Welcome back for Part 2 of your Top 25 Under 25 staff roundtable where we discuss some of the more pressing questions from this year’s feature. We’ve got a lot of content for you here, so strap in!
You can re-visit Part 1, as well as the ballot reveal, here.
Question 1: Christian Jaros took the biggest tumble down the rankings, from 11th to 21st. What caused this drop-off? Has Jaros just missed his chance to make an impact at the NHL level?
Nada: I don’t think he completely missed his chance, I just think it has become incredibly harder with the rise of other prospects and the acquisition of outside help. I still suspect to see him a few times this season but I doubt he has a long term future with the Sens.
Brandon: The thing about Christian Jaros is that he has yet to separate himself from the rest of Ottawa’s pack. They’re paper thin on the right side of the blue line, but whenever Jaros has gotten consistent NHL opportunities, he’s looked fine, but has never truly stood out. His game isn’t really made to light up the scoreboard, but if Jaros is going to be an understated defensive blueliner, he needs to be absolutely lights-out. Shooting for a Dylan DeMelo-esque impact would be ideal, in that it would see Jaros’ analytic performance be virtually irreplaceable, and elevate the players around him by being a rock, defensively.
I don’t think Jaros has missed the boat, by any means. Erik Gudbranson and Josh Brown are not world-beaters, and we don’t quite know what we have in Artyem Zub yet, so there will be plenty of openings for Jaros to crack this roster. He’ll likely have to kick the door down, and emphatically earn his opportunities, but the chance is still there for now.
Trevor: I’ve never been too high on Jaros just because it seemed like his ceiling was always a 3rd pairing defenseman. That had some value in the past because he had made it to the NHL and it looked like he might be able to be competent in that spot, but he hasn’t been very impressive in Ottawa. He was never known for his offense, but he hasn’t even been able to limit chances against defensively, so what is his value then? I can’t imagine him having a career in Ottawa.
Colin: I was a big fan of Jaros when he made the leap to North America. He was labelled as a rough-and-gruff big guy who could hit, but he’s a stallion on his skates with fantastic maneuverability. So to see how injuries have since taken a toll has been tough to see — I remember parts of the last couple AHL seasons where Jaros would mysteriously be missing from the lineup and we’d just assume it was some re-aggravated injury. He hasn’t done much to prove himself in the NHL either, with a GAR of -0.2 in 2018-19 (876 minutes) and +0.4 in 2019-20 (137 minutes), according to Evolving-Hockey’s model. Maybe he can improve on that with a healthy season, but at 24 and soon going on 25, he should already be in his prime years.
Shaan: Jaros needs to get in some games, ASAP. There’s still hope for him to find a role in the NHL, he looked fine in the 2018-19 season, and spent a lot of this year injured as other prospects shone in the lower leagues, leading to his plummet down the list. If he can outperform Artem Zub and somebody on a 1-way deal, welcome back to the NHL! And he’s capable of doing so. However, time is running out for him, I don’t see Ottawa signing him to another two-way contract so he needs to make this year count.
Owen: I had Jaros at 17 so I’m still higher on him than most. I don’t know what it is that the Sens brass don’t see in him and what has kept him out of the mix. Whenever I watch Belleville, it looks like Jaros is making some of the soundest defensive plays with just enough creativity offensively. And while his NHL numbers don’t jump off the page, I don’t think he’s had a fair shot either. The team will always say that it comes down to players making the most of opportunities but I really worry about Jaros’ case and so many other young Sens when they end up so afraid of making mistakes and getting sent back down that they lose the confidence to play their game.
Spencer: Christian Jaros plays the position which is now and for a long time has been arguably Ottawa’s weakest. The Sens, in my recollection, have only ever had one, maybe two good right shot defenders at any one time. After Karlsson probably comes DeMelo? That’s how bad it is. This is a spot on the roster that is ripe for the taking and, unfortunately, Jaros hasn’t been able to accomplish that. If you’re unable to take playing time from the players we’ve seen the Sens trot out on the right side for the last few years... that’s a big uh oh. I think Jaros has missed his chance to be an impact NHLer, for sure. I imagine he’ll be back in Europe within a few seasons, finishing his pro career there.
