4. Drake Batherson (Reader Rank: 4, Last Year: 5)
One of the things that I enjoy the most about the annual Top 25 Under 25 feature is monitoring how the prospects move up and down the team’s depth chart: watching Drake Batherson progress from being a relatively unheralded fourth round pick to a top flight prospect just waiting to breakout in the NHL is the best kind example of this. A+ development track? We love to see it.
When Batherson first appeared on our Top 25 Under 25 list in 2017, he clocked in at 21st. He was just months removed from being drafted as a 19 year-old, and though there was some promise about him there was also a lot of uncertainty. I wrote this at the time:
As for his prospects in the Senators organization, it’s tough to get a read on a player like Batherson. He’s only played 71 games of QMJHL hockey, and his last season was as a 19 year-old. His offensive numbers, while not gaudy, are impressive enough but one can’t help but wonder how his production was influenced by simply being a year older than most players in his draft class. Historically, NHL teams have tended to shy away from 19 year-old scorers. During Pierre Dorion’s tenure as General Manager, however, the Sens have been more willing to take a gamble on players like Batherson who produce in junior only after turning 19. There’s some research to suggest that this is a decent bet. There are certainly worse ways to spend a fourth round pick.
Ultimately my take on Batherson is the same as most of the other names in this part of our list: we just don’t have enough information yet to really know what to make of where he might end up. I do like that he’s been described as a skilled player with some offensive upside, and from what I’ve seen of his play from the QMJHL he isn’t afraid to make a play with the puck. It’s boring to say but it’s the truth: we’ll know a lot more about Batherson’s place in the Sens’ prospect hierarchy in about twelve months time.
All that he’s done since then is reward the Sens for taking a shot on him: Batherson tore up the QMJHL in the 2017-18 and we skyrocketed him up the rankings to #9 for the 2018 edition. In the intervening period, Batherson also grew two more inches and now stood at a sturdy 6’3. Visions of a high-scoring power forward were starting to dance in Sens’ fans heads. Still, there were some reasonable questions about how he’d stack up against pro players: lots of guys have torn up the CHL as a 19 or 20 year-old only to fall short once faced with the pros.
Nope, this was not the case with Batherson. Young Drake took the AHL by storm in 2018-19 and he was all the way up to number five on our list last year as a result. His line with Logan Brown and Nick Paul carried what was otherwise a very mediocre Binghamton Senators team to the brink of the play-offs. He also suited up for 20 games with the NHL Senators and recorded nine points, though he did at times look a bit over-matched. Not to worry, his game was progressing at such a prodigious rate that even the skeptics were won over: Batherson was for real.
This past season, he was an AHL MVP candidate on a stacked Belleville squad that had its season cut short before they could make the deep play-off run that everyone expected of them. Nonetheless, Batherson still found his way into 23 more NHL games for the Senators where he notched ten points. He made more positive plays with the puck than during his first tenure and he held up a lot better in his own end. His skating, which had previously been something of a negative against the best players in the world, was improved enough to be at least passable. If he wasn’t quite a game-breaker, you could at least see the outline of a very competent NHLer with a lot of the tools needed to be a key part of a good team. Certainly his visions and puck skills made him a useful player on the power play at the very least.
A few of last season’s highlights:
So that brings us to where we are today. While there was certainly some debate about how best to rank the top three, both the readers and the site’s writers were clear: Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stuetzle and Thomas Chabot stood clearly above the rest of their peers. Tkachuk and Chabot are established top flight NHLers, while Stuetzle is the most exciting Sens prospect in years — probably since Jason Spezza back in 2001. Batherson, meanwhile, is at the very top of the list of players who aren’t yet sure things: we have every reason to believe he’ll be a valuable member of the Sens’ organization for years to come but he hasn’t had that NHL break-out season just yet. The Sens are likely to be in another transitional season in 2021, and there’s a spot on the right side for Batherson if he makes that final step. Given everything that’s come before, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t.