2021 Ottawa Senators Prospect Awards: Writer’s Choice

We take a break from the usual format as the power shifts to the staff.

For today’s award, the power shifts away from the public. The Writer’s Choice award will be handed out to two players, one chosen by each of the two of us. In terms of criteria, it’s really just an excuse for us to write about our favourite prospects this season! Without further ado, here are your co-winners for the Writer’s Choice Award!

Owen’s Pick:

Back at the onset of the 2021 season, after we had wrapped up our annual top 25 under 25 rankings, I did a write-up about five Senators prospects who missed the cut who I felt belonged in the mix. A year later, one of them, Jonathan Davidsson (much to my lament), has now left the organization, and another, Jonny Tychonick betrayed my faith to the extent that he got my vote for Biggest Disappointment. The other three, I can happily report, had strong seasons and I’ll go ahead and pencil all three in for our top 25 next season. Two of them, Max Guénette and Mads Søgaard, helped lead their respective teams to league finals, and that leaves us with one to discuss and he gets my selection for Writer’s Choice:

Angus fucking Crookshank, baby. Like a lot of folks, I had lukewarm expectations for Crookshank. He had a lot of intrigue for a later selection in the draft but at the end of the day, he felt like a long shot to make the pros (especially as a left-winger for the Senators). For those keeping track though, Crookshank got better every year he spent playing NCAA hockey at the University of New Hampshire despite the program’s struggles and he has probably leapfrogged some first- and second-round calibre players in Ottawa’s system along the way. While climbing up the depth chart on Ottawa’s wings once looked like a formidable task, the departures of Davidsson, Vitaly Abramov, and Rudolfs Balcers have created a legitimate opportunity for Crookshank to crack this roster in the next year or two.

So what makes Crookshank my pick for this distinguished (not) honour? Well first of all, as we’ve discussed at length around the site, Crookshank loves to shoot the puck. Last season he ranked ninth in NCAA men’s hockey in shots per game. In 2021 he climbed up to seventh. In his rookie season, he ranked third among UNH skaters in shots and goals per game, in 2020 and 2021 he led his team in both categories. While he didn’t set new career highs in counting stats in 2021 due to the abbreviated schedule, based on his per-game numbers, Crookshank would have matched his goal total from last season and would have set new highs in assists and shots had he played a full season.

Speaking of playing a full season, Crookshank couldn’t have provided much more in terms of durability for UNH. He missed three games in 2021 (UNH lost all three) after missing zero games in his first two NCAA seasons. Crookshank’s reliability carried over to the AHL as he missed just one game for Belleville (after blocking a shot). Let’s talk about Crookshank’s performance in Belleville. With five goals, 11 assists, and 49 shots through 19 games, Crookshank had a season comparable to Abramov (two years his senior), and had he played as many games as Egor Sokolov, I probably would have named him my choice for MVP in Belleville this season, based on that trajectory.

From the time Crookshank joined Belleville on April 3rd until the end of the season, the B-Sens played their best hockey, to a winning percentage of 65 down the stretch. And while correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, I think Crookshank deserves some credit for Belleville’s improved play. For a lot of the other Sens prospects in Belleville, I found myself making the excuse of “well they don’t have a lot of points because the team doesn’t have a lot of depth or talent.” Here’s the thing though, someone needs to drive the proverbial bus. And based on Crookshank’s performance relative to his peers at UNH and considering his ability to produce almost a point per game in Belleville (small sample size noted) despite the struggles of the players around him, you have to at least ask the question: can Crookshank become a line driver for Ottawa one day in the not too distant future?

Shaan’s Pick:

The Senators did something interesting with the fifth-overall pick in last year’s draft. Instead of taking advantage of the group of overwhelmingly skilled forwards, they opted to select a left-handed shutdown defenseman, with Thomas Chabot and Erik Brännström already in the system. One thing I didn’t appreciate until a bit later was that it created a position of strength on the left point. One of the biggest problems with the Senators of years past was that whenever Erik Karlsson left the ice, things got ugly. If Jake Sanderson can become a top-pair NHL defenseman, he and Chabot can give the team 45 minutes of quality play each game, which is huge.

Despite entering the Senators organization as more of a defense-minded player, Sanderson also brings a lot to the table offensively as well, and he showed it this past season. He tallied 2 goals and 13 assists in 22 games as a freshman with the University of North Dakota, which is really good at first glance, and it’s even better when you remember that his offensive game was seen as Sanderson’s biggest weakness. You always want to be careful when using a defenseman’s production to evaluate their game because it’s only a small part of the full package, but we know that Sanderson was the best defenseman in his draft class in terms of transitional play; i.e rates of successful zone entries and exits, and he’s shown he can make high-end plays at both ends of the ice.

It’s likely Sanderson was always capable of this level of offensive play, just that he wasn’t nearly as comfortable with making those plays as he was before. There were signs during his draft year as well, in that he was one of the biggest risers leading up to the selection; people began to notice him a lot more down the stretch. He’s done an exemplary job rounding out his game, and it’s served him well. He earned a spot on the NCHC All-Rookie Team, struck gold at the World Juniors with Team USA, and scored at a higher rate as a college freshman than Cale Makar.

Sanderson’s got another big year with UND coming up. With the departure of top offensive players like Jordan Kawaguchi, Collin Adams, and Shane Pinto, more of the offensive burden will fall on the two-way defenseman going forward. Can he help UND to a national championship in 2022? We’ll find out.

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