While Colin and I’s four choices were voted in the top five during our readers poll, we disagreed on the main choice. I’ll discuss this, and more, in the article below.
Biggest Disappointment: Jonathan Davidsson
Reader’s Choice: Logan Brown (31% of votes)
Honourable Mentions: Johnny Tychonick, Maxime Lajoie, Erik Brännström
It’s safe to say that Jonathan Davidsson’s first season in North America wasn’t the one that he wanted to have.
After producing at a great rate (for his age) against men in the SHL for the last three seasons, Davidsson battled injuries, was a healthy scratch at times, and only ended up suiting up for 24 games last season — six with Ottawa, and 18 with Belleville. While Belleville’s incredible depth pushed him down the lineup, the fact that we saw little growth throughout the year (i.e., time on special teams, moving up in the lineup, etc.) is worrying. We know that in February, Davidsson’s extended absence from the lineup was due to a concussion, and there’s a chance we could be missing something else here — maybe Troy Mann doesn’t like the player, or Davidsson was battling personal issues — but on the surface, not much development happened in an environment where young players have seemed to thrive so far.
Some could make the argument that Davidsson wasn’t that great of a prospect anyway, and that he wasn’t a primary component in the Matt Duchene trade that saw Vitaly Abramov and a first-rounder also come the Sens way. While Davidsson was a late blooming, seventh-round pick in 2017, the statistics show that he was a top producer for his age against men in Sweden. In 2017-18, Davidsson’s 0.60 points-per-game in the SHL ranked fifth league-wide among U22 players, and in his last season with Djurgårdens, Davidsson’s ice-time was up to 16:47 a night — third among forwards — while receiving regular time on special teams. Both of his GMs in Columbus and Ottawa noted his top-end NHL speed, his playmaking ability, and his all-around game being well-developed. He was viewed as a player who could serve as an “internal vet” in a way to some of the younger kids in Belleville as a 23-year-old. It’s this kind of play that Colin, Spencer — who watches Belleville more regularly — and I didn’t see from him this year.
Davidsson still has another year on his entry-level contract, and with top wingers expected to graduate from Belleville, there will be a ripe opportunity in the top-six for a (hopefully healthy!) Davidsson to put his best foot forward. With the ceiling of a bottom-six, play-driving winger, Davidsson’s already built a lot of his NHL toolkit while he was in Sweden. If he’s provided with an opportunity to get off and running, maybe he could challenge for some NHL games yet.
Our three honourable mentions are all defencemen, and are all here for different reasons. Johnny Tychonick saw his point totals nearly triple — going from four in 28 games to 11 in 24 games — but ultimately, saw his role reduce while playing for the #1 team in the country. Known for his offence in the BCHL, Tychonick only had 12 shots in 24 games, battled injuries yet again, and was a healthy scratch later on in the year for Brad Berry’s group. It’s no surprise that he made the hard decision to apply for a transfer to another collegiate program where he’ll be given a prime role to try and save his NHL career, as it’s only been a downward trajectory after being picked in the second round in 2018.
After spending most of last season with Guy Boucher’s Senators, Max Lajoie only saw six NHL games this year on a weaker squad, primarily suiting up for Belleville. While we know that his early point production last season was a case of high on-ice percentages, I expected more than 17 points in 48 games from him in the AHL — especially considering that most of those points came in the second-half of the season where he really started to find his game again. From development camp onward, it appeared as though Lajoie didn’t make as strong of an impression on D.J. Smith and company, and by my eyes, looked sluggish instead of displaying his usual poise with the puck. He’s only 22, and his road to the NHL is currently blocked by Chabot, Brännström, Wolanin, and (likely) Borowiecki, but there’s room for capable all-situations defenders at the NHL if Lajoie can put together a strong offseason of work and emerge as a leader for Belleville next season.
Finally, we’re going to talk more about Brännström in a later awards article, but I’ll mention why Colin and I have him here so you can see if our reasons were the same reasons why you, the readers, gave him the fourth-most votes when asked this question. By all accounts, Brännström didn’t excel as quickly as many would’ve expected him to, based on his first-round pick status, last season’s quality AHL performance as a 19-year-old, and the pedigree of being traded (along with a second) for one of the league’s best players in Mark Stone. Brännström only has control over one of these factors — his on-ice play, sort-of — and the rest are narratives that we, as fans, analysts, and hockey operations staff, need to contend with ourselves. Regardless, while his first two dozen games may not have showcased the offensive pedigree we would’ve expected, his second call-up, after being returned to Belleville for a bit, saw him lead the puck in transition and display the vision we’ve seen throughout his career. He ultimately was around the team average in terms of CF%, xGF%, not moving the needle offensively while not being caved in defensively. Brännström is still a primo talent, and probably has the highest ceiling of all the prospects in the Sens system at the moment, but just needs some extra time. That he wasn’t ready now is why he’s mentioned, but we fully admit that some of that was unfair to Brännström, and likely won’t affect him from becoming the player he can be long-term.
I’ll end this article by briefly stating why Colin and I didn’t select Logan Brown, who you voted as the readers’ choice for biggest disappointment. I imagine that most arguments about Brown are similar to Brännström, in the sense that he’s a high first-round pick with a top-end ceiling, strong first AHL year behind him, with an opportunity to win a NHL lineup spot but didn’t. In 23 NHL games this season, when Brown was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Ottawa Senators — a ~47% CF% team — played at almost a 50% clip, outchanced their opponents (~55% xGF%), and outscored them, 11-9. To us, that’s pretty solid, especially considering Brown’s linemates switched from a top role with Brady Tkachuk and Anthony Duclair earlier on, to a fourth-line role with J.C. Beaudin for around half of his games. In his 25 AHL contests, he saw his points-per-game jump (as expected) from 0.75 to 1.12 as he contributed to the top offence in the league. There are only 22 players (min. 10 GP) in the AHL that scored at a rate higher than 1.00 points-per-game, and only five who were under the age of 22. To us, that’s great company for Brown to be keeping, and while we are worried that he’s missed a decent chunk of games to injury in the last four seasons, we know that if he’s healthy and given an opportunity, Brown will do what he does best.
Let us know why you voted the way you did in the comments below!
Note: 5-on-5 metrics via Natural Stat Trick