Beata: I think it has to do with the potential vs achievements question. Jaros has played more NHL minutes than a lot of the guys on this list, but that means we’ve seen enough to know what his ceiling is, and it’s not that impressive. The position is wide open right now, and he just hasn’t stepped up enough. I’m not ready to give up on him yet, but he could easily be usurped by more exciting prospects if he doesn’t step up.
Ross: Part of his earlier high ranking was that he was the only RHD under the age of 45 in the system. He kind of got thrust into an NHL role because of injuries and his handedness. A year of him being fine but not otherworldly in the AHL, coupled with JBD making strides and Lassi Thomson staying strong means his future with the organization has fallen off a lot. He hasn’t made the case that the team should be playing him in the NHL, and so he’ll stay as a guy who rides the bus back and forth from Belleville a lot. I think he still has a shot to make the NHL, but his road is a lot bumpier, at least with the Sens.
Ary: I think he’s unfortunately missed his chance after starting last year slow and running into injury issues. The team has gone out of their way to acquire players who fit a similar mold in Artem Zub, Josh Brown, and to some extent, Braydon Coburn.
nkb: As I said in my write-up of Jaros for the series, I attribute part of his fall to circumstances beyond his control (injuries, lesser veterans being given preferential treatment) but part of it is that he just hasn’t quite grabbed the bull by the horns. He’s never been awful but it’s also hard to think of his signature moments/skills. He’s likely going to end up as a tweener — a very good AHL defenseman, but never quite good enough to lock down a top 6 spot in the NHL.
Question 2: The timing of this year’s vote seems to have played a role in the rankings: most of the players on the list that were active at the time of the voting received some of the biggest boosts up the list. With the benefit of a bit of a hindsight, are there any rankings you’d change?
Brandon: I may have had Jake Sanderson a little higher, with the benefit of hindsight. I ranked him seventh, but based on what I’ve seen so far through the NCHC Pod and World Juniors, Sanderson has a game that is nearly pro-ready even now. He really has no weak points; his skating is effortless, his passing is crisp, his vision is elite, and his shot is a cannon. Sanderson is raw, still having some work to do in terms of decision-making, and when to take certain risks, but this kid is a stud. I would expect to see a heavy dose of Jake Sanderson in Ottawa, sooner than later.
Trevor: Looking at my list, there isn’t too much I would change. I’m a bit lower on Lassi Thomson right now, so I think I would swap him and Jarventie on my lists (15th and 17th). After that, I think Maxence Guénette definitely deserves a top 25 spot after his incredible 15-game stretch, so I would bump Jaros off 25th. Other than that though, I think we’d be looking into small samples too much, especially since only a handful of them had actually played in games.
Colin: Placing Jonathan Davidsson at 19th might’ve been a bit generous on my part, but I also look at the prospects ranked after him (Crookshank, Sokolov, Kastelic) and realize how much of a drop-off there is in that range anyways. Lassi Thomson might also get bumped down a bit from 15th given his early struggles, but he doesn’t have control over his ice time and still has the raw tools that made him appealing to begin with. But we’re really just looking at tiny samples of games at this point with the extra massive asterisk of COVID-19 affecting their seasons. Ask me again in a couple months when more seasons are underway, then we might have some movement.
Shaan: I’m not going to bump up Shane Pinto just yet, but I’m going to predict he’ll be safely in my Top 10 next year. As for what I’d change right now, I’m impressed with the season that Maxence Guenette has put together so far, so he’d probably find his way somewhere onto the list if I were to do it over today.
Owen: For that reason and many others, these rankings have the potential to age like milk so I won’t beat myself up in a couple years if Kleven wins the Hobey Baker and Greig goes to med school. Daoust and Guenette have pleasantly surprised but still probably not enough to crack the top-25 for me.
Beata: My rankings will probably look silly in the future, and yeah I would probably rank Pinto a bit higher, but for the most part I’m sticking with it!
Ross: Probably Guenette makes my list, Abramov and Greig move up. This process is never scientific, we’re already adding rankings and it’s dangerous to do addition of relative rather than absolute numbers, so I’m not too concerned about messing with the purity of the process.
