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Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25: Ballots Revealed and Roundtable

We pull back the curtain and answer some questions!

Chicago Blackhawks v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

At the end of each year’s Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, we gather the staff to talk about why we ranked the players the way we did, and to reveal our ballots in the name of transparency. Now, if you think one of the players is being wildly underrated you know who to blame!

Here are our ballots, including the tabulation of the scoring to help provide context as to just how close some of these choices really were.

Staff Ballots

Staff Alex DeBrincat Tim Stützle Drake Batherson Brady Tkachuk Josh Norris Jake Sanderson Shane Pinto Erik Brännström Alex Formenton Ridly Greig Lassi Thomson Jacob Bernard-Docker Mads Søgaard Roby Järventie Egor Sokolov Parker Kelly Zack Ostapchuk Angus Crookshank Mark Kastelic Leevi Meriläinen Philippe Daoust Viktor Lodin Maxence Guenette Tyler Boucher Tomas Hamara
Staff Alex DeBrincat Tim Stützle Drake Batherson Brady Tkachuk Josh Norris Jake Sanderson Shane Pinto Erik Brännström Alex Formenton Ridly Greig Lassi Thomson Jacob Bernard-Docker Mads Søgaard Roby Järventie Egor Sokolov Parker Kelly Zack Ostapchuk Angus Crookshank Mark Kastelic Leevi Meriläinen Philippe Daoust Viktor Lodin Maxence Guenette Tyler Boucher Tomas Hamara
Nada 1 2 4 3 5 11 7 6 8 16 12 10 9 20 14 13 18 24 15 26 22 26 26 25 26
nkb 1 2 4 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 15 16 13 26 20 14 24 22 26 23 26 18 17
Owen 3 1 5 2 4 6 8 7 10 9 11 13 12 14 25 23 16 15 24 19 17 26 18 26 26
Spencer 1 2 3 5 4 6 7 8 9 10 14 11 12 15 13 18 24 17 16 22 26 20 26 19 23
Beata 1 3 2 5 4 6 7 8 9 12 11 10 13 14 16 18 19 21 24 15 26 17 23 20 26
Trevor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 10 9 8 11 12 13 15 14 17 23 16 18 20 19 22 26 26 21
Ross A 1 2 3 5 4 6 7 9 8 13 12 11 10 15 17 16 25 26 18 14 26 24 19 22 26
Ary M 1 2 4 3 5 6 11 10 9 7 12 13 14 8 16 20 15 26 21 24 22 19 18 23 17
Shaan M 1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 7 9 15 18 13 14 19 12 17 22 26 16 24 20 23 21
SCORE 223 216 203 200 193 175 165 158 152 142 131 127 118 104 92 64 62 58 52 46 34 33 32 32 31

Others receiving at least one vote in the top 25 were: Kevin Mandolese, Tyler Kleven, Oliver Johansson, Cole Reinhardt, Carson Latimer, Filip Nordberg, Oskar Pettersson, and Jorian Donovan.

The staff and the readers were basically in agreement on the top half of the rankings, with only a couple of small variances. There was much larger disagreement in the bottom half, however. What criteria were you using to evaluate some of the less-established prospects?

Spencer: This doesn’t surprise me as the top half of this list tends to be young players we know lots about because they’re relatively established. As we get to the middle and bottom, I think about where I project a player to be down the road and use that to determine their slot. There’s always going to be plenty of disagreement about future projections.

Trevor: For me, it’s always about future value. Some guys might be more likely NHLers than others, but if they project to be depth players, I’m probably not going to put them ahead of someone who has a chance to be in the top half of the lineup. I still had a hard time differentiating players at the end of my list, though.

Ross: A couple of things go into this, but probably my biggest way to judge the bottom half is how likely they are to play in the NHL, and how many games. We also have to recognize that name recognition is a big part of this judgment. A guy like Tomas Hamara (who I also didn’t rank) is fighting against prospects we’ve talked about for 3, 4 years.

Beata: To be honest, I don’t pay quite as much attention to prospects as some of the other writers do, so I mostly prioritized prospects I knew a lot about. If I’ve heard of them before, it’s probably either because they’re a top prospect or because they have a good chance of making the NHL soon. In general, I try to rank players based on who I would take on a team right now, so I prioritize more NHL-ready prospects.

Owen: The availability of information makes a huge difference. We have a lot less to work with as we move down the list in terms of stats, video, and scouting reports so that leaves a lot of our ranking subject to interpretation. I basically try to cross balance the axes of present/future value with floor/ceiling potential. It turns out that scouting is very difficult! Who knew!

Shaan: I see this series as a celebration of the team’s future, so I keep that mindset when forming my rankings: which players will help your team win more games in the long run? I’m particularly bullish on the production of Philippe Daoust and Angus Crookshank, for instance.

Nada: This team loaded up with a ton of good talent in what seems like overnight but it is natural that prospects who are already making a lot of noise and impact will get more coverage. The disagreement probably stems from how closely we follow each of the prospects.

