The final award of the season is always tricky, as we try to consider the many deserving candidates that have emerged in a system as stacked as the one Pierre Dorion, Trent Mann, and co. have assembled in Ottawa.
Here are how the awards have been handed out so far:
- Best First-Year NHLer: Marcus Högberg, with honourable mentions to Filip Chlapik, Logan Brown, and Drake Batherson
- Most Improved Prospect: Josh Norris, with honourable mentions to Shane Pinto, Vitaly Abramov, and Jakov Novak
- Biggest Disappointment: Jonathan Davidsson (readers: Logan Brown), with honourable mentions to Jonny Tychonick, Maxime Lajoie, and Erik Brännström
- Top Newcomer: Lassi Thomson (readers: Shane Pinto), with honourable mentions to Shane Pinto, Chris Wilkie, and Olle Alsing
- Best Defenceman: Erik Brännström, with honourable mentions to Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, and Olle Alsing
- Best Goalie: Marcus Högberg, with honourable mentions to Kevin Mandolese and Joey Daccord
As readers, your vote mattered. Colin and I were unsure on how this would turn out, but it appears that we were pretty much in consensus, with only significant differences for the biggest disappointment and top newcomer award. It means that in a couple of years, it’ll be fun to look back on this piece — especially with the massive upheaval the 2020 NHL Draft will do to the Sens system — and see where, as a collective, we were right and wrong. Even now, while Högberg, Chlapik, Brown, Batherson, Brännström, and Norris have all received some NHL games, there’s a decent chance that not all have long NHL careers, and a real shot that this might be it for some of them, especially in Ottawa.
It’s with this in mind that we turn our attention to our final award:
Most Valuable Prospect: Drake Batherson
Reader’s Choice: Drake Batherson (41.5% of votes)
Honourable Mentions: Josh Norris, Erik Brännström, Marcus Hogberg
The four players Colin and I have selected are the same four players voted on by the readers, with Drake Batherson getting the top prize in both instances. Josh Norris was three votes off the ‘upset’, having received 40.5% of the votes, and Marcus Högberg was in a distant third with 9.3% of the votes.
Like Brännström, there were expectations for Batherson to become a full-time NHLer this year after a strong rookie campaign in the AHL and the fact that he did enough to make the team out of camp. When Batherson was sent down, the mantra from the team was that he appeared too passive, like he was waiting for the game to come to him rather than trying to dictate the play in the way we saw in 2018-19 with Belleville, or with Team Canada at the U20 World Championships. To his credit, Batherson understood that:
“What’s going to get me to the next level is my playmaking and scoring abilities,” Batherson said. “That’s what I bring to the table every night. I’ve got to create offence and that’s what I try to do on a daily basis.”
Mission accomplished. When I looked at the numbers historically for Sens prospects playing in the AHL, Batherson dominated the AHL in such a fashion that Sens fans had not seen since Jason Spezza’s 117-point season in the lockout season of 2004-05 — a mark that happened after Spezza already had 76 points in 111 NHL games.
Among all players (min. 10GP), Batherson’s 1.23 points-per-game ranked fourth — a smidgen off of Reid Boucher’s league-leading 1.26 — and ranks first if you only look at players under the age of 24. Using data from the invaluable Pick224 prospect stats site, we can see that Batherson was top contributor at even-strength, ranking third league-wide in primary points (goals, first assists) at even-strength per game (EVP1/GP). Both marks show growth from his award-winning rookie campaign and reflects the influx of talent around him, where he was outside of the top-20 despite leading the BSens in scoring.
The next step? Batherson has to showcase that he can translate some of that AHL skill at even-strength to the NHL pace. We know that he has the ability to deceive NHL defenders — as we saw when he returned in January to spark a dying Sens powerplay [Batherson on, Batherson off] with his trademark creativity and vision along the half-walls. What we need to see is that at even-strength. Having regular linemates and a defined role will likely help, as D.J. Smith moved him around so much in his 23 games that he ended up playing with 10 different linemates. A consistent top-six or top-nine spot, along with top powerplay duties, should give him the best chance to be the top-flight right-wing that we’ve been seeing ever since he was drafted in 2017.
When we think about most valuable prospect, Colin and I have interpreted this as the team’s best prospect at this point. We know that assessing value at the NHL level is a different game, with some focusing on the impact on standings points or wins, others comparing performance to cap hit, and some focusing on relative impact to the rest of their team or their peers.
With Brady Tkachuk (1LW) and Thomas Chabot (1LD) in the fold, the Senators are already well on their way to having valuable pieces to build a cup contending squad out of. The addition of a couple of top-line forwards in Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Tim Stützle, and Lucas Raymond, or another top-pair defenceman in Jamie Drysdale, only enhances this current group more. There’s a real chance that Batherson, as a winger, won’t actually be the most valuable big-picture piece in any of the potential definitions I listed above. However, there is a real chance that his story is going to be the one the Sens organization is going to try to sell to the rest of their young squad. A player passed over in his first draft, playing for a mediocre program in the QMJHL, who experienced growth figuratively and literally on- and off-the-ice is a story of character, perseverance, and drive. Batherson’s meteoric rise from a being a fourth-round pick to Team Canada and AHL star — having to work for two pro seasons to make these Ottawa Senators in a full-time capacity — and then (hopefully) succeeding is how the Sens may opt to equalize a dressing room that’ll soon be filled with different prospects, with different paths, and different expectations. I’m excited to see how it all turns out.
Colin and I have already written in detail about the seasons of the three runner-ups in previous pieces. It’s interesting to me how close Norris got to Batherson in voting here, and really cements the fact that fans see him as the team’s top centre prospect — over Logan Brown — after just one, dominant, rookie season. The centre looks destined for a role with his best friend and Team USA linemate, Brady Tkachuk, and I think Norris’ speed, tenacity, and balanced offensive game brings a nice complement to the other Sens forwards that have top-six ceilings.
Brännström and Högberg, the top defenceman and top goaltender in the system respectively, also deserve mention, here. The diminutive Swede is the team’s best current option to play offensive minutes to supplement Chabot’s production, as everything we know about Jacob Bernard-Docker appears to say that he’s a bit more defensive-minded and will be deployed in that way. Troy Mann touched on Brännström’s inability to stay healthy over the last two seasons, and when we hear some sort of confirmation on how the 20-21 campaign will play out, it’ll be interesting to see where Brännström starts and ends the year. His NHL results only got better as his game progressed and he got more comfortable trying skilled moves against tougher competition. Högberg is going to get the first crack at being the “goalie of the future” here in Ottawa, and in an emerging era of platooning goaltenders, is an intriguing blend of size, athleticism, and experience compared to his peers. As he’s on a one-way deal next season, he’ll be with Ottawa (barring trades), duking it out with compatriot Anders Nilsson for starts.
Thank you for reading our series and coverage of Ottawa Senators prospects for the 2019-20 season. It’s unfortunate that we won’t be covering an extended Belleville Senators playoff run, but know that coverage is well-underway to prognosticate forward to next season’s AHL squad, 2020 NHL Draft coverage, and more.
Let us know what you thought of this series and our coverage in the comments section!