Ottawa Senators Prospect Awards 2024: Top Newcomer

Ottawa's very thin 2023 draft class still produced some players to watch

Ottawa Senators Prospect Awards 2024: Top Newcomer
Photo by Scott Webb / Unsplash

The Field:

The Senators didn't have any picks in the first three rounds last year and once they did start picking in the later rounds, they made sure to get a little bit of everything. Ottawa took defenders Hoyt Stanley (Cornell) and Andonovski (Kitchener) with the 108th and 140th picks respectively. I can appreciate the urgency of getting a right-shot defender with their first pick, and Stanley had a decent freshman campaign once healthy but ultimately played second fiddle to Andonovski in the Sens' system this year. With their own seventh-rounder (204th overall) the Sens did about as well as you could have hoped, getting centre Owen Beckner who played very well with USHL Tri-City and showed up regularly in our prospect reports. He'll report to Colorado College in the fall for his freshman year. Three picks later, Ottawa drafted my personal choice for this award, goaltender Vladimir Nikitin who settled in nicely with BCHL Chilliwack and had another big year for Kazakhstan's national junior program. Again, you can't expect much more from a seventh-rounder. With their last pick in the draft, Ottawa selected UMass' Nicholas VanTassell who had a rather unremarkable first year in the organization. Ottawa also signed Djibril Toure out of camp and I included him on the ballot. We all enjoyed the feel-good narrative and at an organizational level you really can't have enough right-shot defenders.

Top Newcomer: Matthew Andonovski (37%)

All that to say, I don't know that Andonovski had a tonne of competition here but he did enough to edge out Beckner and Nikitin at the end of the day. At 19 years of age and having played two full OHL seasons, Andonovski's signing rights still belong to the Sens for one more calendar year and I'd give it a high probability that he ends up signing (possibly even this fall if the defender has a good camp). In his second full season in the OHL, Andonovski doubled his production while becoming a fixture for the Rangers' blueline. The Rangers had a decent season, finishing fourth in their conference, winning their first-round matchup against Erie before the formidable London Knights swept Kitchener in round two. In that first round matchup, Andonovski averaged over a shot per game and took just one minor penalty but couldn't carry that momentum into round two. Against London, Andonovski managed just five shots while accumulating 12 PIM in the four-game sweep.

In the regular season, Andonovski scored seven goals (his first in the OHL) and 25 assists through 65 games. He ranked 32nd among OHL defenders in production. If you like plus-minus then I can happily inform you that Andonovski led his peers in that category at +58 (I'll take the low-hanging fruit when it looks that good). And if you like your old-school defenders a la Tyler Kleven then I can also report that Andonovski finished third in the league with 124 PIM. I don't love that Andonovski only registered 67 shots over 65 games in the regular season but he has a reputation as a passer first and he would know better than I would what works for him.

In terms of the intangible stuff, and I think this applies particularly when it comes to shutdown defenders, coaches seem to love Andonovski. Not only has he increasingly earned the trust of Kitchener's coaching staff, other OHL coaches seem to respect the young blueliner too. In the OHL's annual coach's poll, opposing bench bosses voted Andonovski best checker, best penalty killer, and best defensive defender. Those all seem like accolades you would want associated with a defender. Again, it screams Tyler Kleven and having now watched Kleven mature into an NHL defender, I have no issues with the trend. We also saw similar trajectories with Jacob Bernard-Docker and Maxence Guenette. None of them had eye-popping numbers and all of them needed several years to develop but in hindsight I would argue Pierre Dorion did a pretty decent job when it came to identifying these types of defenders especially later in the draft (still keeping tabs on Theo Wallberg too!). Between all the aforementioned names, and Jorian Donovan, and Tomas Hamara, we'll have to wait and see what kind of a role Andonovski can carve out for himself in two or three years' time but for now, he reigns as our top newcomer.

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