We’ve been told that “it’s always darkest before the dawn”, and while we’re still waiting for the morning to come, there have been some peeks of light through the clouds that have dominated the last year of the franchise.
Brady Tkachuk, Max Lajoie, Colin White, and Alex Formenton started the year as the team’s rookies, and all have had impressive bouts that have made this month of Sens hockey exciting to watch. Hence, our last question of the series focused on the rookies:
To everyone’s delight, the rookies have been the surprise of the season. Who has impressed you the most? What are you expecting from Tkachuk, Lajoie, Formenton, White, and co. in the months to come?
Ross: I think Tkachuk has impressed me the most. He was billed as a playmaker when the Sens drafted him, but he seems equally capable of creating the offence himself in addition to setting up others. Here’s hoping he can hit the ground running when he gets back from injury. I’m not sure if Lajoie will even spend the rest of the season in the lineup — his start was dynamite, but he’s going to go through dry spells. I think Wolanin, Jaros, Harpur, and others will rotate in through his spot throughout the season. I think White will keep splitting time between the second and fourth lines as necessary. I’m going to hold back on commenting on Formenton, because he may be back in London by the time we publish this piece. [Editor’s note: Ross was prophetic.]
Spencer: Bouncing back to the previous question, the play of the kids has probably been what has cooled off the fan disdain for the team. Seeing Tkachuk, White, Lajoie, etc. start the season well has made the idea of a Karlsson-less existence not quite as disastrous. If we’re talking about most impressed, it’s Tkachuk. If we’re talking about most surprising, it’s Lajoie. Tkachuk probably isn’t going to be a goal scoring phenom, but what he has been is an impact player as an 18-year-old at both ends of the ice. He’s delivered on what was talked about — gritty, skilled player — and then some. After watching Lajoie for a full season in Belleville, I knew he was going to be an NHL player. I didn’t expect this level of player or for him to reach the league this early. That being said, there’s still plenty of season to play and I can see Lajoie falling back down to normal as early as next month. That being said, I believe that he’s a player who should remain in the Senators lineup for the rest of the year because his skill set fits much better in today’s NHL than the players he’s competing with for ice time.
Brandon: Spencer nailed it. Tkachuk has been the most impressive, while Lajoie has been the most surprising. The former hasn’t looked out of place for a second, and is even displaying an offensive touch that I don’t think anyone expected. 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games is a fairly staggering number, especially for a rookie who only had 8 goals in his entire final NCAA season. I admittedly don’t get to watch the Baby Sens as much as I’d like, but Lajoie has certainly come out of nowhere. 7 points in his first 10 games for a guy that not many people expected to make the club out of camp is shockingly good, and hopefully it keeps up.
Colin: All the rookies have been excellent, although I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty with how they’ll hold up in the long run. Tkachuk has looked great on a line with Mark Stone, although everyone looks great on a line with Mark Stone, so I’ll be curious to see if he can be the main driver on his own line. Formenton always blows me away with his speed, although defensively, he’s left a lot to be desired.
I’ve been really impressed by Lajoie, and am most convinced by his performance for a few reasons. Despite having a high shooting percentage, he’s still an excellent play driver, leading the entire team in 5v5 shots on goal, and second in shot attempts. All this while spending most of his time next to Cody Ceci, where he becomes more limited in his opportunities. I don’t expect him to continue scoring goals at his current rate, although his performance so far has me sold.
Beata: I don’t have much to add here, as I pretty much agree with what everyone else is saying. Watching Tkachuk and Lajoie has been surprisingly fun, and one of the few aspects of this season that I’ve actually enjoyed.
Nada: Been pretty excited by Formenton and he hasn’t disappointed for the most part, yes he still needs to work on his finish but that speed is just amazing. That being said, there are times where I feel Formenton isn’t completely NHL ready and I wouldn’t be completely opposed to seeing him get more development time. I really hope he’s at the world juniors.
I don’t want to say I’m surprised by Tkachuk as he’s a 4th overall pick, but I actually am surprised at the magnitude of impact he’s had on the team. You can tell he’s really missed now while he’s been out due to injury.
Max Lajoie has been one of my favourite surprises. I honestly thought the training camp performance would fade out after two games, but he has consistently shown maturity and improvement. I don’t expect his offence to be anything close to what he’s currently put up, but I see him getting stronger as he gains more responsibility.
Ary: Lajoie’s consistently played top-four minutes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear the “he’s been told to find a permanent place to stay” quote break soon. He’s averaging 2.7 shots per game — top-5 among all rookies — and although he gets filled in every now and then shots-wise, him looking good is more than most Sens defencemen can say on a given night.
Also, as someone on #TeamZadina, I’m a bit surprised at how noticeable Tkachuk’s been, and will still be patiently waiting to see how November/December goes in terms of him keeping it up. It’s been impressive how he can get to high-danger areas consistently, though.
He scored yesterday [against Arizona], but where are we at on the “Should Alex Formenton be sent to London” discussion?
Ross: Formenton should go to London. He’s not going to get a regular top-six role on this team, and I don’t want to see him languish with Tom Pyatt for 60-70 more games.
Ary: Yeah, I agree. He’s definitely disruptive, and I think his best game was the one against Boston when he got injured. Adding more strength to play that power, in-your-face style while continuing to develop ways to create more with the puck will help, and I think there are other players at the AHL level currently who could have similar or better impact in the role that Formenton’s currently in.
Playing with Boqvist and the Knights (who are 4th in the West), in addition to Team Canada, seems like a good season.
Tell us about the rookies who have impressed you the most in the comments section! Who do you think we’ll get a look at as the season goes along?