This season was anything but normal. The Belleville Senators played against only four other teams while spending their time in Ottawa, not Belleville, in front of no fans. On top of that, the normal carrot to chase throughout the season of a deep playoff run was never really on the table. At the end of the day, this team had to play for their own chance to head up to Ottawa and, of course, for each other.
Today, let’s take a look at how the team did. We’ll be assigning grades based on production in the offensive and defensive zones while also considering expectations relative to reality. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll only be looking at skaters who participated in at least ten games for Belleville and goaltenders who started at least five. This does take out prospects like Joey Daccord and Roby Järventie but neither played enough for Belleville to warrant inclusion, anyways.
I look at this exercise by setting each player at a B for “meeting expectations”. Depending on how well they exceeded, met or didn’t live up to their expectations, the grade moves up or down accordingly.
Let’s kick things off by awarding our Valedictorian from the Class of 2021.
Egor Sokolov: A
Come on, you had to know this was coming. Egor Sokolov entered the 2020-21 season with mixed expectations. Many fans understandably looked at his production in the QMJHL and wondered if it was because he was a skilled goalscorer or more likely that he was a 6’4” bear playing against physically immature competition.
What was clear out of the gate was that Sokolov took his selection in the 2020 draft as motivation to work on one of the aspects of his game he most struggled with - his skating. You could tell Sokolov had a hop in his step which gave him the opportunity to utilize the skills he excels with at this next level. Sokolov’s shot is definitely good enough to score goals at the NHL level but what’s intriguing about this player is his ability to steal pucks and disrupt plays.
Sokolov’s 15 goals and 10 assists in 35 games made him Belleville’s leading goal scorer and point producer this season. He contributed 0.57 primary points per game with a 0.40 clip at even strength, second on the team.
Call me Henry Gerard because I don’t believe in A+’s.
The Honour Roll
Angus Crookshank, A
Angus Crookshank joined the BSens after another solid season in the NCAA. The expectations for me were that Crookshank would come in, play in a middle six, if not bottom six, role and utilize his speed and shot production to be a secondary scorer for Belleville down the stretch. He exceeded those expectations and then some.
Crookshank’s 16 points in 19 games saw him lead the BSens in points per game. The Vancouver native kicked off his professional career with a six game point streak, seeing him compile a goal and seven assists in that span.
Crookshank also led all BSens skaters in primary points per game with 0.63, slightly outproducing this year’s Valedictorian.
Mads Søgaard, A
Mads Søgaard, officially dubbed The Great Dane™, was absolutely lights out after coming to North America after the ending of his season in Denmark’s top league, which saw him post a 0.922 SV% through 16 starts. In Belleville, he featured in seven games down the stretch, posting a 0.917 SV% and 2.40 GAA. The BSens were 7-0-0 with Søgaard in net.
Søgaard, standing 6’7” without skates on, allowed three or fewer goals in six of his seven starts and had a save percentage above 0.925 in four of seven. I’m always wary to put too much thought into small sample sizes with a young player, especially a goalie, but to say Søgaard’s stock has dramatically risen since his first start in Belleville on May 1st would be an understatement.
Filip Gustavsson, A-
Filip Gustavsson is a goaltender many of us might affiliate with the Ottawa Senators more than the Belleville Senators now, after he finished the year with a 5-1-2 record and a 0.933 SV% with the big club. Gustavsson had 13 starts with the BSens this season, posting a 0.910 SV%, 2.86 GAA and a 5-7-1 record. This might make you ask why he deserves an A-.
For me, it’s simple. In seven of his thirteen starts, Gustavsson posted a SV% of 0.923 or better. Two of these stellar performances where games Belleville ended up losing by a goal. There was only a start, maybe two, where you could look at what happened and clearly say Gustavsson could have been better.
