With the Sens’ Christmas Break coming to an end, I’ve got some thoughts I’d like to share with you:
Marcus Hogberg’s NHL Debut and the Sens’ Goaltending Depth
One of the bright spots for the Ottawa Senators this season has been the strong play of some of their top prospects and young players. Thomas Chabot has officially made the leap to impact NHLer, Brady Tkachuk has the look of a potential top line winger, and we’ve even seen some flashes from Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton. Now, with both Craig Anderson and Mike Condon sidelined with injuries, we should get our first look at one of Ottawa’s goaltending prospects this weekend. The Sens’ organizational depth at the goalie position has been a cause for concern for several years now, and with Anderson turning 38 this year the issue could reach a critical juncture sooner rather than later. These obviously aren’t ideal conditions for a young goalie to see his first NHL action, so temper your expectations accordingly. I’m not a goaltending expert by any means, but as long as Hogberg doesn’t look overmatched I’ll be satisfied.
The more interesting question is what to do with the goalies for the rest of the season. The Sens seem increasingly unlikely to even stay on the fringes of the play-off race, but as long as Anderson is in town he will command the majority of the starts. Condon’s injury conveniently remove him from the picture for now but it would be a bit surprising if both he and Mike McKenna were in Belleville long-term. And where might that leave Ottawa’s other prospect, Filip Gustavsson? It says here that Ottawa would be well-served to figure out a way to dump one of Condon or Anderson to give Hogberg and/or Gustavsson some NHL games down the stretch while the other starts in Belleville, but that may be easier said than done. Stay tuned.
The Stacked Atlantic Division
Speaking of the Sens’ inability to stay in the play-off race, a big part of their problem is that the Atlantic Division is easily the best in the league. We all expected Tampa Bay and Toronto and Boston to be good, but the surprisingly competent Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens have turned this division into a bloodbath. Barring a surprise run from either of the New York teams, it seems quite likely the Atlantic will take home both wild cards. The depressing part, if you’re Ottawa, is that the Bolts and the Leafs seem likely to be good for a while yet and Buffalo isn’t exactly short on young talent either. Wasn’t it just two seasons ago that we were all thanking our lucky stars that the rest of the division was so weak? Good thing the league is careening towards another lockout that’ll wipe a year off the primes of our biggest rivals!
Sens’ Social Media
This isn’t the first time I’ve dedicated one of the Friday Thoughts to highlighting the work of the Sens’ social media team, and I doubt it’ll be the last, but you absolutely have to see this if you haven’t yet already:
It's Turbo Time!— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) December 24, 2018
Go behind the scenes at our recent casting call to reboot the 1996 Christmas classic Jingle All The Way. pic.twitter.com/aKEQFiff2A
A cool thing about the spread of social media in pro hockey is how we’ve gotten to see that some of these players have real personalities; I’ve really enjoyed getting to see Dylan DeMelo show off a little bit more of his sense of humour. It’s going to be a long season — but fun things like this make it a bit easier to keep paying attention.
Josh Norris at the World Juniors
Of all the players that Ottawa acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade, we sometimes forget that Norris is the one with the best chance of being an impact player in the NHL. Brady Tkachuk’s “best friend” isn’t exactly a can’t miss stud, however, as Corey Pronman reminded us in his analysis of the trade back in the fall:
The most optimistic scouts I talk to about Norris believe he has significant upside, meaning they see him as a good top-six forward; it’s why he went in the first round even though I think he’s more of a second-round caliber prospect. Those advocates point to how great an athlete he is and how coaches trust him in all the tough situations, but they also acknowledge his skills aren’t standout and he needs work. The more pessimistic scouts just don’t buy him having enough offense and projects out as a third-liner — tops. I tend to fall in the latter camp, but enough people I trust really like the kid that it’s made me watch him a lot.
That was written before this season, and Norris has acquitted himself far better (at least scoring-wise) than last year; he also led team USA in ice-time in the first game of the World Juniors tournament and he’s expected to play big minutes throughout. What can we learn from his performance at the tournament? The fact that he’s played himself into a prominent role is very encouraging but I’ll caution heavily against making too much of a tiny sample of games against what will be at times less than stellar competition. Much as I wrote vis-a-vis Hogberg above, I’m mostly just interested to see if Norris can hang with the best of his age group. If he can, then that’s good enough for me — for now.
Sens’ New Years Resolutions
Since we’re all thinking about the idealized version of ourselves we’ll achieve in the new year, I thought it would be fun to share some resolutions for the Senators in 2019. In the spirit of keeping things realistic, my resolution for the Sens is that they not give out any more long-term deals to depth players and that they keep giving their young players an opportunity in the NHL. I’m not asking the team to reinvent itself, just avoid a few easy mistakes.
So I’d love to hear more from you in the comments. What are some resolutions you have for the team in 2019?