifying offers.) Andrew Hammond looks to be stuck in injury purgatory. The Sens will offer Mike Condon an extension, but will he take it? So essentially, the Sens next year will have Craig Anderson as a guaranteed presence. The team will likely push for Marcus Hogberg to come over and be the AHL starter. But when it comes to goalies, more possibility is always better. They probably want another goalie in the pipeline at least to make sure there will be a future in net. If Ottawa does make a signing though, watch for at least one of O’Connor or Driedger to not be qualified. (My money’s on O’Connor.)
18. As Erik Karlsson and Brad Marchand force their way into the Hart Trophy conversation, Ottawa’s captain is putting up a season unlike any other in recent memory. He leads the league with 181 blocked shots. Tracking that stat goes back to 2003-04 on the NHL website, and the most points by any player who finished first in any one season was 34. Kris Russell did it in 2014-15; Francois Beauchemin equalled it last season. Karlsson has 62 points with 15 games to go. The average point total by the leader in this category is 24. The Senator defender reached 24 points on Dec. 5.
I haven’t seen much about Karlsson for Hart - it’s mostly been Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Brent Burns - so it’s interesting to see this come out of nowhere. It is worth pointing out though how rare it is for a defenceman to both block shots and put up points. A big part of it is how Erik Karlsson blocks shots - he tends to corral the puck, and then try to turn it into a breakout. It seems that for someone like Kris Russell, after he makes the block the puck goes right back to the other team, and then he has to get into position to block again. Blocked shots rarely lead to possession changes, but that’s exactly what the Captain is doing.
I’m not going to get into Norris or Hart narratives here, but I will point out something interesting. He has 23 points in his last 20 games, meaning he had 39 in 47 before that. He also seems to be spending more energy rushing the puck, pinching in deep and scoring sometimes from even the top of the crease. It seemed like he never did that in the first half of the season. My thinking is that Guy Boucher brought in a very demanding #TheSystem for the team to follow, and asked his captain to buy in whole-heartedly. Karlsson did, even sacrificing offence for the sake of demonstrating how to listen to your coach. Now that the system (I mean, The System) is pretty intuitive among the regular players, Karlsson has a little more freedom to roam as a defenceman. I can’t guarantee it, but it seems pretty plausible to me based on the games I’ve watched.