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Positives to Take From the 2017-18 Season

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Not many things went well for the Senators this year, but here are some positives to take from 2017-18

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s anything that keeps sports fans sane while their team is in the midst of a brutal stretch, it’s the hope that things can get better relatively quickly. There’s always hope that the next season will be better, and that’s no different for the Ottawa Senators.

I’m not going to lie, I obviously could have come up with a much longer list of things that went wrong in 2017-18, but I think it’s important to point out some of the positives that came from this season. This may not be as encouraging as previous seasons, but there are at least some reasons to be optimistic moving forward.

So here are six positives:

Ryan Dzingel as a top-6 forward

I liked Dzingel’s play last year, and during his struggles down the stretch, people really began to undervalue his contributions. The good thing about Dzingel though is that his speed makes him a weapon on any given shift, and even if he’s not scoring, he should be generating some chances.

His 41 points this season are very encouraging, and the 23 goals are somewhat surprising considering how many grade A chances he missed last year. Amongst left wingers, Dzingel ranked 34th in points and tied for 23rd in goals, which comfortably puts him as a top-6 winger by definition.

While his 16.9% shooting percentage could drop a bit next year, Dzingel has shown enough skill that he can be a solid secondary offensive player to compliment the likes of Matt Duchene, Mike Hoffman, and Mark Stone. Furthermore, as I’ve pointed out before, Colin Cudmore shows why he can at least be an above average scorer:

Even with some regression, Dzingel is still a solid player.

Matt Duchene: still incredibly talented

Just like with Dzingel, Duchene’s offensive contributions were nice to see amidst almost everything else going wrong. In his stint with the Senators, it was a tale of two seasons, although the “second season” was a much larger sample and I think more indicative of the kind of player he is.

In his first 24 games, Duchene had a measly three goals and three assists, but in the last 44, he recored 20 goals and 23 assists. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s almost a point per game pace for just over half a season while playing on one of the worst teams in the league. I don’t think he can keep up that sort of pace, but it is pretty remarkable that he ended up with 59 points despite getting off to a dreadful start in Ottawa.

So I see no reason why he can’t be a 65 or maybe even 70 point player, and that sort of production will take off some of the sting of losing next year’s first round pick.

Defense trending upwards

While the defense still needs a few obvious fixes (his name rhymes with Body Beci) and needs to be deployed better, I don’t really think they’re that far away from having a solid defense corps. This is obviously contingent on Erik Karlsson staying in Ottawa, but bear with me here.

Thomas Chabot has proven himself to be an NHL defenseman, and he played well while paired with Karlsson. Beyond that, if they’re going to re-sign Chris Wideman, he’s a perfect fit on the 3rd pairing. Fredrik Claesson had a tough sophomore season, but I think he can be an effective partner with Wideman in sheltered minutes.

Christian Wolanin played in only 10 games to finish the season, but he was surprisingly effective with a +6.29% relative corsi, which lead the team. He’ll go through some rough patches defensively, but it’s appealing to have another offensive defenseman on the roster. Mark Borowiecki and Ben Harpur are obviously still there, and in a perfect world I’d have them as the 7th and 8th defensemen, but I know that’s unrealistic.

Nevertheless, if Ottawa replaced Ceci with a decent right-shot defenseman on the second pairing, I’d be very excited with this defense corps. That’s wishful thinking, but Karlsson, Chabot, Wolanin, Claesson, and Wideman doesn’t seem that bad on paper. And who knows, maybe they hit the jackpot (literally) by getting Rasmus Dahlin.

Mark Stone is somehow getting better

I don’t think I can properly explain just how good Stone is. He’s one of those players that just continuously gets better to the point where he has no weaknesses anymore, and he was even an over a point per game player in 58 games (62 points). If healthy, he may not have finished with 82 points, but he certainly would have crushed his previous high of 64.

He finished 14th overall in the league in points per game, just ahead of Alex Ovechkin and Johnny Gaudreau. If he can mostly keep up this play moving forward, that’s a game-changer for a team that has lacked a true top of the league scoring forward since Jason Spezza left. The good news though is that even if he drops back down to being a 60-65 point player, he’s still incredibly valuable.

Of course, Stone is due to get a massive contract this summer, which is not fun to think about, but I’d rather be worried about that than worried about a lack of production from him. He’s stupidly good and we’re lucky to have him.

Top-5 pick will be added

This isn’t something that Ottawa should get credit for, despite how surprisingly well they tanked near the end of the season. I was actively rooting for them to get the best odds in the draft, and I’m certainly not upset that they have the second best odds. No matter if they deserve it or not though, the Senators are guaranteed a top-5 pick in the 2018 draft.

As it stands, there’s a 38.8% chance that they will pick in the top-3, so we should probably expect them to be picking either 4th or 5th. There’s definitely a clear and defined top-3 in the draft with Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, and Filip Zadina, but there are still some quality players afterwords such as Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, Quinton Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Brady Tkachuk.

Ottawa will end up will a blue-chip prospect, and there’s a good chance that he will become an impact player within the next year or two.

Plenty of forward prospect options

This isn’t anything that the team actually did during the season, but it’s at least something to be positive about in the near future. In comparison to other farm systems, I still wouldn’t call Ottawa’s group of prospects as top-notch, but I do think they are in the average to above-average range.

They don’t necessarily have a can’t-miss forward a la Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, or Leon Draisaitl from the past few years, although Logan Brown has a chance to maybe reach that group. The good thing with the Senators though is that they have a lot of players who have a legitimate shot to make it, so you’d think the odds are good that at least a few of them will turn out well.

Besides Brown, there’s Colin White, Filip Chlapik, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Aaron Luchuk, and a few older guys like Francis Perron and Gabriel Gagne. Not all of these eight will make it of course, but I’m optimistic about a few of them. With Derick Brassard gone, Brown has a great opportunity next year to take over the second line centre role, but all of the other forward prospects will be vying for spots in the bottom six.

The bottom line is, I wouldn’t call this forward prospect group extraordinary, but I’m excited to see if a few of them can become NHL regulars as soon as next season.

Even in the darkest of times, there’s always a glimmer of hope.