A 0.910 SV% isn’t anything spectacular but I truly don’t believe his 13 games with Belleville are properly reflected by that. In fact, Gustavsson’s save percentage has him ranked 10th in the AHL amongst netminders who started at least ten games. there are only three goals in that top ten who had losing records while posting strong numbers, Gustavsson being one of them.
Parker Kelly, A-
Parker Kelly came into this season as one of the team’s veteran energy players. In his second full season, the notoriously hard working Kelly was coming in with expectations that he’d take his offensive production to the next level, if he wanted to be a player who caught the eyes of the brass in Ottawa.
In his first year in Belleville, Kelly produced 16 points in 57 games - a respectable number for a rookie bottom six player. This past season, Kelly moved up the lineup into more of a middle six, sometimes top six, role which saw him exceed his point total from last year by two points, despite playing just 33 games. A jump from 0.28 to 0.55 points per game, while being a reliable penalty killer, is exactly what everyone hoped to see from Kelly this year.
Coaching Staff, A-
Oh yes, we’re grading the coaches, too. Head Coach Troy Mann has done an excellent job since he took over for Ottawa’s AHL club just a few seasons ago. Even with subpar rosters, Mann finds a way to bring out the best in his players and, particularly in the past three seasons, he’s turned his clubs into competitors - if not, contenders - each year.
When we look at what Mann and his team were able to accomplish in this odd season, you have to look no further than their performance after the tenth game. In their first ten, Belleville accumulated just four points. In their final 25 games, they racked up 33 points. To me, this shows the players improving and buying into the system as the season progress.
The club ended up 7th in powerplay success and 7th in penalty kill success by the end of the season. If you recall one of my earliest recaps, they were in the basement in both stats to start the year. It’s very clear that the BSens figured out how to be successful on special teams - hopefully Ottawa’s coaching staff takes notice and looks at the game tape to better understand where they can improve for next year.
The Class of 2021
Logan Shaw, B+
Logan Shaw, Pierre Dorion’s big veteran addition, met expectations and then some as Belleville’s captain this season. Another graduate of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles - albeit a few years before Sokolov - Shaw is a veteran AHL producer and his 15 points in 24 games is not the only aspect of Shaw’s game that helped him earn an B+. He played in all situations, trusted to shut down the opposition’s top players, all while also being asked to produce.
Mark Kastelic, B+
The former Calgary Hitman Captain came into this unusual season with little expectations. Yes, he was able to score at the WHL level but, just like Sokolov, he did so primarily as an older player in a young league. An obvious leader, Kastelic was quickly put into the third line centre role and he excelled in it.
Kastelic was trusted to be the faceoff player in his own zone while getting a decent amount of penalty killing time. Early in the season, his line with Cole Reinhardt and Sokolov was one of Belleville’s best. While Sokolov’s goals were a main reason, Kastelic’s positioning and two way capabilities made his line’s production possible.
Jonathan Aspirot, B+
With Erik Brännström and Christian Wolanin out of the picture in Belleville, the BSens needed other defenders to step into big minutes and shore up what looked to be, on paper, a relatively weak blueline. Aspirot led defenders in point production this year, with 0.37 primary points per game - and 13 points in 27 games.
Playing in tough situations, Aspirot managed to post just barely negative EV GF% stats on the back end while leading defenders in ice time. At just 22 years old, Aspirot may be a dark horse to earn his way into the depth, injury replacement role with Ottawa - something I didn’t expect when he first joined the organization.
Colby Williams, B+
Colby Williams is another defender who stepped into an important role in this revamped blueline. Williams, a veteran AHL defender, showed why Dorion targeted him as someone to bring in last offseason. The right shot rearguard contributed three goals and seven assists through 27 games while serving as a top four option on the right side.
Lassi Thomson, B+
Another B+ defender, Lassi Thomson came to North America this season after some underwhelming play in Finland’s top league the past few years. Thomson jumped into the Belleville lineup as the third string right shot defender behind Williams and Cody Goloubef and his progression throughout the season was clear.
