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Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25: Ballots Revealed and Roundtable, Part 1

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The staff reveal their ballots and address some of the pressing questions

New York Islanders v Ottawa Senators Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

This year’s edition of our Top 25 Under 25 series has been the most exciting in my memory; never in recent years has there been such an accumulation of young talent. The wide range of prospects, and NHL-established talents, also led to some of the most interesting prospect debates I can remember in my time at the site. So, without further ado (and my apologies for the massive table) I present the staff ballots and the first part of our roundtable:

Top 25 Under 25 Ballots

Player Ary M Spencer Ross Colin Shaan M Owen Brandon Nada (Dew) Trevor Shackles nkb Beata
Player Ary M Spencer Ross Colin Shaan M Owen Brandon Nada (Dew) Trevor Shackles nkb Beata
1. Thomas Chabot 1 3 1 1 3 1 2 1 1 1 2
2.Brady Tkachuk 2 2 2 3 2 2 1 2 3 2 1
3. Tim Stuetzle 3 1 3 2 1 3 3 3 2 3 3
4.Drake Batherson 4 4 5 4 6 7 4 4 4 4 4
5.Erik Brannstrom 6 6 4 5 4 4 5 7 5 5 7
6. Josh Norris 5 5 8 7 7 8 6 8 7 8 6
7. Colin White 8 8 6 9 9 5 8 5 9 6 5
8. Logan Brown 9 9 7 6 11 6 10 15 8 7 8
9. Jake Sanderson 7 10 9 8 5 9 7 18 6 11 10
10. Alex Formenton 10 7 11 12 10 10 9 6 10 10 9
11. Jacob Bernard-Docker 15 14 14 17 8 12 11 9 11 13 11
12. Vitaly Abramov 11 11 17 13 15 13 15 10 13 14 13
13. Rudolfs Balcers 13 12 10 10 16 18 12 19 12 9 15
14. Filip Chlapik 17 17 15 11 21 11 18 11 16 12 12
15. Shane Pinto 12 15 16 16 14 15 14 21 14 15 14
16. Roby Jarventie 14 19 18 14 12 16 19 16 17 21 16
17. Joey Daccord 19 13 12 20 17 14 13 17 18 20 21
18. Lassi Thomson 16 18 13 15 18 19 16 22 15 17 19
19. Ridley Greig 20 20 22 18 13 20 17 20 19 16 18
20. Filip Gustavsson N/A 21 19 N/A N/A 25 20 13 N/A 19 20
21. Christian Jaros N/A 22 21 24 N/A 17 N/A 12 25 18 25
22. Egor Sokolov 18 N/A 24 22 19 N/A 22 24 N/A 24 N/A
23. Kevin Mandolese 23 N/A N/A N/A 20 21 21 N/A 21 23 N/A
24. Artem Zub N/A 16 20 N/A 25 N/A N/A N/A 22 N/A 23
25. Maxime Lajoie N/A 23 N/A 23 N/A 24 N/A 14 24 N/A N/A

Question 1: At a philosophical level, how did you approach this year’s rankings? How do you balance potential vs. achievements to-date?

Nada: I started off with the players who have already proven themselves on the NHL level, such as Chabot. Then I add in the “special” players like Tim Stuetzle who for obvious reasons are probably closest to being an NHL player out of all the prospects and also has higher potential to be an impact player than a proven player White. It gets harder as you go down the list but I looked at the rankings last year and factor in how these players progressed or declined.

Brandon: I may be in the minority on this one, but I tend to prioritize achievements to date. Obviously I wouldn’t put a guy like White ahead of Stuetzle based on NHL production, but I think credit has to be given to youngsters that are top-end contributors at the NHL level. Someone like Brady Tkachuk will always feature highly in my rankings; not only is he showing flashes of dominance in the big leagues, but he also has room to grow.

It’s a balancing act, but if you ignore NHL production, what exactly are you looking for?

Trevor: It’s a tricky thing to balance, as it is every year. I think about 75% of it is future value for me, with the other 25% being how close they are to the NHL. For example, I actually had Tim Stuetzle ahead of Brady Tkachuk because although he hasn’t made it yet, I expect Stuetzle to be a more impactful player once he’s in the NHL. However, I also had Rudolfs Balcers slightly ahead of Shane Pinto and Vitaly Abramov (although it’s very close) because he’s dominated in the AHL and I think he’s already proven he can be an NHL player, whereas the latter two have not yet. So for the most part, I looked at future value, but when it was close, NHL proximity was a tiebreaker.

