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Potential Centre Targets for the Ottawa Senators

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The Sens are on the hunt for help up the middle.

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When Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk declared a few months ago that the team was looking to make a number of additions throughout the offseason, there was one that stood out to fans, and media alike. Melnyk stated in no uncertain terms that the Senators are on the hunt for a number one centre, raising the collective eyebrows of anyone within earshot.

It remains possible that Ottawa already has their long-term option up the middle, in the form of the 22 year-old Josh Norris, but in an effort to let the likes of Shane Pinto and Ridly Greig develop at their own pace, while attempting to offset the inconsistency of Colin White and Logan Brown, it’s difficult to argue that the Senators need to add to their centre group.

The market is not a deep one this year, and it’s possible that Ottawa will have to settle for something more along the lines of a short-term placeholder, but there still remains some skill to be had via the trade market.

One of the names that’s emerged to that end in recent days has been Ryan Strome of the New York Rangers.

It’s interesting that the 28 year-old is apparently available, given his clear and obvious chemistry with Rangers superstar Artemiy Panarin. Strome has come into his own as a Blueshirt, following a somewhat tumultuous start to his NHL career, scoring 141 points through 189 games in the Big Apple. He also tallied a career-high 59 points in 2020 through just 70 games, helping to form the Rangers’ potent one-two punch up the middle, alongside Mika Zibanejad.

Strome could provide some firepower that the Senators need. They finished 19th in the NHL, averaging 2.77 goals per game, and Strome centring one of Brady Tkachuk or Tim Stützle could see the team advance in that department. Strome also logged 18 points on the man advantage last season, which could stand to improve the team’s 26th-ranked powerplay.

There are, however, some concerns when eyeing Strome for the Senators’ top six. As Graeme Nichols wrote in his fantastic newsletter, Rome in a Day, the Mississauga native has historically left something to be desired defensively. It’s not the end of the world, given the proficiency that the likes of Norris and Pinto have displayed in their own end, but it’s something to be mindful of when considering an exchange of assets.

The more pressing issue is that it’s difficult to get a read on Strome’s true ability, as he has been somewhat carried by Panarin.

According to NaturalStatTrick.com’s data, the Strome has spent 1,182 minutes at five-on-five alongside Panarin. When a player’s most predominant linemate is such a dynamic and skilled talent, that player’s production will inevitably spike. Strome’s production splits reflect this.

With Panarin and Strome on the ice together, the Rangers generated 50.8-percent of the shots, 52.3-percent of the shots on goal, 54.2-percent of the expected goals and 53.2-percent of the scoring chances. When Strome played away from Panarin, the Rangers only generated 45.0-percent of the shots, 45.8-percent of the shots on goal, 48.7-percent of the expected goals and 44.8-percent of the scoring chances.

There is a noticeable and consequential difference.

With Strome set to command a hefty sum on a new deal next summer, Pierre Dorion has to ensure that he doesn’t overpay for what could end up being a one-year rental.

There have been another names floated through the capital, as well. The Colorado Avalanche seem to be in a position where they could look to move on from Nazem Kadri — though the potential loss of Gabriel Landeskog stands to change things — and he seems like the exact type of player that Ottawa would express an interest in. A gritty, tough to play against forward, who can chip in on the scoresheet every now and then, the Senators know from experience just how much they’d value him.

Colorado Avalanche v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images

Kadri, 30, is still an effective forward, but his yearly point totals, and isolated impacts have been on a fairly steady decline over the past few seasons.

With only one year remaining on his deal, at a cap hit of $4.5M, Kadri still remains a solid placeholder option for a young Senators team. If the organization wants to take their time with Pinto, and Ridly Greig as they’ve expressed, then Kadri could be a valuable addition, depending on the price. He likely doesn’t have the offensive upside that Strome does, and it’s not apparent that he’s still a bonafide top six forward, but he could at least give the Senators their money’s worth.

The Senators have also been linked to 31 year-old Adam Henrique of the Anaheim Ducks. While he doesn’t quite fit the youthful makeup of the team, having played 710 NHL games, Henrique showed chemistry with Connor Brown and Nick Paul at the 2021 World Hockey Championship, and despite a horrid start to the season that saw him clear waivers, he had some positive stretches, scoring 11 points through 16 games in the month of March.

Colorado Avalanche v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images

Despite only notching 21 points through 45 games in 2021, Henrique still has the makings of an effective player. With fairly even underlying metrics — a 49.66 Corsi rating and 46.34 expected goals percentage — he’s not likely to light up the scoreboard, but stands to be a serviceable option. It’s worth noting that Henrique posted a career-best faceoff percentage of 54.21 last season, which is an area that the Senators struggled mightily in, outside of Norris.

The elephant in the room with regards to Henrique is his contract. He has three years remaining with an AAV of $5.85 million per, and a modified no-trade clause. If Ottawa could get Henrique at bargain, though, with some salary retained, there could be a fit if this was in fact a down year for the Brantford, Ontario native, and not the first sign of a marked regression.