As the Ottawa Senators prepare for their next two preseason games, head coach D.J. Smith is getting closer to his starting lineup. In his media availability today, he mentioned that tomorrow’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens will “be major in terms of solidifying the 24-man roster”, according to TSN’s Claire Hanna. Here are a few more specifics regarding the ongoing battle for spots:
- The main battle in camp appears to be for a spot on the third defense pairing with veteran Nick Holden. Aside from Erik Brannstrom and Nikita Zaitsev who are on one-way deals, Smith mentioned the strong play of the team’s three young right-shots: Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, and Maxence Guenette. If one of those three is on the roster, I’d personally prefer it to be JBD, the latter of two Ottawa first-round selections back in 2018. He’s looked the most NHL-ready of the three youngsters and was particularly noticeable when it came to rush defense against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
- Bernard-Docker isn’t the only Jacob who’s stood out during camp. His partner on defense, Jacob Larsson, is one of the more intriguing AHL-caliber free agents the team has brought in during these past few years, being a former first-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, 27th overall in 2015. Back in the 2019-20 season, he put up 11 points in 60 games, earning a two-year, one-way contract worth $1.2M per year, though he spent most of this past season with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. He’s looking for a fresh start in Ottawa, and Smith mentioned him among Thomson and co. when discussing the battle for a third-pairing role. If the team does practice in two groups tomorrow, I’d expect Larsson to be a part of the NHL group.
- When it comes to Jake Sanderson, it would appear that no news is good news. Smith has partnered him with Travis Hamonic from the start of camp, which implied the 2020 5th-overall pick was a frontrunner for an NHL job, and there’s been nothing to suggest that anything’s changed on that front. As for the names previously mentioned, Smith stated that although many of them won’t be in the NHL to start the year, they’ll likely get a look at some point, which I think makes sense what with the reality of injuries, COVID-19 still being a thing, and the team just having more defensive depth this time around.
- The power-play was a primary focus of yesterday’s practice and the two units were arranged as follows:
Sens working on PP in practice right now:— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) September 28, 2022
Crookshank (Who I suspect is a placeholder for Mathieu Joseph)
It may seem odd at first to see Alex DeBrincat, the player with the strongest resume, on the team’s second PP unit, but this isn’t the Ottawa Senators of old. All ten of these players are a legitimate threat to make something happen with the man advantage — Shane Pinto and Mathieu Joseph are underrated players who could break out in a larger role, and Sanderson could be the best defenseman on the team in a couple of years.
Most importantly, Smith maybe rightfully trusts the past success of his top unit, consisting of Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Tim Stützle. Having that consistency on the first unit while looking at the remaining players and seeing what clicks is a smart way to go about it.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That group, percentage wise when they’re all together has been really good.”— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) September 28, 2022
⁰⁰D.J. Smith on how he decided on the team’s two power play units. pic.twitter.com/VQNblgPaeI
- Lastly, Stützle has been continuing his development towards being a legitimate top-six center, by working on faceoffs, with a pretty good mentor: