#4: Josh Norris (Last year: 6, Reader Rank: 4)
On September 13th 2018, our sibling site Fear the Fin ranked Josh Norris ninth in their annual Top 25 Under 25 (make sure to check out the comments section from that article!), the very same day that the San Jose Sharks sent Norris’ NHL rights to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Erik Karlsson trade. Three years later, almost to the day, Norris has reached his highest ranking yet, coming in fourth this season in Ottawa. How could we have known at the time how our minds would change? Largely a scouting report, that 2018 entry from Fear the Fin attempted to convert some of his detractors and praised Norris as the type of prospect who can become a complete player who plays a defensively sound game in all situations even without much in the way of offensive flair (scouts saw Norris going late-first to early-second round in the entry draft).
Not unlike the Stefan Noesens and Curtis Lazars of yesteryear, some fans didn’t get especially excited on draft day in 2017 for a high-floor, questionable-ceiling type pick like Norris in the first round. When Norris came over to Ottawa, Ary did a good job elaborating on the scouting report acknowledging Norris’ reputation as more of a floor- than ceiling-pick who drew comparisons to Colin White as another pass-first, true two-way centre. Ary did also include the fact that Norris absolutely crushed it at the scouting combine, standing head and shoulders above his peers in terms of strength and conditioning, and explained that the Sharks “reached” on draft day based on said physical attributes.
A dominant showing at the World Juniors (albeit cut short by injury) and a likewise short but sweet sophomore season at NCAA Michigan saw Norris come in tenth on our rankings (much deeper farm system in Ottawa than San Jose noted) in 2019. Up until this point, the reports still held true to what he had read about Norris since he came over in the blockbuster from San Jose. Then in 2020, Norris went off in his first professional season winning Rookie of the Year honours, putting him in some pretty unique, if disparate, company as explained by Spencer. Based on those astronomical and somewhat unforeseen results, Norris, the AHL first-team all-star justly soared to sixth on our rankings in 2020.
This past season, you the readers and we the staff awarded Norris the title of Most Improved Prospect for a second consecutive year as he made the seamless transition (just as he had from NCAA to AHL) to the NHL playing against some of the best in the world and earning the distinction of NHL All-Rookie team member. Beyond his impressive rookie point production, Norris played sound defence in his rookie season in the NHL and became Ottawa’s de facto number-one centre. We crowned Norris our Most Valuable Prospect here at the site, stealing the title from linemate Drake Batherson. For those in need of a refresher of the numbers behind Norris’ remarkable rookie season in the NHL, Nate’s Year in Review piece explained the ways in which we saw Norris develop in real time into an NHLer.
Entering the last year of his entry level contract, we’ll see if Norris can maintain or improve his pace of about 25 goals and 50 points per 82 games at age-22 with a prevalent role on a team looking to take the next step in its rebuild. And if I may pick up where I left off in Batherson’s write-up yesterday, Norris can teach us something about drafting based on tools as well as point totals. Norris looks like the prototypical Pierre Dorion draft pick despite getting drafted by a completely different organization. Despite the modest numbers, the Sharks reached on Norris because of his physical attributes and his toolkit, and look at him now.
If you’ve read enough of my articles then you’ll know that I consider Colin White a pretty decent floor to aspire to when it comes to forward prospects. Everything on top of that is gravy. And while the Senators will always inevitably whiff on some draft picks, the development of both Batherson and Norris should inspire those who doubt some of Ottawa’s more unorthodox selections at recent drafts. As a numbers person, I love when this team makes me eat my words about questionable picks. Norris has delivered on his pre-draft promise of playing sound, all-situation hockey with confidence and composure. And at each level, as Norris has gotten his skates under him, he has shown the ability to open up his game and provide offence to complement his structured style.
Somewhere within all the chaos, a pattern has formed here.