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Is Mathieu Joseph’s Ceiling Higher than we Thought?

There’s nothing left to play for, but there are still some reasons to continue watching the Senators for these last 13 games

NHL: APR 03 Red Wings at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nobody wanted to see fan-favourite Nick Paul leave the Ottawa Senators, as he was a key fixture for them in the bottom-six over the past few seasons. It was unfortunate that he couldn’t be retained, yet Pierre Dorion was luckily able to make the most of the situation by acquiring Mathieu Joseph (and a 4th rounder) for Paul before the trade deadline. And the extremely early returns are looking like the Senators did quite well, which begs the question: is Mathieu Joseph’s ceiling higher than we initially thought?

When the trade was first made, I think fans were both disappointed that Paul was gone but also optimistic that Joseph could be an adequate replacement in the bottom-6. After all, he averaged 26 points per season in 221 games in Tampa Bay, which is fine for a 3rd/4th line player just like Nick Paul is. However, after these first seven games in Ottawa, it seems like there could be some untapped potential there. His 1.43 points per game (10 points in 7 games) will obviously not continue, but it is a mightily impressive start, and he’s showcasing his offensive ability and instincts.

These last three games have been incredible as he has 3 goals and 6 assists, which is a rare level of dominance. It’s no coincidence that he looked even better after playing with Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk instead of someone like Chris Tierney. Now, Joseph did have good linemates in Tampa Bay, so it’s not as if we can make the argument that he’ll have superior linemates here unless he sticks on the first line for good. His most common linemates were Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli, two very solid players. Nevertheless, he only averaged 11:54 of ice-time per game, which would be just seconds ahead of Austin Watson, Adam Gaudette, and Dylan Gambrell this season for Ottawa.

In addition, his 5v5 ice time was even less substantial at 10:13 per game, which ranked 13th/16 forwards who played at least 500 minutes over that span. So although he had some good players around him, he never really got much of a chance to showcase his offensive ability while the Lightning were stacked with better forwards. On the flip side, he’s already averaging 16:15 of ice time in Ottawa, which gives him a much better opportunity to be an offensive threat. That number will come down with a healthy and improved lineup, but Joseph is making the most of everything right now.

According to Evolving Hockey, he was already eighth amongst Senators forwards in goals above replacement (which is a cumulative stat) heading into last night at 2.0. That number certainly went up after his two assists, making it even better. For reference, Nick Paul had just 1.4 GAR in 59 games for Ottawa. He obviously won’t continue that pace of 27.3 GAR in a full season (which would be MVP-level), but it’s reasonable to expect an uptick in his previous performance with the Lightning.

If we also look at Joseph’s past, it’s not hard to imagine him having a potentially higher ceiling. In the QMJHL in his draft year, he had 42 points in 59 games, one more than his former and current teammate Thomas Chabot. That’s not great, which is why he was drafted in the 4th round. However, in 2016-17 he had 73 points in 58 games and followed that up with 80 points in 54 games for his final junior season. That isn’t star-level production, but it is very good nonetheless. What was even more impressive was that he put up 53 points in 70 AHL games in his rookie season for Syracuse, which led the team. It’s actually eerily similar to Alex Formenton’s age-20 season who also had 53 points in the AHL but in only 61 games.

So if you look at Joseph’s production in the QMJHL and AHL, he’s a player that has been able to succeed offensively and one who should be able to at least provide some offense at the NHL level, especially considering his speed. Based on Byron Bader’s work, Joseph’s 2017-18 campaign was equivalent to a 36-point season, which is not bad considering he had a clear trend upwards leading up until that point:

Joseph’s best offensive season came in 2018-19 where he was on pace for 30 points but based on his history, I can’t imagine that’s his ceiling. In fact, after his 10 points in Ottawa, he’s on pace for 35 points in 82 games this season. He’s far from a perfect player, but it’s extremely fun getting to watch him make plays like these (and please enjoy these excellent breakdowns from @EverydaySens):

I think it would be extremely premature to count on Joseph being a top-6 player moving forward, because he’s 25 after all, which is not young in hockey years. But it’s also fair to have hopes of him being some sort of a solid contributor for the Senators. Whatever role he settles into, I’m willing to bet that he can provide more value in Ottawa than he did in Tampa Bay because of the chances he’ll get to be a point producer.