With the season officially over for almost every Sens prospect (kudos, Logan Brown and Drake Batherson), we felt like it was a good time to reflect and hand out some end-of-season awards to the prospects than shone the brightest this year.
We decided to hand out six awards: “Most Valuable Prospect”, “Best First-Year Pro”, “Best Defenceman”, “Best Goaltender”, “Most Improved Prospect”, and “Best Newcomer”. If there’s an award that you think that we should’ve included, feel free to chime in with your perspective in the comments section — including who your winner would be! We’re open to changing this for next year.
Most Valuable Prospect - Thomas Chabot
The Sens had a handful of fantastic seasons from their prospects, although none had a greater impact on the organization than Thomas Chabot. The left-shot defenceman followed up his dominant final season in the QMJHL with his first year as a pro, starting in the AHL and quickly working his way onto the main roster. His role grew significantly as the season progressed, with Guy Boucher moving away from his “you don’t give steak to a baby” mentality to playing him upwards of 20 minutes a night, including time on the power play.
At 21 years old, Chabot’s 25 points was the most for a rookie defenceman on the Sens since Erik Karlsson in 2009-10, with his nine goals being the second highest in franchise history after Andrej Meszaros. Although he’s known more for his two-way style, he wasn’t nervous to jump up into the rush or pinch in the zone. He’s a special player, and still has plenty of room to grow.
Ary and I agreed that Logan Brown also deserves some recognition as the runner-up in this category, for exuding his dominance in the OHL. He missed parts of the season due to injuries, including setbacks at the World Juniors. With his fantastic playmaking abilities, however, he was a force to be reckoned with, finishing top ten in points-per-game. His season isn’t done either, as he’s pushing the Kitchener Rangers closer and closer to the OHL championship.
Best First Year Pro - Thomas Chabot
As our most valuable prospect, it would be strange if Thomas Chabot wasn’t also named our top first-year pro. Chabot started the year in Belleville, but quickly proved that he didn’t need to be there for long. A performance akin to Erik Karlsson’s 11 points in 12 AHL games, Chabot had 7 points in 13 contests playing top-pair minutes. When he left the AHL, he ranked just behind Vegas’ Shea Theodore in points; like Chabot, Theodore quickly proved to be too good to stay down and currently features for the Golden Knights during their inaugural playoff run.
It took a while for Chabot to become a mainstay on the Sens blueline, but he eventually slid into top-four minutes by the end of the season. As you can see from the HockeyViz graphic above, Chabot started with less minutes on average than Ben Harpur, Johnny Oduya, and Dion Phaneuf. But as the season quickly went downhill, Guy Boucher realized that there was little to lose by playing the young rearguard, and after veterans were shipped out at the trade deadline, Chabot saw his average ice-time raise from around ~17 minutes a night to ~22 minutes by the end. With similarities to Erik Karlsson’s rookie season with the Sens, all eyes will be on Chabot as he features for Team Canada. Karlsson went on to put up 4 points in 9 games for Sweden at the World Championships — we’ll soon see what Chabot can produce.
Other first year pros, like Christian Wolanin, Colin White, and Filip Chlapik all featured in games with Ottawa this year, but unlike Chabot, none received the same opportunity. Colin and I agreed that Chlapik, by virtue of leading Belleville in points, was deserving of second on our ballot.
Best Defenceman - Thomas Chabot
Chabot continues to clean up the awards table, as the prospect MVP and best first year pro was also clearly the organization’s top defenceman. What can we say, we love Chabot!
Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how Guy Boucher, or whoever will be behind Ottawa’s bench next season, will handle Chabot’s deployment. Erik Karlsson was playing with rotating partners for almost the entire season, with Oduya and Chabot swapping multiple times within a game, depending on the game’s context. Both Oduya and Dion Phaneuf are gone from the left side, although it’s still crowded with Borowiecki, Harpur, Wolanin and Claesson in the fold for next season. Chabot looked to be a cut above this season, although ultimately the decisions will come down to the coach.
An honourable mention goes to the aforementioned Christian Wolanin, an offensive player who led the University in North Dakota in scoring -- the first blueliner to accomplish that on UND in 35 years. His late-season NHL action surprised many in a positive way, as he didn’t look out of place playing against stronger competition. He’s already 23, so a bigger season should’ve been expected. Although his strong performances in both the NCAA and NHL were fantastic to watch.