While he still has work to do in his own zone, his offensive instincts and transition game became more evident as the year progressed. He’ll need at least another season, if not two, to hone his game at the AHL level but he certainly played above expectations, earning him a B+.
Alex Formenton, B
There was no player I was more intrigued to see than Alex Formenton in Belleville. The main reason was to find out if Formenton’s rookie season was due to a step in his offensive abilities or because he was surrounded by the likes of Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers.
Turns out, offensively, it might have been just as much of both explanations. Formenton scored four goals and added no assists through 13 games with Belleville before getting the call to Ottawa where he ended up finishing the season. His speed and abilities on the penalty kill are the main reason he got the call and once he was in Ottawa, he wasn’t ever coming back.
Formenton receives a B because he met expectations, almost to a tee. He’s a speedy, energy player who can contribute a bit of offense but his primary value is breaking up plays and being dangerous on the penalty kill - something he showed both at the AHL and NHL levels this season.
Vitaly Abramov, B
Abramov played 23 games for the BSens, racking up 19 points in the process. Receiving a full letter grade lower than Crookshank, despite posting almost identical point per game metrics, might be a head scratcher. Entering his third full season in the AHL, I was looking to see Abramov take the next step and be a consistent offensive contributor. While his 0.82 points per game were appreciated, the majority of his production came within a small window.
Through the first eight games, Abramov contributed just one goal. From there, he went on an absolute heater by putting 18 points on the scoresheet in 11 games. While there’s an argument to be made that Abramov’s production picked up right as the BSens started turning their season around as a team, I was looking for Abramov to be a driver of that success this season as a veteran producer but, on occasion, he played more like a complimentary player.
Cole Reinhardt, B
Another overage selection by the Sens, Reinhardt graduated from the WHL to the AHL this season. In his first 14 games, he only amassed a goal and two assists. In his final 19 games, he scored five times and added three assists. For a rookie 20 year old in a bottom six role, this production earned him a B.
Cole Cassels, B
Another returning player from last year’s top flight BSens group, Cassels’ role was bound to expand with the graduation of multiple top six forwards. The 26 year old AHL veteran did exactly what was asked of him, which is why he receives a B in his year end report card.
Cassles scored five goals and added 12 assists through 31 games, which is good for 0.55 points per game, a slight improvement on last season’s totals between Belleville and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
JC Beaudin, B
JC Beaudin’s role on this team is being a responsible centre who plays on the penalty kill and does what he can to reduce chances against - and he met those expectations this year. You can tell Beaudin doesn’t play much of an offensive role when you look at his power play primary points per game and notice he’s one of few players who didn’t contribute at all in this category. It’s not because he was on the power play and didn’t do anything, it’s because he doesn’t really play on the power play at all.
His prowess is the two way, defensive game that saw him get fourth line minutes in the NHL for some games last season. He fulfilled this duty to the exact degree as was expected of him, which earns him a B in his report card.
Matthew Peca, B
Matthew Peca joined the Senators organization this past offseason and spent some of the beginning of the season either on the taxi squad or directly in Ottawa’s lineup. Many Sens fans liked what they saw from Peca in the NHL and when he was returned to Belleville, he did exactly what he was doing in the NHL but for the BSens, if not more.
Peca scored three goals and added eight assists through 21 games this year, which is right around his usual AHL pace. He played in multiple situations and was clearly trusted by Coach Mann when he was in the lineup.
Joseph LaBate, B
Joseph LaBate is Joseph LaBate and that’s all you need to know. He’s not a point producer, but nobody expects him to be. He’s a big, tough veteran of the league who has the speed and intelligence to keep up with good players.
He’ll never be more than a bottom six player for Belleville but he plays the role well. He could stand to take fewer penalties but, at the end of the day, that nasty edge to his game is what makes LaBate the player he is - and many AHL coaches would agree he’s the type of player you need in this league.