Spencer: I think the Sens pipeline, in this particular scenario, benefited from not having a ton of high end CHL talent in it. By that I mean, our rankings weren’t incredibly swayed by players in the NCAA and Europe playing. For me, the likes of Abramov, Balcers or the UND crew playing didn’t change much of my opinion on them. If there’s someone who may have benefited from it, however, it’s Roby Järventie. At the time we were submitting these rankings, he was on an absolute tear for Ilves, I’m sure that put some rose coloured analysis on him for some of us, myself included. I had Järventie 19th on my ranking, I’m sure had been doing this exercise in our usual September timeframe, and we only had his numbers from last season to look at, it’s possible he would’ve been a bubble guy on my ranking. Possibly left off entirely.
Ary: I’m pretty happy with my rankings! TAs a staff, we don’t debate our votes ahead of time, but if we did I would have advocated harder among my peers (*banging the table* as they say) for the inclusion of Angus Crookshank and Maxence Guenette. I’ve generally been a bit higher on staff on players who have started the season well (Abramov, Pinto, Jarventie) and I think my rankings have already adjusted for that.
Question 3: Jake Sanderson was the most polarizing of all the players on our list, ranking 5th on one ballot all the way down to 18th on another. What do you think it is about Sanderson that inspires such disagreement?
Brandon: Well, this just makes my first answer even more appropriate! It’s a really interesting question, because I think if people had a more complete picture of Sanderson’s game, they would feel differently about the player. A lot of folks look at a player like Jamie Drysdale, and are blown away by the 87 points in 112 OHL games. This is impressive, of course, but it’s easy to get lost in production. Sanderson may not match Drysdale’s point totals, but I would argue that his defensive game, and impact in transition had him head and shoulders above the other defence prospects in the 2020 draft.
For those not sold on Sanderson, I would strongly encourage you to watch him every chance you can get, and really zero in on the player. Pay attention to Sanderson’s stick work, the way he plays angles, and his passing in all ends of the ice. You’d be hard-pressed not to fall in love with this player.
Trevor: It is wild to me that I ranked Sanderson the 2nd highest amongst the staff even though I don’t consider myself to be that high (comparatively) on him...Don’t get me wrong, I think he is going to be a very solid player, hence why I have him so high. But I can see why others would have him lower because his game isn’t going to be too flashy and he probably won’t put up massive point totals, although he is constantly improving his offensive game. I think the fact that he was taken 5th overall instead of say, 15th, will hurt his perception with some because he will be expected to be an instant star, but I fully expect him to be a Zach Werenski-type player. Someone who won’t be mentioned amongst the stars of the league, but he will quietly be one of the best players on the team. As Brandon says, he does the little things well, and I think he’ll have a chance to make the team as soon as next season.
Colin: Prospects like Sanderson are hard to get a read on. He’s exceptional at a couple specific things (transitional play) and improving at everything else, so it’s tough to evaluate where he falls when his trajectory keeps moving. The first half of the 2019-20 season was fine for Sanderson, and if the season ended there he would’ve comfortably been picked somewhere in the mid-first or early second round. Then he started to show flashes of all his raw abilities coming together, and by the end NHL scouts seemed to be on their knees praying they could draft him. Was the high pick a product of recency bias, or was his second half of the season the real deal? The truth probably falls somewhere in the middle, and depending on which side you fall, that can really sway your opinion on a prospect.
Shaan: For starters, he’s not one of the high-end forward prospects who’ve been hyped up for all of last year, not to mention he’s a left-handed defensemen which wasn’t exactly a glaring need going into the draft. Then, you’ve got many sources not listing him as the best defenseman of the class, and to top it all off, a relative lack of offensive skills compared to others in his draft range. That being said, none of the guys I’ve alluded to are ever going to score while playing against Jake Sanderson, so that’s why he’s 5th on my list.
