Well folks, you’ve waited long enough so I won’t waste any more of your time because we all know who deserves this award in 2021 (although I will still break down the votes for those curious). Josh Norris has done just about everything right since he joined the Senators organization in the summer of 2018 and like Drake Batherson before him, he will retire the title of prospect as the most valuable one in the organization. Two thirds of voters agree, no Sens prospect provided more value than Norris this season and as we’ll discuss, he earned every single one of those votes.
From Hobey Baker nominee in 2019 to AHL rookie of the year in 2020, Norris didn’t have much left to prove as a prospect and he confidently made the NHL squad out of camp after a brief audition to end the 2020 season in Ottawa. Here at the site, we ranked Norris sixth in our top 25 under 25, pre-season. In Ottawa this season, Norris played in all 56 games and became a fixture in the Senators’ first powerplay unit along the way. As a rookie in the NHL, Norris had a positive faceoff percentage of 52.4 and became the de facto number-one centre for Ottawa with Brady Tkachuk and Batherson on his wings. With such strong support, Norris ended the season in a three-way tie for second in team goal-scoring with 17 and also tied for second in points with 35 for good measure.
Even as we dig a little deeper past the traditional stats, we find more to love about Norris. He drew twice as many penalties (10) as he took (5) and he led Ottawa’s regulars in five-on-five expected goals-for percentage at 51.5 when all was said and done. Now with two of the team’s most talented players flaking him, some could question whether Norris played the role of driver or passenger, and, folks, I have good news!
Looking at the graph below courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy, Norris dragged just about all of Ottawa’s forwards across the “good” threshold. In the case of his regular linemates, Tkachuk and Batherson, Norris played better defensively without them while sacrificing some offense, and those two generated more offence without Norris while sacrificing defence. So you can see how perfectly their skillsets complement each other when they play as a unit. Most importantly, you can see how at an aggregate level, the team shifts significantly from “bad” to “good” when Norris steps on the ice. Make no mistake, Norris has taken the wheel in Ottawa.
What’s more, in a moment of true vindication, Norris actually got some attention from the hockey world outside of Ottawa. For all of his achievements this season, Norris finished fourth in NHL rookie of the year voting, ahead of teammates Tim Stützle and Artem Zub. In making the NHL’s all-rookie team, Norris joins the likes of Tkachuk, Stone, Meszároš, Havlát, Hossa, Salo, and Alfredsson in Ottawa Senators lore.
Congratulations to #Sens forward Josh Norris who was named to the 2020-21 NHL All-Rookie Team.— Sens Communications (@Media_Sens) June 30, 2021
The honour marks the second time in the last three seasons a Senator has been recognized (Brady Tkachuk, 2018-19). https://t.co/FCYY3F1Hyy
Throughout the course of the season, Norris gave us plenty of memorable moments. He got his first two points (both assists) in Ottawa’s season opener (a win!) against Toronto. In Ottawa’s third game of the season, Norris scored his first NHL goal against the Jets. To the surprise of many, our handsome son threw hands against Alex Romanov of the Canadiens and held his own. On March 25th, Norris had himself a night at the dot against Toronto winning 16 of 21 draws (one of two nights when he won over 75% of his faceoffs (both against Toronto)). And who could forget the way Norris ended Ottawa’s bittersweet season in the best fashion imaginable:
What more can I say about Norris? He won’t qualify as a prospect going forward because he has cemented his NHL role and in the process become one of Ottawa’s core forwards. And, in my opinion, he looks like this team’s number one centre, unless someone wants to supplant him next season. Norris does everything we can ask for and more. He plays a solid two-way game and he contributes offence at even strength and on the powerplay. He will likely develop into someone who can kill penalties and play in the highest leverage situations for the Sens. Right now, when you need a pivot for three-on-three overtime, you absolutely send out Josh Norris. And for those worried about undue pressure to repeat, just keep in mind that this team still has the likes of Stützle, Shane Pinto, and Ridly Greig trying to force their way into the conversation for those top-two centre positions so we’ll see plenty of healthy internal competition.