Last season, the NHL was introduced to Thomas Chabot. This season, the opposite is happening. Despite coming into the season with 134 NHL games under his belt, the young All-Star is being relied on for the first time in his career to shut down the opposition’s top lines each and every game. Per NaturalStatTrick, which handily stores each player’s time-on-ice and shot metrics against each member of the opposing team, Chabot’s most common opposing lines have been some of the most dangerous around the NHL; Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, Lee-Barzal-Bailey and Stamkos-Point-Kucherov for example. He and his partner Nikita Zaitsev have posted poor 5v5 Corsi% numbers (46.68 and 42.35 respectively) but are not getting scored on at an alarming rate, which is good. I would like to see Zaitsev swapped with Dylan DeMelo to see if the team improves overall; Chabot-DeMelo was a fantastic pair for the Sens last year (relatively speaking) and some heavier defensive deployment and PK time will be a good test for them.
Beyond His Years
If you take a look at Erik Brannstrom’s rookie season thus far, the first thing you may notice is his minimal offensive production; only 1 assist in 14 games. The second thing you’ll notice is that the kid is not just alright, but surprisingly adept in his own end. Playing in sheltered minutes primarily alongside Ron Hainsey, his 5v5 Corsi For% of 50.80 is the best on the team among defensemen. Watching him in his own end, he doesn’t stand out in a good or bad way from the rest of our d-corps; the fact that as a 20-year old defensemen he’s barely noticeable is a good sign that he’ll be a really good defender for us in the future. His place on the team is fairly stable at the moment, at least until either Max Lajoie or Christian Jaros begin standing out in Belleville, so Brannstrom’s still got some time to find his way offensively.
Tons of Traffic up Front
Quite a bit has changed since Pierre Dorion began his search on the trade market for more forward depth. Nick Paul and Logan Brown have both stepped up and have been NHL-caliber players in the games they’ve played. Additionally, Artem Anisimov has returned from injury as a viable option in the bottom six. Once Logan Brown, Rudolfs Balcers, Scott Sabourin and Colin White become healthy, there could be a scenario in which we have 16 forwards up with the team. If that happens, I’d expect Filip Chlapik, J.C. Beaudin and the recently recalled Jonathan Davidsson to be returned to Belleville, along with Brown and Balcers for conditioning. If the latter two are called back up to the NHL, someone else may be moved. I doubt that any teams will take on Bobby Ryan or Mikkel Boedker even with salary retention, but Tyler Ennis and Chris Tierney are both guys who could be traded to make room for younger players.
Can We Keep Just One of Our Beloved Players? Please?
I’ve mentioned before just how much Jean-Gabriel Pageau means to the organization and its fans. He’s given us fantastic two-way play against the NHL’s best, as well as multiple playoff hat-tricks, and is currently on fire with 4 goals in his last 3 games. He is much more valuable than a prototypical third-line centre in the NHL. The Senators could trade him at a premium at the deadline and possibly add a third first round pick, which I would be thrilled with, but having a veteran like him who can lead this young team and play in the top six upon injury is critical, especially with the uncertainty surrounding our promising centre prospects. He’s the ideal captain for this team in my mind, and the predecessor to Brady Tkachuk. The organization should do all they can to sign him to the best contract possible, I’d be happy with a 2-3 year deal at 4.5 million/year.
A Head Coach Over a Decade in the Making
I’m fully aware that many of us were singing Guy Boucher’s praises all through the 2016-17 season before “The System” imploded right before our eyes the following year. I’m not going to make the same mistake by crowing D.J. Smith as the best coach we’ve had since the legendary Bryan Murray, 15 games into the season. Even so, with the roster he’s been given he’s done pretty much everything expected of him, as well as a couple of things we didn’t expect. Yes, the Sens have won 5 of 15 games and are 15th in the Eastern Conference. However, they also have a lot going for them; their goal differential of minus-9 is surprisingly decent for a team this low in the standings (they’re 18th in the NHL in team SV% in all situations with 90.41). All of their wins have been convincing, and quite a few of their losses, particularly against the Blues and Rangers have been competitive as well. For those of you who are fans of xGF%, they’ve been the better team in 8 of their 15 games played. It’s obviously early in the season but Smith has demonstrated that he knows how to get the most out of his roster (he’s not afraid to scratch $10.5M worth of underperforming players), and I’m honestly excited to see what he’ll be able to do if some of our prospects and one (maybe two?) top 10 pick emerge as core players.