Owen: I can’t add too much beyond what the others have said re: stats versus eye test and such. The mythology of Jake Sanderson has outgrown the actual player so quickly in Ottawa and the fanbase is really just in its own head at this point. A lot folks signed up on one side of the debate or the other before draft night and will never back down from the opinion they had of Jake months ago. Sanderson will be the bane of this website and many others for years to come. Ts & Ps.
Beata: Sanderson being polarizing is probably the least surprising thing about this list. I suspect it’s a combination of him not being the type of player the Sens need right now, and the fact that his play improved so dramatically toward the end of last season that it’s hard to tell if it was a stroke of good luck or if he’s only now hitting his stride. The fact that the Sens drafted him so high is also definitely going to colour fans’ opinion of him. Let’s just hope it’s another Tkachuk situation!
Ross: It matters what you put value on. He has the tools to be an effective NHL defenceman. He also rated high on intangibles among scouts, which lots of people take issue with. I think there’s an element that in a draft full of top forwards, the Sens took the best defenceman. He’s also left handed, and lots of people look at the list of Chabot-Brannstrom-Wolanin ahead of him and wonder where his place with the organization will be. So I think he ranks high if you look at raw talent and ceiling, and low if you look at his position within the Sens’ prospects and the other players who could’ve been drafted in his spot.
Spencer: Sanderson is a tough one because his scouting reports talked a decent amount about his lack of high end offensive capabilities. Generally, when a defender isn’t excellent offensively at lower levels, they don’t translate into a high end defender at the NHL level. We’ve seen Sanderson play excellently with UND, and put up some points too, but that is such a small sample size that I totally get why people might still be skeptical about the player.
Ary: When Colin and I covered Jake Sanderson before the draft, we noted how polarizing of a player he’d be for the team that drafts him. It can be difficult to evaluate good defence — Sanderson’s strength, especially on the rush — and I think the legitimate concerns on his play-driving ceiling is leading to people questioning the upside of the pick. When you add in the players who the Senators could’ve selected, especially at forward, you have the recipe for a more controversial pick.
Let me be clear, though: I think Sanderson has a pro-calibre floor, and will likely be in Ottawa within two seasons. There’s certainly a need for someone with his skillset on this roster, and by all accounts, there’s a great argument for Sanderson as the less-riskier option than Jamie Drysdale when you’re thinking about the best defenceman among the 2020 class. My ranking for him — 7th — tries to place his value behind the higher-ceiling Brännström but ahead of the lesser talented Bernard-Docker and Thomson. He’s also got age on his side, which is why I ranked him ahead of Colin White and Logan Brown at this point in their NHL careers.
nkb: As one of the folks who was on the low end of the spectrum for Sanderson, I should say that I have mostly been impressed with the times I’ve seen him play. His skating is as excellent as advertised, and he really is a very strong defender 1-on-1, particularly on the rush. All of the stuff that the scouts have said about his defensive game, and his ability to skate the puck out of trouble, appear to be true. At the same time, I haven’t been blown away by his offensive playmaking — he will often skate the puck out of trouble, join the rush, and then make a dump in, or end up making a five foot pass that isn’t particularly dangerous — which is totally fine if unspectacular. Sanderson looks to me like a guy who will absolutely be in the NHL soon, and with a bit of work could have a long career as a core defender but all the concerns that folks had about a lack of high-end offensive skills seem real to me, too. He’s young, and he’s very good at some important stuff so maybe the rest will come and he’ll turn out to be an elite top pairing guy but that’s why I ended up with him where I did.
Question 4: Chabot-Tkachuk-Stuetzle were firmly entrenched at the top of the rankings this year, but there was not much room between the three of them for the top spot. Do you think there could be a potential for a shuffle at the top in the years to come? Is there anyone outside the top three who could break up the trio?
Brandon: There could definitely be some variation in the order of those three players in the year to come. All are special talents, with the potential to be at least Top 20 players in the NHL, so it stands to reason that they could flip-flop around in that Top 3. Tim Stuetzle seems the most likely candidate to complicate things, with some all-world potential. It may not be long before we’re talking about him as the standalone best player on the Ottawa Senators. Stuetzle is one of the most talented players that they’ve ever drafted, and his ceiling is simply limitless. Sanderson, Erik Brannstrom, and Drake Batherson all could work their way into this mix in the years to come. One just has to hope that it’s because of their own performances, rather than a regression from the Senators’ “Trinity”.
