Everyone remembers the heightened feelings of report card season in grade school: the nervousness, the anticipation, the deep pit in your stomach if you knew that your parents weren’t going to like what they were going to see. Luckily for the Ottawa Senators, none of the forwards received failing grades, so everyone gets an extra serving of ice cream with dessert.
Before we dive in, I just wanted to say a big thank-you to everyone that took the time to fill out a ballot — we had nearly 600 respondents when we closed the voting last night. If nothing else, the results should give us a real sense for the feelings of the fanbase.
One last item to note: the rule for inclusion in this exercise was a minimum of ten games played. That’s why Josh Norris isn’t included, but Jake Lucchini is. Obviously none of us believe Lucchini is a bigger part of the team’s future than Norris, but these report cards are just for the first part of 2022-23 season.
Let’s get to it, then. Here’s how the staff, and readers, evaluated the Sens’ forwards so far this year:
Alex DeBrincat: B+, Readers: B+
Perhaps no player has seen has been the subject of more analysis this season than DeBrincat. One of the big splashes from the “Summer of Pierre”, DeBrincat has both delighted and frustrated fans. On the one hand, he’s on pace for 28 goals and 68 points — players who consistently produce at that level simply don’t grow on trees. On the other hand, he’s gone through prolonged scoring droughts and missed enough glorious chances to make one wonder if he is cursed. B+ from both the staff and the readers here seems fair: he’s a very good player, having a slightly disappointing season. There’s room for improvement but he’s a vital cog; that sounds like B+ to me.
Austin Watson: D, Readers: C-
The readers were a bit more charitable to Watson than the staff in their evaluation of the rugged forward’s first part of the season. I can only speculate about what goes on in the mind of our readers, but one could make the case that Watson has delivered what he promises every year: maximum effort, lots of physicality, fearless shot-blocking, and an ebullient personality. If you squint hard enough, maybe that’s enough for a C-.
Where the staff seems to see things differently is that even in the face of Watson delivering all of the above, his personal offensive contributions are nearly zero and the team has struggled badly when he’s been on the ice. The opposition is getting 74% of the goals when Watson is on the ice at 5v5, leading to a -11 goal differential. In that context, a D seems more than fair.
Brady Tkachuk: A, Readers: A
Tkachuk’s been excellent this year, and though his scoring pace has tapered a bit in recent weeks, he’s still on pace for a career-high in points. All of the things that he’s always done well, the relentless physicality on the forecheck, the sneakily good vision in tight quarters, the dogged determination, are all there and have been supplemented with vastly improved creativity off the rush. Tkachuk might still have one more gear in him, but even if he doesn’t this is a very high level and he’s fully deserving of his grade.
Claude Giroux : A, Readers: A+
The other big off-season acquisition in the “Summer of Pierre” (apologies to Cam Talbot), Giroux has more than lived up to all reasonable expectations; in fact, he’s exceeded them. Here the readers and the staff have a minor disagreement about whether Giroux’s been great or spectacular — the difference is really just splitting hairs. We’ve written about Giroux’s impact many times already this season, and I have no reason to believe we won’t continue to do so as the year goes on.
Derick Brassard: C, Readers: B-
For a PTO signing, it’s hard to argue Brassard’s season has been anything but a success. The 35-year old doesn’t quite have his fastball anymore, but he’s been a competent fill-in on the third and fourth lines when required. Most importantly for a depth player, the Sens have a positive goal differential and passable chance and shot metrics when he’s been on the ice at 5v5. On a better team, Brassard would likely be a 13th forward only playing a handful of games, but for this team he’s helped a bit here and there. A “C” is reflective of that.
Drake Batherson: B, Readers: B-
Perhaps the single biggest issue that has plagued the Sens this year has been their goal differential at 5v5, and no one is more representative of that struggle than Batherson. His -18 differential is 628th out of 649 skaters with at least 200 minutes of 5v5 action; that’s really, really bad. A (big) part of that is that he’s been unlucky since both his chance and shot metrics are above 50% but it’s not like his individual production at 5v5 has been stellar either. Batherson’s scored 15 goals this year, but only 4 at even-strength. Batherson’s still earned mostly positive grades from the staff, and the readers, on the back of his total production but there’s no doubt that the Sens were hoping for more from him this season.
