It’s a brand new year at Silver Seven, and so our thoughts this week are...business as usual, just like in any other week. Yay!
Ten games have gone by since I ran a poll regarding whether or not the team will go at least .500 in their remaining 51 games. In that stretch, the Senators have a record of 3-3-4. Their underlying numbers haven’t been good in those games, but considering the injuries to an already shallow defence, that isn’t at all surprising. With Nikita Zaitsev very close to a return, as well as yesterday’s acquisition of Mike Reilly, Andreas Englund and other AHL-caliber players will be returned to Belleville, and Thomas Chabot will return to playing feasible minutes. At that point, we’ll see if the team can return to playing at a higher-than-expected level.
Ennis for Nice
As prospects like Rudolfs Balcers begin to work their way into the lineup full-time, roster space will need to be cleared. With the trade deadline inching closer, the Senators are going to be moving out veteran players who don’t fit in the organization’s long-term plans. Pretty much everyone including myself are hopeful that Anthony Duclair, Connor Brown and Dylan DeMelo are brought back for at least the next few seasons, but an additional name to consider is Tyler Ennis. He’s been one of the team’s better offensive players, with 11 goals and 11 assists in his last 32 games, while showing off a combination of speed and skill at even-strength and on the powerplay. The Senators could move him for a draft pick at the deadline, but he’s a veteran who can help them compete next season, and can likely be signed to another low-risk one-year deal at around $2M.
One thing that many of us love to do with our prospects is compare them to players that were selected 1-2 teams after. Last year it was Brady Tkachuk vs. Filip Zadina, and this season’s tilt features Shane Pinto and Los Angeles Kings prospect Arthur Kaliyev. Pinto is having a great year thus far, scoring 14 points in 17 games in his freshman year with the University of North Dakota, and a fantastic World Juniors performance to boot (5 GP, 4G, 3A). Kaliyev also had a great tournament, with one less assist than Pinto, and is also tied for the OHL scoring lead. So, it seems GM Pierre Dorion got a great player, but people are naturally going to wonder if he left an even better one on the board. However, consider that the Senators aren’t oblivious to Kaliyev’s offensive ability, they simply drafted the player who they thought would help their team win a championship more than any other available option. It’s entirely possible that passing on Kaliyev ends up a huge mistake, but I’m willing to wait and see what these players do in the NHL before judging a pick.
Two Lottery Tickets
At the start of the season, the biggest thing we had to be excited about was the player the Sens would draft early in the first round of the 2020 draft. With the season half over, it seems that our delights have doubled. The San Jose Sharks, despite having suffered virtually no injuries to their key players, are only two points ahead of the defence-depleted Ottawa Senators in the standings. Having the Sharks’ pick along with their own, Ottawa has as good a chance as any team of drafting a franchise-altering talent in Alexis Lafreniere, but even if both picks fall three spots in the lottery, that’s still the 6th and 9th overall picks which could be used to select two of Tim Stützle, Alexander Holtz, Marco Rossi, Jamie Drysdale and Anton Lundell. It’s good(?) to be a Sens fan these days.
Prospects in Reserve
In addition to the big names in 2020 draft class, another item on Dorion’s end-of-season agenda will be three prospects whose rights are expiring in the upcoming offseason and will be free agents at that point. First up is Markus Nurmi, with 14 points in 32 games in the Liiga (top Finnish league). He projects to be a bottom-six player with a strong two-way game, and if his pace continues, the 2016 sixth-rounder will be considered for an entry-level deal. Also on the reserve list and due for contracts this year are goaltender Kevin Mandolese (sixth round, 2018 draft) and forward Chris Wilkie (acquired in trade from the Florida Panthers). Both are having strong seasons as well, but note that Wilkie is in his fourth year of NCAA eligibility, meaning his point totals are par for the course of an AHL caliber player.