Trevor: Chabot is the clear number 1 for me right now, and I think Stuetzle certainly has the ability to dethrone him. To be honest, it will be disappointing if he doesn’t. I wouldn’t count on Tkachuk being number 1, although I do think he can be similar in value to his brother, Matthew. Outside of those three, I would say that Jake Sanderson, Erik Brannstrom, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris all have the potential to be in the top three, but they will have to fully reach their potential.
Colin: As others have said, it’s Stuetzle who will dictate whether that will happen. We know Chabot is a great defenceman who can be a #1 in an up season, and Tkachuk, while he confuses the heck out of me analytically, is still entrenched as a top-six winger despite his flaws. I wouldn’t pencil in Stuetzle as a superstar as some seem to be expecting — in fact I’d even anticipate there to be a bit of a rocky transition period to North America, where he’ll have to re-adjust some of the fundamental ways he thinks the game. But there’s a good reason why he was a top pick in a draft deep with high-end offensive talent, his puck handling skills are otherworldly. The Sens desperately need game-breaking talent, and he could be part of the answer.
Shaan: For the time being, the top three are in a tier of their own. I gave Stuetzle and Tkachuk the leg up on Chabot because of their younger age, it’s hard not to get excited about what they’ll be a few years from now. Brady’s intangibles and ability to throw opponents off of their game are also a bonus. Either way, it’s going to take a lot for someone else to break into the Top 3.
Owen: Chabot has a big advantage by virtue of playing the most premium position and the biggest minutes, and as the others have said, Timmy remains Tommy’s biggest threat. As a fellow defender, Brannstrom has the best shot to dethrone one of the big three and that’s not a knock on those players so much as a testament to Erik’s potential.
Beata: I think those three are going to be at the top of the rankings for a long time. I certainly can’t see anyone currently in the organization breaking the top 3 as long we have that trio. Will the order change, though? Absolutely. I ranked Stuezle third just because we don’t know for sure how he’s going to adjust to NHL hockey, let alone how his game is going to evolve. Still, I can easily see him taking the first spot even if he only gets 9 games this year. If he lives up to the hype, he’ll be at the top of the list soon, with Chabot and Tkachuk taking the second and third spots.
Ross: I think Stuetzle, depending on how he pans out, could make a push for the top spot. I don’t see Tkachuk beating out Chabot anytime soon, but if Stuetzle turns into a top-line centre, he’ll push them out. The only players who could make a push for the top, in my opinions, are Batherson, Brannstrom, Brown, or Norris, if any of them turns in a first full pro season for the ages. Barring an incredible debut, we’ll see the same top three next year.
Spencer: I think there’s a real scenario where Chabot drops to third before he graduates from this list. It’s not super likely! But I think it’s possible. What it would take is a Calder Trophy calibre season from Stuetzle where he lights the league on fire, a la Elias Pettersson and then Brady Tkachuk taking that leap to more superstar calibre scoring. I’m talking about a 30 goal, 70+ point type of season. Now, I don’t think BOTH of these things will happen before Chabot is no longer U25. If I’m putting money on one of them taking Chabot’s place at the top, it’s Stuetzle.
Ary: I think there’s a chance that Erik Brännström or Jake Sanderson could break into that top-three, but I don’t think it’s very likely. If Stuetzle reaches his first-line upside, there’s a chance that he becomes the forward version of what Erik Karlsson was to this franchise in the 2010s, which could potentially be more valuable than Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk if they stay around their current projections.
nkb: I don’t see anyone in the Sens’ pipeline that has the potential to be elite in the way that these three are, but I could absolutely see Stuetzle vaulting to the top of the rankings — he’s a special, special player and if he succeeds in the NHL next year it might be hard to keep him out of the top spot.
Well that does it for our coverage of the Top 25 Under 25 for 2020! It was a real treat to write about such a fun and exciting group of young players and we’ve also very much enjoyed the conversations in the comments sections with the community. So, thank you to all of you and on to 2021!