At the outset of this season, most fans and analysts agreed that the Ottawa Senators would not be contending for the play-offs; success would be measured in other ways, such as the progress of top prospects, and improved team defense. After the first 20 games, however, the team was an abysmal 5-14-1, the defense was porous at best, and to add insult to injury several of the prospects were not even plying their trade in the NHL. Several of those who were in the big show were struggling to find their footing as well. To be so low after 20 games, in a 56 game season, it certainly felt as if we were staring down the possibility of another lost season. Now, with just two games remaining, the sentiment around the team couldn’t be any more different than it was in mid-February.
Since the Trade Deadline the team is 9-2-1, good for the fourth best PTS% in the entire league. Best of all, the charge has mostly been led by the young players that make up the team’s future core: Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Tim Stützle, Erik Brännström, and Shane Pinto have all taken star turns at various points. There’s a lot to look forward to next season.
This week’s question asks you: what’s been your most pleasant surprise of the season? Tkachuk’s play this season doesn’t really qualify as a surprise, even though he’s once again been quite good: we already knew Brady was a top line-calibre forward. Think instead of positive performances that genuinely exceeded your expectations. Maybe it’s the emergence of Artem Zub as a steady NHL-calibre defender, the kind the Sens have long been looking for on the right side. Zub’s presence was a wildcard at best, and he didn’t even make the team’s opening night roster; expectations were low. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t view the sturdy rearguard as having a key role to play in the team’s immediate future.
Perhaps Josh Norris’ continued evolution and assumption of the role as the top line centre has been the most surprising development. In just three seasons, Norris has dramatically altered every projection about him and any worries that he might not be able to make the transition to a top six role in the NHL have been brushed by the wayside.
How about the shockingly competent play of Victor Mete, claimed off the waiver wire from the Montreal Canadiens? The former World Junior champion has looked good from the moment he donned a Sens jersey, and his skating and puck moving ability have been a welcome sight on the blueline.
Or maybe it’s something else? Connor Brown had scored 20 goals just once in the NHL before this year, and now he’s done it in an eye-popping 54 games. Brown’s defensive chops were well-established before this year but the offensive explosion is an added bonus that just might make everyone’s favourite ginger this year’s best surprise.
So let’s hear it: who, or what, has been your most pleasant surprise?