Austin Watson: Year in Review

An injury-shortened debut season for the Sens’ resident tough guy

Welcome back to our Year in Review feature at Silver Seven Sens, where we re-visit the past season for key members of the Ottawa Senators. Here are the players we’ve profiled previously:

Drake Batherson

Erik Brännström

Connor Brown

Josh Brown

Thomas Chabot

Evgeni Dadonov (not an Ottawa Senator anymore!)

Alex Formenton

Victor Mete

Josh Norris

Nick Paul

Brady Tkachuk

Today, we’re turning our attention to a first year member of the franchise: Austin Watson.

By the Numbers:

Watson played 34 games for the Sens last year, during which time he picked up three goals and seven assists for 10 points. While Watson was on the ice at 5v5, the Sens posted a 44.53 CF% and a 48.21 xGF% share. He averaged exactly twelve minutes a night across all situations, and was a mainstay on the penalty kill. Since the Sens’ fourth line was in flux virtually all season, Watson spent a lot of time with many different linemates — including Chris Tierney, Nick Paul, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, and Cedric Paquette. Coach DJ Smith saw Watson’s value primarily in his defensive abilities, and did not hesitate to use him for key defensive zone draws. Though the vast majority of his shifts began either on the fly or from a neutral zone draw, Watson certainly started in his own end a lot more than in the offensive zone.  Here’s how Micah McCurdy’s model at hockeyviz sees Watson as of this writing:

Watson profiles as a heavy negative offensively, and a slight negative defensively 5v5 — though he is a strong contributor on the PK. To anyone who has watched Watson play, these results are probably unsurprising: his biggest strength is his willingness to give 100% effort at all times, and no one is more fearless when blocking shots. Those traits might not translate to 5v5 results by themselves, but they are invaluable in a penalty killer.

Story of the Season:

The first thing that Watson’s teammates and coaches would tell you is that his impact goes beyond the numbers. So while it’s hard to make a numbers-based case for him, Watson was primarily brought in before the season to add some grit and sandpaper to the fourth line while acting as a veteran mentor to some of Ottawa’s young players. Watson actually got off to a hot scoring start by his standards, notching five points in his first ten games with the Sens before cooling off and collecting just five more the rest of the season.

Though it seems like a strange thing to mention as a highlight of his season, Watson’s most memorable moment likely came when he blocked a Nate Schmidt slapper in the throat — only to return to play in the game shortly thereafter. As I mentioned before, Watson’s teammates were impressed with his dedication. Here’s what Brady Tkachuk had to say on the subject of Watson:

“To have a guy that’s willing to put his body on the line for us every single night and give it his all every single game is so energetic for the rest of us. That’s a guy who always wants to win, he’s played for a winning franchise, been to the playoffs, he’s been great for our team and great for me individually and I’ve loved playing with him.”

Unfortunately that style of play can lead to injury and Watson suffered a broken hand blocking a shot in a game on the 22nd of March. With the Sens well out of play-off picture, Ottawa did the only reasonable thing and shut him down for the year.

Future Outlook:

Despite his role as a fourth liner, the smart money is on Watson continuing to have a place with the Sens for at least the next two season. He seems to be well-liked by his teammates, and though I find some of the commentary about Smith’s role in personnel decisions a bit overblown there is no doubt that Watson was someone that he wanted on the team. Smith often goes out of his way to praise Watson’s play and his contributions. It can almost never be said that Watson gave anything less than maximum effort.

Watson is signed through the 2022-2023 seasons at a salary of $1.5M per year, at which point he will be 31 and a UFA. If things go according to plan, the Sens should be right smack dab in their window of contention by that point. Watson has always struck me as something of a stopgap player: he has a clear role to play on a young team that’s learning to win but is short on depth. He is a player that you bring on to help transition to a winning team, and for the next two years that’s exactly what he’ll do. Whether he will still have a role to play when the Sens shift to the next stage of the rebuild is another question altogether, but it’s not one that we can answer today.

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