2021 Ottawa Senators Prospect Awards: Most Improved Prospect

This one was a two-horse race, between two players with vastly different sample sizes at the NHL level.

After tabulating over 400(!) submitted ballots, today we’re kicking off the unveiling of the 2021 Prospect Awards! First up is Most Improved Prospect.

Here are the nominees:

Erik Brännström: One of the team’s top defence prospects, Brännström played some hefty minutes for the big club after the departures of Mike Reilly, Erik Gudbranson, and Braydon Coburn at the trade deadline. Suiting up in 30 games with Ottawa, he scored 13 points — more than three times his total from the previous season.

Filip Gustavsson: Acquired from Pittsburgh during the dark days of the 2017-18 season, injuries paved the way for “Gus the Bus” to shine in the Ottawa Senators’ crease this year, as he posted a 5-1-2 record and a sparkling .933 save percentage.

Josh Norris: After a point-per-game season in Belleville last year, Norris seamlessly made the transition to the NHL, tallying 35 points in 56 games and cementing his place in the Senators’ top-six for years to come.

And the winner, with 40.5% of the vote...

Josh Norris has claimed back-to-back honours for Most Improved Prospect! Playing most of his minutes alongside Brady Tkachuk, they complemented each other’s strengths and garnered over 52 percent of the expected goals at 5-on-5 . As the team’s first-line center by necessity, Norris was matched up against some of the most threatening opponents in the Canadian Division, such as Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, and certainly held his own. That experience should do wonders for the 22-year-old going forward, and there’s reason to hope that there’s still room for improvement, both for him and his teammates.

Gustavsson finished in 2nd with 32.4% of the votes, and Brännström came in third with 9.3%. I agree with the consensus in that Norris is the most deserving winner here, but I‘d also like to give a shout-out to Shane Pinto for contributing in an NHL role just two seasons after he was drafted, and Mads Søgaard for his strong bounce-back season after an underwhelming performance in 2019-20.

Stay tuned, next up is the award for Biggest Disappointment. Let us know what you think of the results!

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