3: Drake Batherson (Reader Rank: 4, Last Year: 5)
If the suddenly bright future of the Ottawa Senators could be summed up in one player, that player might be Drake Batherson. When we look back at how far the organization’s on-ice prospects have come since the start of the rebuild, a lot of that progress can be attributed to players who have outperformed expectations. The numbers four and five in our Top 25 Under 25, Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris respectively, are certainly examples of the phenomenon. That being said, both were first round picks; maybe they have performed better than we’d hoped, but they were also supposed to be good. Batherson, on the other hand, was a fourth round pick who wasn’t even selected in his first year of eligibility. He’s been on the upward trend for so many years now that it’s easy to forget just how unlikely his achievements really are.
This is his last year of eligibility for our rankings, but he’s gone from 21st in his 2017 debut all the way to a well-deserved podium finish. Certainly if you go back and read that piece from five years ago, I would describe my assessment of Batherson at the time as “cautiously optimistic” at best. He’s blown through even the rosiest of projections.
Much of the organization’s optimism when it came to Batherson was the appealing combination of a highly skilled player who had just recently undergone a major growth spurt that dramatically transformed his physical tools. I can only imagine that Batherson’s signature toe-drag works a lot better leveraging the reach that comes with being 6”3.
If you’d like an illustration of what I mean, I recommend this for your viewing pleasure:
Batherson’s game has evolved to be more than just a few flashy dangles, though. By a lot of measures he was the Sens’ best forward last season; he led the team in individual scoring rate, and was the only returning player to boast an xGF% above 50 for the season. When Batherson was on the ice, good things happened for the Sens. The only real drawback of his performance last season was how much time he missed thanks to a high ankle sprain suffered as the result of a dirty hit by Aaron Dell.
His hockeyviz player card underlines the all-around nature of his game:
Batherson is a talented finisher who also excels as a play-maker both at 5v5 and on the power play. Though Norris garnered headlines, and deservedly so, for all of his goals with the man advantage, many of those juicy opportunities came off delicious setups from Batherson or Tim Stützle. And while I wouldn’t describe Batherson as a defensive stopper he’s quietly improved that aspect of his game as well. If there’s a tiny nit to pick it’s that he took far too many careless penalties last year. That’s pretty much it for the negatives, though. At 24, Batherson is fully in his prime and he looks every bit the part of a top line player.
Were I writing this profile six months earlier, that uncomplicated showering of praise is where I might have ended the piece. However, as with Alex Formenton before him, I cannot in good conscience present Batherson without mentioning the dark cloud of his potential involvement in the 2018 Hockey Canada sexual assault scandal. Like Formenton, Batherson has elected not to say anything publicly about the issue and the team has likewise remained steadfast in their commitment to “no comment”. Just yesterday, Rick Westhead published another piece on the topic at TSN with quotes from an anonymous agent who seems to be doing his darndest to clean up a client’s reputation. I can’t say that I found the explanation of “I thought I was going to a pizza party at three in the morning” particularly convincing but it’s telling that the PR engine is kicking into gear. It appears increasingly likely that, at some point, we are going to learn the identities of the eight men in that room.
I would be lying if I said that the possibility of Batherson and Formenton being among those eight doesn’t weight heavily on my mind. There’s no undoing what happened to that woman that night, and whether two players who happen to play for my favourite hockey team were involved or not won’t change that, but I also selfishly keep hoping they weren’t one of those eight. I hope the woman gets what she feels is justice, as well as some form of closure. Until we know more, all we can do is wait through this agonizing middle ground and handle the complicated feelings that writing about, and cheering for, Batherson might elicit.