Ary: For me, the top half of the rankings start with the bonafide NHLers, and then move to players who might or might not be in the NHL, but have the potential to make a meaningful impact on the team. For instance, Roby Järventie’s potential impact at the NHL level outweighs Mark Kastelic’s likely NHL minutes, even if the latter will probably play more games this season. The same could be said about players like Philippe Daoust — who could be a nice top-nine piece if he develops well — and Tomas Hamara, over potential lower-ceiling players like Tyler Kleven.

nkb: Like the others, I believe part of the difference is the lack of information but part of it is also purely aesthetic preferences. What kind of player do you must prefer heavily informs our choices when there’s less formal criteria for evaluation.

Speaking of difference of opinion, the biggest disagreement between the staff and the readers was on the topic of Tyler Kleven. The staff had him 27th, and out of the top 25 altogether, but the readers voted him 19th. What shaped your opinion of Kleven? What’s his future with the organization?

Spencer: Ah, Tyler Kleven. Always an interesting prospect to discuss! I actually had Kleven 21st, ahead of most of my fellow writers. That being said, I think the main reason is the floor vs. ceiling discussion. I think Kleven probably maxes out as a third pairing defender but is more likely to be one of those bubble roster guys more than anything else. It’s tough to rank a player like that very high.

Trevor: I’d be shocked if Kleven never played any NHL games. He seems to be on that track based on how the team and reporters talk about him, and he has the size and physicality to at least have some competence. I hope he can be an impact player, although I’m not sure if he’ll have the overall skill level to be more than a 3rd pairing defenseman. That’s totally fine because an NHLer is still valuable, but if I were acquiring a prospect from Ottawa, I’d rather have someone with more potential upside.

Ross: I had Kleven 21st, because I imagine he will get NHL games. I do think there are two factors at play here in the disagreement. First is name recognition. Kleven played at UND with Pinto, JBD, and Sanderson. That being said, his stats on their own don’t stand out. I think watching guys like Pinto or Sanderson greatly outplay their pre-draft rankings has us expecting the same thing from a guy like Kleven, but that doesn’t mean he will do that well. On the flip side, I think most of the staff look for potential. A guy like Daoust or Guenette likely has higher potential, but also is in the Logan Brown category of they’re not going to succeed unless they can be at the top of a lineup. Like Spencer said, Kleven is modest floor, low ceiling. I think his future is a solid AHL career, with maybe 50 games as a 3rd-pairing guy spread across two or three seasons.

Beata: I hope Kleven turns into a good player, and I’m sure we’ll see him in the NHL at some point, but from what I understand, he has a pretty low ceiling. On a team with a weaker prospect pool he’d be ranked a lot higher, but the Sens have a lot of prospects with top of the lineup potential, and I’m personally more excited about those.

Owen: I went on the record this time last year and *guaranteed* Tyler Kleven would climb up the list in 2022. I can appreciate that he plays defence first and foremost but I really wanted to see an uptick in offence and it hasn’t materialized. The emergence of players like Tomas Hamara, Jorian Donovan, and Filip Nordberg should really motivate Kleven if he wants to carve out his place long-term.

Shaan: While I like Kleven’s chances of being an NHLer in some capacity down the line, part of what shapes my ranking is the potential to become an impact player. In that regard, I ranked guys like Hamara higher on my list on the basis of a higher offensive ceiling. Not necessarily production, but the ability to move the puck.

Nada: I think Kleven’s stock has risen quite a bit since he was drafted, and most would agree he now has a legitimate chance of becoming an NHLer. Unfortunately for him though is that the Sens pool seems to have been packed with prospects that have pushed him a bit further down the line. Part of getting onto the Top 25 list this year is that the list is full of good players!

Ary: Colin and I have spilled a lot of ink about Kleven throughout our draft and prospect work, so I won’t rehash too much, other than to say that I fully expect Kleven to get meaningful NHL games, even though I don’t have much confidence on his impact being any more than a third-pair level. For me, near the bottom of the rankings, I’d rather bet on Hamara’s ceiling or Guénette’s hockey sense in terms of bonafide NHL impact. Kleven’s certainly the more likely of the three to play, though, given his pedigree and profile.

nkb: At the risk of repeating myself, Kleven strikes me as the type of player where stylistic preference is playing a big role. If you’re a believer in the notion that every team needs a big, physically punishing defenseman, then it’s easy to see a long term future for him on the team. If you see that style as nice to have but not necessary, it’s easy to see how he might not yet crack a deep list of prospects while he’s still seemingly so far away from playing in NHL games.

Is there any player where you feel the staff got the ranking wrong?

Spencer: Not a single writer, myself included, placed Vitaly Abramov in their top 25. While I get that it’s difficult to include him when he’s left for the KHL and may never come back, he’s certainly still one of the most talent players under 25 in the organization and we probably used his departure as a reason to leave him unranked.

Trevor: I don’t think so really, it’s hard to see much difference between mine and the overall rankings.

Ross: I do think it’s weird Meriläinen was so low and Mandolese didn’t make the list. Goalies are critical to success. I expect these guys to get NHL games just out of necessity. Maybe I overvalue goalies, but I think they should usually be higher in our rankings.

Beata: Not really, no!