Colin: It’s a tough balance, but also far from impossible. Every player has a wide range of potential outcomes, so I mentally try and distill that into some sort of expected value based on my personal perceptions of each player. Younger players like Roby Järventie and Jake Sanderson have some of the widest ranges given their young age and general uncertainty about where they currently stand with their level of play. It could propel them to being league-wide stars, or could have them miss out on being effective NHLers entirely. The older and NHL-established players obviously have the smallest range of outcomes, and keeping with Brandon’s example of White, we can say with a decent degree of certainty that he’ll be an NHLer going forward, but is also unlikely to contribute much past maybe a bottom-six role. It’s not an easy task, and I spent way longer on my list than I’d like to admit, but I guess the balancing act is what makes this an enjoyable exercise every year.

Shaan: It’s always difficult to balance potential and progress, but since established NHLers are frequently traded for prospects, I base my rankings on trade value. For example, if a team were to hypothetically trade Jake Sanderson for Colin White, I would call that a loss, which is why I had the former ahead of the latter.

Owen: I put a lot of emphasis on NHL results and that probably made my final rankings a little spicier than I intended. For instance I have Brown ahead of Batherson because Brown at least has some good fancy stats in the NHL whereas Batherson hasn’t yet. I still see Batherson as having a higher ceiling but for some reason I was really emphatic about past NHL results when ranking this year, so players with top-six ceilings were sometimes ranked below players with bottom-six floors.

Spencer: For the most part, this only comes into play in the top 10-15. In general I lean more towards expected potential rather than achievement to date, but the big piece for me is how close I think the player is to that potential. For example, Batherson feels like he could be a top 6, point producing forward as soon as this season so I ranked him ahead of White, who is already a bonafide NHL player. It’s also possible Järventie becomes a top 6 point producing forward but he’s a few years from that, so I ranked him below White.

Beata: As others have said, you need a bit of both, but personally I favoured achievements. If a player has already played a lot of games in the NHL, I have a much better idea of where they stand, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. When it comes to a player like Chabot or Tkachuk, obviously I’m going to put them at the top of my rankings, because I know for sure that they are positive contributors in the NHL and I just don’t know that to be true about almost anyone else. Even Colin White and Logan Brown get an advantage because I know what kinds of players they are, even if some of the prospects might end up being better than them down the line. At the same time, someone like Stuetzle is obviously going to be close to the top of the list because I’m confident that he’ll turn out to be a star player.

Ross: To me, proven NHL ability ranks highest, so a guy like Chabot beats out a guy like Stuetzle every time. At the same time, potential ranks higher than passable NHL ability. in past years, I had Chabot ahead of a guy like Pageau, and this year for me that means Stuetzle ranked ahead of White, Norris, and Brown. I think the tiers kind of go like this for me: proven first-pairing/top-line guys; guys with top-line/-pair ceiling; proven NHLers; middle-six/top-four ceiling prospects; guys who have been stop-gaps in the NHL.

Ary: I first sort by ceiling, and try to have players who have a chance at being a quality NHLer higher — even if their projection is uncertain. As others have mentioned, it’s easier with the players closest to the NHL — and the Sens have a lot of them — and now it’s all about seeing if they’re given the opportunity to apply their AHL performance to NHL competition.

nkb: This year’s edition of the rankings posed some very difficult choices in this regard; I don’t think I can remember a team when there were so many players who were either established NHLers or seemingly had the potential to be one. I agree with the idea of prioritizing potential when the player is special, like Stuetzle, and otherwise I tend to put emphasis on achievement. I’d also go a step further and say that I place significantly more importance on achievement in pro hockey than in NCAA or CHL hockey. This is likely why I’m lower on Sanderson and Pinto than others: until you show me you can do it against the pros, I’m always going to be a bit wary.

Question 2: Whose ranking was the most surprising to you? Was there anyone that was either much lower or much higher than you expected?

Nada: We’ve all at various points been excited about Rudolfs Balcers and he has proven he deserves a very serious look at the NHL but somehow he wasn’t even top-10.

Brandon: Hardly an earth-shattering example, but I was surprised that Maxime Lajoie cracked the list. His 2020 season was frankly abysmal going against expectations, as he wasn’t even able to make a major impact in Belleville. It was a highly disappointing outing after showing signs of serious promise in 2018-2019, and he didn’t get so much as a sniff at playing in Ottawa. It was a season chock full of the telltale signs of regression, and though Lajoie is still Top 30 in the Senators’ system, I left him outside of the Top 25.

I don’t think Lajoie is a write-off by any means. He has impressive offensive instincts, and has shown signs of being a good puck-mover, but he has a ton of work to do to claw his way back into the mix, especially given Ottawa’s depth on the left side. Lajoie needs to add some size, and start producing on the scoreboard, but he can bounce back from this.

