It’s Time to Revamp the Ottawa Senators’ Bottom Six
The Senators bottom six hasn’t been good enough, and it’s time to make some changes
In 2006-07, the Ottawa Senators' bottom six featured the likes of Antonine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Chris Neil, Patrick Eaves, Dean McAmmond, and Oleg Saprykin. In comparison, it wasn’t nearly as impressive as their top line with Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson, but it was the last time that the Senators actually had an effective bottom six at forward. 16 years later, it’s still an issue for a team that has a lot of the core talent already in place.
Finding elite talent to build around is the tough part, and the good news for the Senators is that they’ve done most of the heavy lifting. Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Alex DeBrincat, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot, and Jake Sanderson are young pillars that can hold the team together for years to come. But once again, the organization has failed to provide adequate depth at forward and defense in order to truly make a playoff push. Now, the playoffs should have never been expected, although they should be closer than nine points out. In addition, there should be no excuses for missing out next season, as that will have been ample time to improve. The only thing that will get them there though? Improving the depth.
I could talk about what Ottawa could do with Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson, although both of them have gotten chances at times and it appears that JBD will get more opportunities the rest of the season. Instead, I want to focus on the forwards. After Jake Lucchini was placed on waivers yesterday, the players in the bottom six consist of Derick Brassard, Mark Kastelic, Parker Kelly, Austin Watson, Dylan Gambrell, and the injured Tyler Motte and Mathieu Joseph. Brassard has been fine for a PTO signing but not a long-term fixture, Kastelic provides a bit of value on the 4th line, Kelly is more of a 13th forward, Watson hurts the team plenty, Gambrell has skill but seemingly does nothing, Motte has been good enough, and Joseph has potential but overall underwhelming in limited action.
When you combine all of that, you get a group that isn’t very effective. So what can Ottawa do to revamp the bottom six? Call up some players who deserve a look.
They’ve already done that with journeymen in Lucchini and Rourke Chartier, and although they weren’t stars, they at least gave a damn while in the lineup. Beyond them, I’m looking at Egor Sokolov, Ridly Greig, Angus Crookshank, and even Viktor Lodin as options to get into the lineup. All four of them have been able to produce well in Belleville and they deserve an opportunity to showcase what they have.
Starting with Sokolov, I wouldn’t say I’m incredibly confident that he is an NHL player, because he definitely struggled in his previous 8-game stint last season. However, if we judged players on their first 8 games, there’d be a whole lot of horrendous evaluations. I don’t think Sokolov will be a top-six contributor, but I think he could be a good physical scoring option on the third line. He’s been the definition of consistency this season as he has 36 points in 36 games and has never gone more than two games without recording a point:
Oh, and that two game "pointless streak"? It was at the end of October. Sokolov has literally guaranteed that if he doesn't get himself on the scoresheet in one game, he WILL the next. This is over a 28 game sample.— Spencer Blake (@spencerdjblake) January 16, 2023
Call him up!
Who knows if his skating will be good enough for the NHL, but here’s the thing...you’ll never know until he’s playing games!
Then with Greig, I get wanting to keep him in the AHL in order to develop his game, but I’ve always been of the belief that if a player is dominating in the minors, no matter how old he is, giving him a taste of NHL action is never going to ruin them unless you are giving him 20+ minutes a night against top competition. If Greig comes up, he’d be playing in the bottom six, which is a role he could be destined for anyway. I think he has more potential than that, as his 23 points in 25 games as a 20-year-old are quite impressive, although if he turns into a reliable scoring option with some edge on the third line, that’s a win in my books. I think he’ll be ready for a full-time role next season, but it’d be good to get his feet wet right now.
Crookshank isn’t as deserving of a callup as Sokolov and Greig, and it’d be hard to get him playing time if the lineup is healthy again. At the same time, he’s already 23 years old (the same age as Erik Brännström!!) and they need to figure out if he can hack it at the NHL level. He has 36 points in 55 career AHL games, which is a 54-point pace—not amazing, but he’s no slouch, either. Due to his smaller frame of 5’10, 181 lbs, it’ll be harder for him to find a home if he’s not scoring a ton, but I’d still like to give him at least 5-10 games at some point.
Lastly, Lodin is a major wildcard here. He’s only played 27 AHL games over the past two seasons, and he has 20 points, which is a 61-point pace. He doesn’t strike me as a player that DJ Smith would love as a depth player, mostly because he’s not very physical and extremely flashy. I mean, look at some of the plays he’s tried:
WHAT DID I JUST WATCH 🤯 Viktor Lodin with magical skills for near goal …damn. (@cmorehockey ). pic.twitter.com/STmcs6DBry— Pavel Barber (@HeyBarber) November 25, 2021
Very excited to see #Sens prospect Viktor Lodin with the Belleville Senators. Kids got some slick hands. pic.twitter.com/223LuWm8kP— SENS TALK (@senstalk_) December 20, 2021
Viktor Lodin only scores highlight reel goals, Exhibit H @SensProspects pic.twitter.com/6xLzjX66rt— Locked On Senators (@SensCentral) January 7, 2023
He’s a very fun player to watch, and I have no idea if any of his play would translate to the NHL. As I said before though, you’ll never know until you try, and his one game in Ottawa last season isn’t enough to tell us anything. If Daniel Sprong, one of the most skilled players in the league, can succeed on the 4th line in Seattle, Lodin could have a role here as well.
Now, getting Josh Norris, Tyler Motte, and Mathieu Joseph all back in the lineup shortly will make the Senators’ depth look better and also make it more challenging to get these Belleville forwards sustained looks in the NHL. There are veterans in their way even with some of these injuries, but Watson, Gambrell, and Brassard are pending free agents (RFA for Gambrell) and can be traded or waived, plus Kastelic can be sent down. That might be easier said than done, but a team should be finding ways to reward their best players, not rewarding players with more tenure.
I just hope that these four players get at least some time in Ottawa in the second half because one of their goals in the off-season needs to be strengthening their depth, and if they already know that one or more of those guys can contribute, that’s one less acquisition they have to make. The rest of the season should be about seeing what they have with role players and preparing to make a final step to becoming a playoff team.
Let’s see what these guys can do—worst case scenario, you’re back where you started.