Curtis Douglas, B
Curtis Douglas’ grade comes mostly as someone who had absolutely no expectations whatsoever when he joined the BSens organization. The former Windsor Spitfires forward stands at a, you know, decently tall 6’8”. He scored in his first game which earned him a contract in April and he played out the rest of the season as a fourth liner who contributed four points in 11 games.
I’d be surprised if the BSens didn’t bring him back as a depth option heading into next season.
Hubert Labrie, B
Hubert Labrie, much like the other veteran defenders on this team, played tough minutes for the BSens this year. He didn’t score much but nobody expected him to. The 29 year old Quebec product only compiled three assists through 29 games but it was his play in his own zone that was the more important aspect to the BSens success, particularly towards the end of the year.
In ice time, Labrie was a top four defender, playing around 18 minutes per night. Labrie’s EV GF% was on the positive end, with 51.35%. Overall, Labrie played well defensively and that’s what we expect from him at this stage in his career.
Olivier LeBlanc, B
There’s not a ton to write about Olivier LeBlanc’s 12 games with the BSens but when you’re a defender coming out of Canadian University hockey and making your professional debut at the age of 25, I see that as a good thing.
LeBlanc didn’t contribute much offensively but he also didn’t put his team in a position to fail too frequently either. All-in-all, when you’re in LeBlanc’s position it’s almost as good to not stand out at all than it is to stand out in a positive way.
Therefore, enjoy your B, Mr. LeBlanc.
Jack Dougherty, B-
This time last year I had Jack Dougherty as my pick for pleasant surprise, which upped his stock for me. Last year he was a consistent top four defender for Belleville and I felt he was a great stabilizing partner for offensive stars like Brännström and Wolanin. Dougherty played well this season but didn’t take the next step I was hoping to see and did, from time to time, get outshone by Williams and Thomson on the right side, which is why he gets a slightly lower grade than meeting expectations.
As a team, it’s a great problem to have when a rookie like Thomson keeps up with a veteran like Dougherty.
Kevin Mandolese, C+
Kevin Mandolese might be the toughest grading for me because this season just didn’t go well for him. He didn’t enter the year as someone with high expectations. At just 20 years old, fresh out of junior hockey, it’s tough to expect a goaltender to come in and be a brick wall. Look at Gustavsson’s career numbers so far. He came to the AHL just before Mandolese in his development age but already had professional experience in the SHL.
That being said, when Mandolese was in the net this season, the BSens didn’t have a great time. Posting a 0.888 SV%, 4.03 GAA and 3-6-0 record, it’s tough to find a bright spot in Mandolese’s rookie year. The thing that he’ll have to work on, unsurprisingly, is consistency. In his nine starts, Mandolese allowed four goals or more five times. In his other four starts, however, he allowed just two goals. Basically, Mandolese was either a 0.920SV%+ goaltender or sub-0.900. Nothing in between.
There’s plenty of hope for the 20 year old as his frame and positioning is something the BSens will be able to work with. I’m hoping Ottawa is able to find an ECHL affiliate for next season as there’s a big logjam of goaltenders now and Mandolese needs an opportunity to play if the Sens want to see him at the NHL level.
Cody Goloubef, C+
Cody Goloubef’s return to Belleville was a welcomed one for me, as the right side of the blueline before his signing was looking rough. There was a point where Thomson might have been the top right handed option for Belleville before Goloubef and Williams were brought in, which should be concerning given how Thomson was coming in with lots of question marks.
For me, I hold a player like Goloubef at a higher level which is the main explanation for the C+. For the past few seasons, Goloubef has been one of those bubble players who could easily step into a minor role at the NHL level while playing strong, two way hockey for his AHL club.
Tasked with the toughest assignments, Goloubef ranged from fine to good but didn’t get into the realm of great defensive play until the season was almost over. Early on, with the whole team struggling, a review of the tape could see Goloubef’s assignments being missed relatively often. He’s still a valuable veteran for any AHL club but he left something to be desired with his play from start to finish this season.
