Welcome to one of the final editions of Five Thoughts before the Ottawa Senators are officially back in regular season action. The offseason has come and gone and we’re finally getting to see some of the shiny new acquisitions in pre-season action.
As things heat up I’ve got some thoughts around a few individual players and storylines which have popped up over the past few days.
On Shane Pinto
Every fanbase overvalues their prospects. We all know this. When it was suggested that Shane Pinto was a target for the Arizona Coyotes in a potential deal for Jakob Chychrun, fans flocked to Twitter to, as usual, make their opinions known. Sens fans hopped quickly on a train leaving the station for Untouchableville while fans of other teams, and some media personalities, mocked the fanbase for valuing Pinto so highly. “You won’t give up Shane Pinto for Chychurn?!” was a common refain.
Pinto is a 21 year old right shot centre who is regularly praised for his two way prowess. I’d type out his accomplishments from his sophomore year at the University of North Dakota but it’s infinitely quicker to just provide a screenshot.
When he broke into the NHL, he compiled 7 points in his first 12 games playing for a pretty rough Ottawa Senators team. Last season, he missed every opportunity to make a name for himself when he missed all but five games due to a shoulder injury. So far in preseason, Pinto has been playing like a top six centre. Yes, it’s preseason, but he’s still playing incredibly well and earning big praise for the management and coaching staff.
But let’s set aside which player is more valuable overall for a moment and discuss what this is really about. Pinto is not just a great prospective NHLer, he also fills a gigantic need for this team up front. Are there questions about the blueline? Absolutely! Would Chychrun solve some of them? Probably! But when the boat has a hole in it you don’t create a new hole just to fill the first one, do you? Imagine the Ottawa Senators for a moment in a world where (*knock on wood, fingers crossed, turn in a circle three times, etc.*) a player like Josh Norris or Tim Stützle is out long term with an injury. In this same world, if you don’t have Pinto then you’re entering “Dylan Gambrell, second line centre?” territory and no amount of Jakob Chychrun is going to make that ok.
Of course, I’m preaching to the choir here. You all know this. But I had to get that one off my chest.
On the Blueline
On more than one occasion this week, we received some sound bites from Head Coach DJ Smith on the fierce competition for the final third pairing spot on his blueline. To the delight of fans, we got to hear some constructive feedback as well as positive reinforcement from those we’re hoping to see take big steps this year. Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker have both impressed the Sens bench boss and a new, up-and-coming household name for fans in Maxence Guénette has had his name out there as well. The great news is that all three play the right side, which has been a pretty desolate position for Ottawa over the last five years.
The more interesting name we haven’t heard as much about is Nikita Zaitsev. Bernard-Docker, in particular, seems to have brought his name to the top of the list as his defensive game is above his counterparts today. One thing I wonder is if this is being done to encourage Zaitsev to be a little more lenient with his no-trade clause if he doesn’t see a realm where he’s playing regular minutes for Smith’s club. But, that feels a bit like I’m grasping for drama.
If I’m running that group, I’d immediately start trying Bernard-Docker beside Chabot for the remainder of the preseason. If it doesn’t work, you can put Artem Zub back in that spot. But I’m far more interested in Jake Sanderson using Zub as his veteran safety net than Travis Hamonic. This would leave a third pairing battle between Hamonic, Erik Brännström, Thomson and Guénette for that final spot alongside Nick Holden. Ultimately, based on how camp has gone so far, I’d lean on the veterans and slot Hamonic in beside Holden. I’m not convinced the defensive game of the other options is where it needs to be for that third pair role. They’re all offensive minded blueliners and I’d be really worried about my penalty kill options if I don’t go for the vets.
What I expect, though, is for Smith to rotate those RHDs a spot where Chabot and Zub stay together, Hamonic works with Sanderson and Bernard-Docker wins the battle to embody safety first with Holden on the third pair.
On Giroux’s Leadership
I’ve genuinely never spit coffee out of my mouth while reading an article before but I came very close the other day when Pierre LeBrun posted a deeper look into some narratives surrounding the Ottawa Senators this coming season. My laughter had nothing to do with LeBrun himself, of course. The piece is well written and full of interesting nuggets for fans to get lost in.
This quote, in particular, made me laugh.
I don’t know if you are familiar with the Flyers fanbase but if Claude Giroux were a bad leader who isn’t a good influence on young players, there would have been 173 articles, a docuseries and a tell all book written about it by now. I implore you to find me a Flyers fan who was happy when Giroux was moved to the Panthers at the deadline.
All we’ve seen so far from Giroux is him taking some of the young stars under his wing, helping everyone with their faceoff skills and expressing happiness and gratitude to play in Ottawa. Seems pretty good to me.
On the Fourth Line
While I’m not sure he’s played well enough to garner this, it would appear to me that the only person with a cemented place on the fourth line heading into this season is Austin Watson. Don’t get me wrong, he’s fine. He does things well enough and isn’t a total liability. I just would prefer to set the bar higher than that and if there’s someone who would contribute more to the team in that spot, I’d give it to them. Alas, that’s not really what this thought is about.
For me, Mark Kastelic has already won the fourth line centre job and the main reason isn’t that he’s physically monstrous or that he’s great in the faceoff circle, it’s because of what he’s not. He’s not a liability. Like, at all. When Kastelic has been on the ice in the small sample we’ve seen in a Sens jersey, one of two things happens. You notice him for a good reason or you don’t notice him at all. That right there is what I want in my 4th line centre. I want to either be impressed or not notice he’s there. If he’s impressive, that’s awesome. If I don’t notice he’s there, that means he managed to go out on the ice, play an entire shift, and nothing bad happened.
On the left side, it probably is Parker Kelly’s job to lose at this point while Alex Formenton remains unsigned. Should he return to the team, he’d either bump Tyler Motte to that 4LW position or take it himself while he gets his feed under him. Unfortunately for Kelly, I can see him getting squeezed out should the team remain healthy and have all their players under contract.
On Angus Crookshank
Welcome aboard, my friends. I hope you enjoy your ride on the Crookshank Express. I’m your Conductor, Spencer, and if you need anything at all, just ask.
After suffering an injury at last year’s Rookie Tournament, Angus Crookshank missed the entire 2021-22 season in recovery. For me, this was particularly disappointing as I got the opportunity to watch his professional career start in 2020-21 during his 19 game stint with Belleville. During this time, Crookshank compiled 15 points, including eight in his first six outings. Amongst DY+3 skaters, Crookshank ranked 3rd in primary points per game, 4th in even strength primary points and 4th in total points per game.
All Crookshank needed was an opportunity and thus far, he’s earned himself one. The former University of New Hampshire forward entered prospect camp as just another prospect and halfway through training camp now seems firmly cemented in the bubble group. DJ Smith showed us as much when he had Crookshank filling in for Mathieu Joseph on the second powerplay unit during a team skate. If you’re the first guy the coach is coming to in that situation, you’ve already proved yourself.
I don’t think we see Crookshank in the opening night lineup in the end. With Brady Tkachuk, Alex DeBrincat, Joseph and Motte certainly ahead of him - not to mention the possibility of Formenton joining this group - Crookshank is on the outside looking in. By the end of the season, I bet he suits up for around 20 games with Ottawa while having a breakout performance for the BSens. If I’m Head Coach Troy Mann, I’m already daydreaming about what Crookshank could accomplish with someone like Ridly Greig in the AHL.