#5: Josh Norris (Reader Rank: 5; Last Year: 4)
Josh Norris was a much-needed bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming season last year. Initially billed as a defensively responsible, pass-first centre with a high floor but a low ceiling, Norris blossomed into nearly the exact opposite of that in 2021-22; earning himself a nice 8-year contract in the process.
It’s almost hard to believe given how things worked out, but this time last year, a lot of us were wringing our hands about the Sens needing to trade for a real first-line centre so that Norris could be moved down to the second line. We didn’t even know he was the biggest himbo in Sens history. How times have changed.
Norris was coming off a season where he had been on pace for a modest but respectable 25 points, 25 assists and 50 points. What really stood out about Norris in his rookie season was his two-way game. As this hockeyviz chart illustrates, he was pretty good at limiting chances against, especially around the net, but not that great at creating chances for his team (red means more shots and blue means fewer shots, so you always want lots of red in the offensive zone and lots of blue in the defensive zone).
Compare that to Norris’s heatmap from 2021-22:
As you can see, Norris made a sharp heel turn from a low-event player in both ends to a more high-event player in his sophomore season. The amount of red on his chart says that the team was giving up a lot of chances with him on the ice, and also getting a lot of chances in the offensive zone.
When he wasn’t singing High School Musical songs on the ice or serving looks in the press box, he was showing off his absolutely lethal one-timer, as he found the back of the net a whopping 35 times in just 66 games, his season of course being shortened because of a mid-season shoulder injury.
It is, frankly, baffling and fascinating to see a player make a complete 180 like that, but there are some factors that can at least explain it.
For one, the most obvious: the North Division, where Norris played his first season, was bad. The American centreman was playing most of his minutes against pretty weak teams. It makes sense that he would be able to keep his head above water in the North Division and then struggle against more difficult competition.
The sudden increase in goal scoring might just be a confidence thing. Norris got to start the 2021-22 season as the go-to powerplay guy and the first line centre, and with a half season under his belt already was probably given more leash to do whatever he wanted offensively. The defense might have suffered, but it’s so good to know that Norris has this kind of offensive firepower in him; snipers aren’t easy to come by.
We all know how successful the Tkachuk-Norris-Batherson line was when they were together, but what really impressed me about Josh Norris last season was how well he played after Batherson’s injury. In their 369:36 of 5v5 ice time without Batherson, Norris and Tkachuk did better in every offensive and defensive category except goals for and goals against, according to Natural Stat Trick. What this suggests is that those two were not relying on Batherson as much as their numbers at the beginning of the season might have suggested, and actually did a decent job of driving play on their own. When all of the underlying numbers are positive, the goals will eventually come.
Never bet against a duo that gets together to sing Mr. Brightside at a bar after a loss to their biggest rival.
It’ll be very interesting to see how Norris does on this new and improved top 6 the Sens have built. With DeBrincat in the mix, Norris won’t be the only sniper on the team, and might not be their first option on the powerplay either. Plus, with a solid top 9, the forwards will be able to share the workload a little more and Norris’s line won’t have to take all the difficult assignments anymore.
My possibly unpopular take: it’s very likely that Tim Stützle overtakes him on the depth chart as early as this season. But Norris has still proven himself capable of centering the first line, and that’s excellent news for the team’s future at the centre position.
The best case scenario is that Norris keeps up his goal scoring ways and regains his defensive impact, becoming a true two-way centreman. A more realistic scenario is probably that he comes back down to earth a little bit offensively but works on his defensive game. This player has surprised us plenty of times before, however, so you never know.
One area of his game we can all agree needs a lot of work, though? His pumpkin carving skills.