Owen: He missed the cutoff by the smallest possible margin but I still think Kevin Mandolese belongs in the top 25.

Shaan: As far as where I disagreed with the consensus of the staff, I didn’t rank Leevi Merilainen at all. I feel that goalies are volatile in their development and it’s encouraging to see the success he’s had in Finland, but I couldn’t justify including him in my Top 25 due to his relatively low save percentage in the OHL this year. Additionally, I ranked Ridly Greig higher than most, as I’m optimistic that his style of play will allow his WHL production to translate very well to the NHL in a second-line role, after a few more years of development.

Nada: Well, I personally think it’s wrong that a guy who hasn’t played a game in a Sens jersey yet to waltz in and take the #1 spot for our German prince (just kidding). Overall, I would’ve changed a spot or two for some players but nothing “wrong” per se.

Ary: While I didn’t rank Angus Crookshank, mainly due to age and injury, I love the kid and am so glad that the staff ranked him high enough to see him finish 18th. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with our rankings.

nkb: In what some may consider a heel turn, I’m going to say that we got the Tyler Boucher ranking wrong. I should qualify that statement: I think Boucher fully deserves the 24th ranking based on the past season, frankly if he was a top ten pick I don’t think he would have made the top 25 at all, but he checks a lot of boxes when it comes to your prototypical NHLer. If we’re looking back on this list in five years’ time, Boucher’s ranking is the one that I suspect we’ll look the worst for.

Who do you think will take the biggest leap up the rankings next year? Who might take a tumble?

Spencer: t’s all about defensemen here. I think the biggest leap will be Tomas Hamara. It’s recency bias and it’s only preseason, but he’s looking really comfortable in the OHL. A big season for him could see some inflated expectations heading into next year’s ranking. The tumbler will be whichever of Thomson and JBD has the worse showing this year. The one who loses out on the potentially open RHD spot will probably fall.

Trevor: I’ll guess that Zack Ostapchuk rises the most while Erik Brännström goes down (as much as I hope that doesn’t happen).

Ross: I expect Tomas Hamara will move up, now that he’s on our radar and he’s going to play in the OHL. I suspect Erik Brännström will either show a big rise or a big drop, depending on how this season goes for him.

Beata: We had Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker at pretty much the same spot, for good reason. I think next year we’ll see a clear favourite emerge between the two, with one of them dropping in the ranking and the other rising.

Owen: Roby Järventie, Zack Ostapchuk, and Tomas Hamara look poised to break out this season. I worry about defenders like Erik Brännström and Jacob Bernard-Docker sliding down the depth chart just because we expect so much from them.

Shaan: I’d look to one of our newest prospects from the 2022 draft to climb several spots in our rankings next year. Hamara’s the most likely candidate for now, but I’d keep an eye on the other high picks like Filip Nordberg and Oskar Pettersson as well.

Nada: I have high expectations of JBD and Shane Pinto for next season. I wonder how Grieg fares this season and if he ends up not meeting the high expectations fans have for him.

Ary: I think Järventie, Daoust, and Hamara all have that potential, in addition to the obvious pick in Boucher, despite the 67s likely icing a weak team this season. I think Brännström and Meriläinen might fall, mainly based on playing time and opportunity.

nkb: My earlier answer about Boucher applies here too; I think there’s a chance he makes a huge leap this year but if not him then Järventie, who I expect will score a huge number of goals in the AHL.

Alex DeBrincat swept in and stole the top spot on our list in his only year of eligibility. Who takes home the title next year? Is it Stützle’s to lose? Will the captain rise up the ranks? Another darkhorse?

Spencer: That top spot certainly belongs to Stützle and I genuinely don’t see a scenario where he’s even a silver medalist here. He was already on the rise without DeBrincat and Giroux on his wings. He’s going to be a big problem for other teams this year.

Trevor: I think the only players who could potentially take the top spot are Tim Stützle, and Jake Sanderson. Sanderson is more of a darkhorse though, and I think Stützle will be #1 next season after putting up at least 70 points.

Ross: It’s Stützle’s to lose. He has the biggest contract in franchise history. He’s seeing big upgrades in his wingers. He’s going to start the year at centre, where he excelled last year. It’s his unless someone takes a huge step forward, or he takes a huge step backward.

Beata: For a few years now, it hasn’t been a question of if Stützle would ever take the top spot, but when. I’ll be shocked if it’s anyone else next year.

Owen: Tim Stützle will take the crown (by virtue of playing on a line with Alex DeBrincat).

Shaan: I think it’s unlikely anyone takes the crown from Stutzle next year (or the years after), but Jake Sanderson has a chance. From everything I’ve seen from him, I’m expecting his prime years to be better than Chabot’s.

Nada: I find it hard to see Tkachuk surpassing Stützle. I don’t think we’ve even see the beginning of Stützle’s potential so I am almost certain we see him reclaim what is rightfully his.

Ary: This should be Tim Stützle’s spot for the next four editions of these rankings :)

nkb: This turned out to be a bit of a boring question since everyone agrees but I’ve also gotta stick with Stützle here. He’s the franchise player, and I expect that this year he’ll show why.