Trevor: I was surprised that Egor Sokolov was able to crack the top 25, considering he was ahead of Kevin Mandolese, Artem Zub, Angus Crookshank, Max Lajoie, Jonathan Davidsson, Mads Søgaard, and Maxence Guénette. I think the fact that he was a 2nd round pick (as opposed to a later round pick) and that he seems so charismatic played a huge role in this because although I don’t not like him as a prospect, I’d have more established prospects ahead of him.

Colin: I think this list was pretty in line with what I expected, but that doesn’t mean there were no disagreements. I think I was most surprised to see the faith some still have in Filip Gustavsson, despite showing little progression in the last two seasons. It’s been three years now since he won awards at the World Juniors (which in my opinion should barely factor into analysis anyways), and while I wouldn’t rule him out from being an NHL starter because goalies can be weird, there’s a lot of uncertainty with unproven goalies.

It also appears I’m lower on Jacob Bernard-Docker than most, placing him with the lowest ranking at 17th. He’s solid defensively, but good NHL defenceman tend to also be able to put up strong offensive numbers before they get to the pro leagues. At the moment, I’m of the mind that a lot of his production can be credited to playing on a strong North Dakota team rather than being a play-driver. I’m also underwhelmed by his transition game, with low success rates on the breakout and minimal attempts at entering the zone. If he makes it in the NHL it’ll likely be as a one-dimensional defensive defenceman, a style that continues to be less beneficial with each passing season.

Shaan: I think Filip Chlapik is one of the best options Ottawa has right now for the fourth line, and has proven to be a strong shot suppressor in that role so far. But to me, that’s not enough to crack the Top 20 of this list, let alone the Top 15. He hasn’t brought much of his offense from the QMJHL to the pros, and I see more high-end upside in guys like Shane Pinto and Roby Järventie. He’s turned out well for a second-rounder and Chlapik can help any NHL team win hockey games, but I feel there’s a good chance that Angus Crookshank, Parker Kelly, and Mark Kastelic, none of whom made our list this year, could become that player as well.

Owen: I‘ve written about this before but I’m still shell-shocked about Davidsson. Injuries have really hampered his career trajectory. I guess I still believed his resume was enough to keep him in the conversation. Among over-achievers, I can get some of the hype with Sokolov as he has second-round pedigree and has really endeared himself with his off-ice work. Zub confounds me; undrafted free agents hit so rarely and I don’t see the attraction.

Spencer: For the most part, my rankings didn’t differ greatly from what we came to as a staff. The two players who I was a bit surprised by were Artem Zub being lower and Egor Sokolov being ranked at all. For me, there’s potential in Zub and I think his KHL resume earns him a spot in the teens, whereas the staff overall ranked him 24th. On Sokolov, I just have a hard time believing a player who’s been passed over twice in the draft is going to be something. It is such a rare thing! I genuinely hope he does well but I didn’t rank him because of the unlikelihood that he develops any further than where he is now.

Beata: I don’t think there were any big surprises for me. I think I had Colin White a bit higher up than the other writers, but I am generally not as knowledgeable about prospects as the rest of them, so I trust their assessment!

Ross: I was a little surprised Balcers wasn’t higher. A guy who’s torn up the AHL and shown he can handle the NHL to me should’ve been in the top 10 for sure.

Ary: I’m a little surprised that Angus Crookshank didn’t squeeze in at the end there. He’s had a tougher junior season, but has speed to burn and a creative offensive toolkit. I think he’ll be a good pro for the team at some point.

nkb: I had Järventie at 21, while he ended up at 16th overall so there was a pretty big gap there. I actually liked the choice to draft him when they did, so maybe this is a bit inconsistent on my part but I also see a guy who is awfully raw and a long, long ways from being an impact NHLer. His hot start to the season might have been weighing on some minds, and I can’t help but wonder where he would have landed if we had done this voting in the off-season like we normally do.

Question 3: Shane Pinto made the biggest leap forward on this year’s list, from 25th to 15th. Obviously he’s had a very good year and a half of hockey: what do you see as his ceiling now and how has that changed from when we did this ranking last year?

Nada: I don’t think his progression can be ignored nor is it a fluke. He has shown consistent improvement and the ability to dominate at the NCAA level. I think he can be a valuable top-6 player in the near future.

Brandon: Around this time last year, I saw Pinto as a solid 3C on a competing team, maybe topping out as a second line guy. Now, I picture him more as a prime Kyle Turris; a two-way centre that can top out as a 1B, but I truly believe that the sky is the limit for Pinto. He has outstanding vision in the offensive zone, and his puck skills have shown signs of marked improvement since last season. Pinto’s stickhandling and passing are tremendous, and he is almost at a point where he has outgrown college hockey.