Best Goalie - Filip Gustavsson
He didn’t start the year in the organization, but he became one of the team’s most important prospects by the end. Brought over in the Derick Brassard trade, Filip Gustavsson shined for Lulea in the SHL this season, with a save percentage of 0.918 that ranked fifth in the league and tops among all U24 goaltenders. In fact, Gustavsson’s performance as a 19 year old is the fourth best save percentage by a teenager in SHL history, behind Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom (2009-10), Johan Gustafsson (2011-12), and Buffalo’s Jhonas Enroth (2007-08). Gustavsson won hardware at the U20 World Championships, and ended the year with Belleville’s best save percentage (0.912) in his seven AHL contests.
As Anderson and Condon are still signed for two more seasons, I expect Gustavsson to at least spend one full year in the AHL as Belleville’s starter before getting some consideration in Ottawa. A calm goaltender with decent size and strong lateral movement, Gustavsson will take some time to adjust to the quickness of the North American game and will have to learn to place his rebounds better before moving up a level.
Colin and I agreed that Marcus Hogberg would be our honourable mention for this award. At only 23, Hogberg started the year with a ton of potential, but lost out in the team’s mismanagement of goaltenders early on. He ended the year strong, with a save percentage above .970 in his final two starts, and is deserving of an opportunity to fight for starts in Belleville on a regular basis. I’ll say this now: there is no reason why the team should go in and sign a “veteran” netminder. None.
Most Improved Prospect - Gabriel Gagne
This was probably the toughest category to decide, as there were so many prospects who turned their game up a few notches this season. Ultimately, Ary and I agreed that Gabriel Gagne is deserving of this title, as the 21-year-old winger went from an AHL liability in 2016-17 to a 20-goal scorer.
Gagne was a bit of a criticized draft pick to begin with, as the Sens traded up in the 2015 draft to take him 36th overall, despite not being ranked by most scouting services until the late 2nd/early 3rd round. At 6’5”, and with his QMJHL scoring falling down in his post-draft season, there were plenty of red flags popping up as a potential bust. The struggles extended into his rookie pro season, where his six points in 41 AHL games gave him a demotion to the ECHL, where even there he didn’t dominate as much as you’d hope. His skating needed work, and for a prospect renowned for his shot, only two goals wouldn’t suffice.
A year later, the tables have turned. Playing for one of the lowest scoring teams in the AHL, Gagne managed to squeeze out 20 goals. This had nothing to do with a shooting percentage spike either (11.3%), as his 177 shots on goal was 45 more than the next highest on the team. The NHL may still be a year or two away for Gagne, although he’s clearly worked on all areas of his game, making him this season’s most improved prospect.
There are a few honourable mentions for this category. Alex Formenton took on a much larger role with the London Knights, going from a prospect with just speed to a prospect with speed, and some top notch skills. Christian Wolanin, who was also an honourable mention for top defenceman, spent a lot of this season improving his defensive skills, which really showed once he stepped onto NHL ice. And finally, goaltender Joel Daccord saw his save percentage increase from .892 to .909 playing for Arizona State University, while having to regularly face 40+ shots with a weak defence corps in front of him.
Top Newcomer (prospect acquired this season) - Aaron Luchuk
This award could’ve easily gone to Gustavsson, but Colin and I agreed that CHL free agent Aaron Luchuk deserves some love for his league-leading season. A strong two-way centre, Luchuk went from playing with Logan Brown in Windsor to Andrei Svechnikov in Barrie, and put up nearly identical points-per-game totals in two locations: a great sign. Luchuk’s 115 points and 50 goalies led all OHLers, and he finished only behind St. Louis’ Jordan Kyrou and Los Angeles’ Gabriel Vilardi in points-per-game. Luchuk probably sees an opportunity in Ottawa to grab top minutes in the AHL and challenge for a depth role right away, and Ottawa could use a player with his combination of skill and defensive prowess in the line-up. Luchuk scored Windsor’s Memorial Cup winning goal last season -- a “clutch” performance that Sens management will like -- and can truly play in all-situations. As a player who generally averaged around 2.5 shots per game before breaking out this season, look for Luchuk to consistently produce at the next level before we see what kind of NHLer he might be.
Who would be your picks for these awards? Let us know in the comments!