Welcome to another edition of Five Thoughts for Friday, where the Ottawa Senators just keep on trucking in spite of all of the injury hardship thrown their way.
Batherson’s Unexpected Injury:
On Tuesday night, Drake Batherson was injured when he crashed feet first into the boards after absorbing a hit from Buffalo Sabres goalie Aaron Dell. It was immediately apparent that the injury was severe, so it was no surprise when reports emerged on Thursday that Batherson was likely done for the season. The predictability of the thing doesn’t make it any less disappointing, though. Batherson was off to a career-best start, and had been rewarded with a trip to the All-Star game. His progression from overaged 4th round pick to star-calibre player has been one of the best stories of the last few years for the Senators. It’s a real shame to see someone who has clearly worked so hard be deprived of that which they worked for.
The injury is also a good reminder of just how unpredictable life can be as a professional athlete. Batherson’s career is not in any kind of jeopardy, but he’s about to miss more than half of a season in his prime. Nothing in this life is given. I’ll be hoping that he recovers fully and when he does make it back, I’ll do my best not to take his talents for granted.
Battling Through Injuries
Speaking of unexpected injuries, it was hard to shake the feeling of deja vu when Josh Norris crashed into the boards in the first period of last night’s shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sens were not a deep team to begin with, but no squad could withstand the loss of two of their top four forwards (not to mention Shane Pinto or Colin White) and not feel the effects. DJ Smith said in his post-game availability that he was hopeful that Norris’ injury wasn’t too severe but it seems unlikely we’ll have any more details before later today. If the young pivot does miss any extended period of time, the Sens will have no choice but to lean even harder on Tim Stützle; though it might be difficult to top last night, as the German wunderkind played a career high 24:15 (!) against the Canes. Ottawa, already often starved for offense, will likely have a hard time generating the required chances when his line isn’t on the ice.
All that being said, last night’s effort was probably as good a template as you can get for how an undermanned team can compete. Ottawa were very responsible defensively, didn’t gamble for offense, and ground Carolina down on the forecheck. No amount of discipline can make up for a lack of talent, but the Sens are going to try as hard as they can. If they stay competitive for the next little while under these circumstances, that’s going to say a lot of good things about Smith and his coaching staff
Tyler Ennis’ Role:
One of the depth players that will be required to step up is Tyler Ennis. Ennis is not your typical bottom six winger in that his best attribute is his high hockey IQ and ability to make creative plays with the puck. If Ennis is playing major minutes on one of your top two lines you’re likely in trouble, but he can more than hold his own in short bursts. He’s also the type of depth player that could explode for a hat-trick.
It’s hard to say that about too many players who spend the majority of their time in the bottom six.
Ennis is likely near the end of the road on his NHL career, he’ll be 33 at the start of next season, but he strikes me as exactly the type of vet that could be useful for a team like the Sens that would have play-off aspirations next year. Injuries happen all the time, and a player who can contribute with some offense in a pinch is always helpful. He’s likely going to see some major minutes for the next few weeks at least — his production during that stretch might determine whether he has a role in Ottawa next year.
The Right Vets:
While Ennis’ future is very much uncertain, the Sens and Nick Holden agreed to terms on a 1 year contract extension on Thursday. Holden’s been the elusive veteran defenseman that actually helps more than he hurts, and for the price it’s hard not to like the signing. If he continues his play from this year, he’ll be a bargain — even on the third pairing. But if he slips, and sometimes age comes quickly for large 35 year old defensemen who aren’t the best skaters, then it won’t hurt too much to have Holden sitting in the press box either.
On top of his play, however, Holden also seems like a good dude to have around in the dressing room. He said all the right things in his media availability to discuss his extension, and he seems to bring a very positive energy to think; something that’s sometimes easier said than done when you’re playing for a losing team. I haven’t always been kind in my assessment of Pierre Dorion’s moves to add veterans, but credit where it’s due on this one. More Holdens, less Gudbransons please.
Lastly, though character is often discussed in the context of pro hockey it’s usually the case that we don’t really know much about the true personality of the players. We can tell who they are on the ice, and we get curated bits of videos from the dressing room here and there from savvy media folks, but we rarely know much about who the players really are as people. With Nick Paul, I think we can pretty safely say that he is a person of high character.
Paul, who has previously been outspoken about his own journey through difficult mental health challenges, recently announced the creation of “Points by Paul” to help support the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. It’s one thing to say the right things to the media, to repeat the “good in the locker room” clichés. It’s another altogether to go out and make a real difference in your community. Paul’s doing a lot of the latter lately.