Dylan Gambrell: D+, Readers: C-
Gambrell has one goal, and no assists, in 31 games this season. I’m not even sure how that’s possible for a forward. But if there’s one thing you can say for Gambrell, it’s that almost nothing happens when he’s on the ice — for his team, or for the opposition. The Sens have only surrendered nine goals at 5v5 in his 286 minutes of ice-time. Mind you they have only scored three (!!), so it’s not like they are coming out ahead.
Jake Lucchini: C+, Readers: C
Lucchini was a fun story, his first career NHL goal was a heart-warming moment, but his time in Ottawa mostly just reminded me of how hard it is to stick in the NHL. Lucchini is one of Belleville’s best players, but he just cannot impact games at the highest level in the same way. He always gave maximum effort, and I’m happy for him that he got his cup of tea in the NHL, but I don’t think there’ll be too many more opportunities.
Mark Katelic: C-, Readers: C
With Kastelic, his skills are immediately obvious: he is incredible in the face-off dots, he is immensely strong, and and he has surprising speed for a man his size. He exhibits several of the classic attributes of a fourth-line centre. Alas, the fourth line he’s most often centered, with Watson, and Parker Kelly, has been atrocious. I’ve written this before but it remains true: any one of Kastelic, Watson, or Kelly by themselves is likely fine but combining the three has always been asking for trouble. Kastelic’s C- grade reflects that: he has some positive attributes, and the failings of his line aren’t his fault alone, but he is not making a particularly positive impact when he’s on the ice right now, either. As long as Norris is injured he will continue to be a mainstay on the fourth line, but it would be great if he could show a bit more than he has in the second part of this season.
Mathieu Joseph: C+, Readers: C+
If the Sens were expecting a repeat of Joseph’s performance from the end of last season when he looked like a scoring machine, they’re likely a bit disappointed. If they were hoping for a solid third line contributor who can be a real menace on the Penalty Kill, then they are likely feeling a bit better about how the first part of his season has gone. Setting aside the mysterious healthy-scratch incident, Joseph has looked like a useful player who can help your bottom six; a C+ grade seems fitting. If you were hoping for him to be much more than he has shown, I think it’s probably worth adjusting your expectations.
Parker Kelly: D+, Readers: C
There’s not much more to say about Kelly than I’ve already said about Watson and Kastelic: Kelly goes 100 miles per hour at all times, he hits everything that moves, and he occasionally shows some flashes of finishing ability. The Sens have also gotten killed when he’s been on the ice — some of that is his fault, some of it is not. The readers thought less of it was his fault than the staff, but I suspect both groups would agree Kelly can best help the team as an energy guy on the fourth line.
Shane Pinto: B, Readers: B
Like Joseph, evaluating Pinto’s season is all about expectations. If you had hoped that Pinto might be ready to jump into a leading role when Norris went down, his season has been something of a disappointment. He has, at times, looked overwhelmed by the pace of play at 5v5. He’s also had moments of real inspiration, his shot is a bonafide weapon, and he’s still only 22. You throw everything together, and a “B” seems fair.
Tim Stützle: A+, Readers: A+
What else can you say about Stützle? The consensus best player for both the staff and the readers, the young German is the only forward to receive an A+ grade from both groups. Stützle has progressed in every facet of his game this year, and he was already at a high level to begin with. Maybe the most exciting thing about his performance so far is that the 21-year old doesn’t seem to be stopping. He’s a franchise-level star, and I cannot wait to see the heights he reaches.
Tyler Motte: C, Readers: B-
Motte is the very definition of a “guy”. He doesn’t score much, but he checks well, and the Sens are to the positive when he’s on the ice. You don’t build a roster full of Mottes, but he doesn’t hurt you in a bottom six role.
So there you have it, the mid-season report cards for all of the Sens’ forwards. Tomorrow we’ll share the defensemen and the goalies. Let us know what you thought in the comments!