I expect Pinto to make the pro leap next season, and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if he has an AHL campaign on par with those put out by Josh Norris and Alex Formenton last year. With Pinto’s raw talent, he has the makings of an impact player in Ottawa.

Trevor: The cool thing about Pinto is that he didn’t even start playing top competitive hockey until he was 15, so it’s possible his ceiling is way above what we’d expect for someone his age. I don’t think he’ll ever be quite good enough to be on the first line, but I agree with Brandon: something along the lines of a Turris or Turris-Lite could be his ceiling on the second line. He has been dominating every game he has played since being drafted, and it’s hard not to like the overall package that he brings. That said, we need to be a bit careful not to go overboard with expectations because Colin White had even better numbers in College, so not every NCAA player will turn into a star, but I do think Pinto has a very good shot at playing on the second line in Ottawa.

Colin: Pinto’s such a curious case, and like Bernard-Docker I still waver as to how much of his burst of production has been due to playing with strong linemates at UND. I still want to see more from Pinto before I feel comfortable labelling him as a potential top-six centreman — he still lacks a top gear of speed and creativity that it will take to get there. But his steep upward trajectory is un-ignorable, and he’s certainly made strides in the last year to the point where the potential range of outcomes looks a lot better than it did when he was drafted.

Shaan: I watched every second of Shane Pinto’s play in the Omaha Pod, and I was enthralled. As I mentioned in his entry a few weeks ago, he’s good at a lot of things, but it’s his positioning and hockey IQ that’s mostly responsible for his production. He’s not going to be a dynamic playmaking forward like Jason Spezza or Tim Stuetzle, but with his work ethic, faceoff prowess, two-way game and raw, immeasurable hate of anyone not wearing the same jersey he is, I think there’s a real chance his line is Ottawa’s best one going forward. To put it bluntly, I’m even higher on him than most.

Owen: I can definitely appreciate the argument that one-plus season of NCAA hockey constitutes a small sample size and I have felt guilty of getting overly-zealous about Pinto. I guess that’s kinda the nature of his place within the Sens narrative though. When the team reaches with the first pick in the second round on an unknown player it’s gonna be boom or bust and until Pinto’s production falls off a cliff I’ll just continue to accept that Ottawa somehow hit the jackpot with this one.

Spencer: Pinto, for me, has jumped from possible third line centre to probable second or third line centre. It’s not necessarily the spot in the lineup that is the difference maker for me, it’s the possible vs. probable. Granted, the NCHC pod is a small sample size, but Pinto was a dominant player for UND, improving upon his rookie season is virtually every way. For me, that shows his development is far from over and turns the possible into a probable, which explains my personal jump in the rankings. If I recall correctly, I had Pinto very low last year... oops.

Beata: I haven’t personally watched many of Pinto’s games, but what I have seen has been extremely impressive. One of the most exciting things about this rebuild is how the roster is wide open - I can easily see a guy like Pinto slotting into the top 9, if not top 6, pretty quickly. I agree with the assessment of him as a Kyle Turris type. If he ends up being as good as he’s looked at UND so far, he could make a really solid 2C behind Stuezle.

Ross: His ceiling is first-line centre. As others point out, he didn’t join competitive hockey until 15 and has progressed immensely in that time. He still has to grow, but he has legit potential to be an impact first-line NHL pivot.

Ary: I think Pinto’s performance at last year’s WJC and his transition to an elite North Dakota team has certainly helped add a solid floor to his projection. Barring wild circumstances, he’ll be an NHLer, and it’ll just remain to be seen if he’s able to carve out a role that’s top-six worthy like the players taken right after him in Arthur Kaliyev and Bobby Brink. I think Pinto can play an invaluable role for this team going forward as a strong, two-way centre who can contribute in all-situations. It’s hard to find players like that, and I hope his offence continues to grow.

nkb: I’ll come back to my earlier comment that I tend to put less emphasis on NCCA production than most — particularly when you’re on a juggernaut of a team like Pinto. All that to say that I’m taking his outburst with a bit of a grain of salt. He’s been good enough that I’ve had to recalibrate my outlook for him, but if you’re a top six centre in this league you’re by definition of the 60 best centres in the entire world. I want to see Pinto work against the AHL pros before I’m ready to make that kind of claim. Still, at this point he looks like a lock to play a meaningful defensive role with the NHL Senators in the not-too-distant future. That in itself would be a big win in my books.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of the roundtable!