Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #6: Josh Norris

Despite an improved system from last year, Josh Norris jumps up 4 spots in 2020 thanks to an All-Star season

6. Josh Norris (Reader Rank: 5, Last Year: 10)

Josh Norris’ stock continues to rise as he moves up four spots from last year despite the fact that 2019-20 was a banner year for prospects plus Ottawa added three more first-round picks.

In his Draft+1 season while in the Sharks organization, he had a respectable 23 points in 37 games at the University of Michigan, but those numbers didn’t scream “future top-6 centre.”  That’s why Senators fans weren’t too high on him when he came over in the Erik Karlsson deal, and understandably so. It almost seemed like he was included simply because he’s best friends with Brady Tkachuk.

However, ever since he’s come to Ottawa, he’s been proving people wrong—a common theme in this organization.

He got off to a great start in his sophomore season by putting up 19 points in 17 games, plus he was excellent at the World Junior Championships with 6 points in 7 games while wearing an ‘A.’ However, he suffered a shoulder injury at some point in the WJC and had to end up getting season-ending surgery before he could return to the NCAA. After a solid 24 games as a Senators prospect, fans were intrigued by Norris, but he was still behind Rudolfs Balcers, Anthony Duclair, Christian Wolanin, Logan Brown, and others in the Top 25 Under 25 series.

So heading into the 2019-20 season, fans were hoping that Norris could take another step forward, but the expectations were probably somewhere along the lines of Colin White’s rookie AHL season (47 point pace per 82 games). Four games into Belleville’s season, Norris was held off the scoresheet and was a -5...perhaps it was going to be a rough rookie season for the 2017 first-rounder.

Then the very next game he made his entrance into the professional ranks by scoring a powerplay goal and adding two assists. From that point forward, he scored 31 goals and had 30 assists in a 51-game stretch. Even his overall numbers of 61 points in 56 games were incredibly impressive, as that translates to 89 points per 82 games. Furthermore, after his first four games, he only had 13 games where he was held pointless, and he was only held without a point in back-to-back games once. Once! That just shows how remarkably consistent Norris was the entire season.

Norris ended up 4th overall in scoring and earned AHL First Team All-Star honours at the end of the season. Not only that, he easily won rookie of the year, as the only other player that came close was teammate Alex Formenton who was still 8 points behind in 5 more games played.

His 2019-20 season simply could not have gone any better, and it is a massive development for the Senators that he clearly has the potential to be a second-line centre for them moving forward. He ended up getting a cup of coffee in Ottawa while being held off the scoresheet in 3 games, but perhaps he has the same beginning as he did in Belleville...

It is important to note that Norris did have a good situation around him as well as some good luck. Belleville was the best offensive team in the league and he got to play with forwards such as Drake Batherson, Rudolfs Balcers, Vitaly Abramov, Filip Chlapik, and Alex Formenton, so it was much easier than in other years where the AHL team was filled with mediocre veterans. Having said that, Norris seems to have been one of the drivers of that offense, so he still deserves a ton of credit for the incredible season he had.

The other aspect of “luck” last year was that his shooting percentage was 19.4%, which is definitely not sustainable at the NHL level. For reference, Alex Killorn led the league in SH% (min. 50 GP) last year at 20%, with just five players shooting better than 19.4%. The active leader in career SH% is Steven Stamkos at just 16.89%. The point is, I wouldn't expect Norris to be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, even if that means he can still be a very good player.

For the upcoming season, he has a chance to make the NHL roster and he will most likely be battling with Logan Brown for the last centre spot. Chris Tierney, Colin White, and Artem Anisimov are locks, so Norris certainly has an opportunity to make it if he can showcase why he deserves a chance over Brown. With the news about teams being able to have a “taxi squad,” I’d be shocked if Norris wasn’t on that.

I feel like that’s perfect for him because that way he will be readily available if they want to scratch someone like Anisimov or Brown and he will get a chance to be with the pros for a while. In all honesty, he’s ready for the NHL but the question is if there is room right now. I hope he can get into at least 10-15 games in this shortened season because it would be nice to have him pencilled into the lineup heading into 2021-22.

Moving forward, I’m not counting on Norris to be an elite player. At the same time, I think he has the potential to be somewhat similar value-wise to Kyle Turris, in the sense that he can be a very good 2C and perhaps even a low-end 1C if need be. If he keeps exponentially improving like he has been the last two seasons though, who knows how good he can become.

I can’t wait to see him finally a part of this team—especially on a line with his best buddy, Brady.

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