Olle Alsing, C+
Olle Alsing was a relatively big signing for Ottawa this past offseason. Coming off a career year in the SHL, the expectations for Alsing’s play in Belleville were pretty high. In fact, some people had Alsing as a potential player who would fight for a limited role in Ottawa, given the uncertainty of the Sens’ blueline coming into this past season.
Alsing didn’t play poorly in the AHL, by any means. It was very clear, early on, that Alsing’s offensive capabilities that saw him produce 20 points in 36 games for Djurgårdens last season were likely due to the amount of time and space you get in the SHL. Because of the smaller rink and what I see as a slightly quicker pace in play, time is of the essence in the North American game and you could see Alsing needed time to adjust to this.
I see Alsing as a player who can absolutely improve here, as is evidenced by his late season call up to Ottawa. But, his expectations combined with his somewhat slow transition to the North American game earn him a C+ in his rookie AHL campaign.
Logan Brown, C+
Logan Brown’s season was certainly not ideal. The skyscraping centre was a player who was penciled in as a possible middle six centre for Ottawa after a few seasons of great play in the AHL. After a semi-surprising cut at the beginning of the year, Brown went to Belleville and only managed to play two games before sustaining his first injury of the season. Brown played so little this year that he almost didn’t make the cut for these grades, having only suited up for 13 games.
That being said, Brown was Belleville’s fourth best player in primary points per game with 0.41. This mark is drastically lower than his previous production, likely due to injury, which is one of the reasons why Brown’s letter grade is lower than that of Shaw and Kelly, who both produced at a worse rate than Brown in this category.
Jonathan Davidsson, D+
Jonathan Davidsson, like Brown, faced a series of injuries this season once again. After missing much of last year with an injury, and the numerous graduations, I expected Davidsson to fight for a spot in the top nine. What happened instead was he only suited up in 12 games for Belleville, contributed 0 goals and 0 assists in those games.
It’s tough to give a player who missed so much time with injury a failing grade, which is why Davidsson gets a D+. He wasn’t able to play much but, when he was able to play, he didn’t contribute in a memorable way in anything more than a few of his 12 games.
My hopes for Davidsson are lower now but I still think he can be a contributor at the AHL level, provided he can stay healthy.
Until Next Year
Thus ends the BSens coverage for this year at Silver Seven Sens. It’s been a lot of fun, particularly in the last month, to cover this team and see their growth on the ice. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a better look at next year’s roster in person at CAA Arena.
Unlike this past offseason, we can expect a large majority of this year’s BSens to return next year. While players like Sokolov, Crookshank and Kelly had standout seasons, the combination of not quite being ready for the jump and a jam of young players in Ottawa means they’re all likely destined for the AHL again next year. This is fantastic news for BSens fans who missed out on an exciting season and want to get back to the rink and see this team succeed next year. A full season of these three plus Järventie should give Belleville a good amount of firepower up front.
What you’ll notice about the exciting returning forwards is they’re all wingers. With uncertainty around Brown, there’s some room down the middle next year. Shaw, Peca, Kastelic and Clark Bishop can line up down the middle but if there’s something the team will want to shore up - for injury and recall purposes - it’s the centre position.
Depending on how the expansion draft goes, it’s likely that we’ll see two of Gustavsson, Daccord and Søgaard in net for the majority of next season in Belleville - which is an incredibly strong group of netminders to backstop your AHL affiliate. Defenders like Thomson, Aspirot, Dougherty and Labrie are certain to be back while Maxence Guenette will join the club as he is already 20 and finishing up his QMJHL career.
All-in-all, next season should be an excellent one with a number of good, young players returning or being added to the fray. Next year’s grades will be tougher because expectations will be higher. Will Belleville make their way back to a team that should be primed for a deep playoff run?
I can’t wait to find out.