Ottawa’s Top Young Core, the Future of the Atlantic & More

It’s the final Friday in August which means we are mere weeks away from the Rookie Tournament, training camp and preseason games. But, for now, it’s still August and there isn’t a ton to talk about that hasn’t already been talked about.

That being said, I always have thoughts! Here are five that have been going through my brain this week.

On Pronman’s U23 Rankings

Yesterday, Corey Pronman wrapped up his annual U23 Pipeline rankings, where Ottawa finished in the top five for the second year running. With some players graduating, it’s quite impressive to see that Ottawa’s pipeline is still this strong. Fans get to watch a team that has a top 5 system where players like Drake Batherson, Alex DeBrincat, Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub aren’t qualified to be part of the ranking? That’s not too shabby, at all.

From Pronman’s ranking of the Senators U23 pipeline, there were two things that stood out to me. First, Pronman has Egor Sokolov as the highest ranked non-NHLer (yes, I’m already counting Jake Sanderson, ranked third, as an NHLer. He’ll be on the roster on opening night, I promise). Sokolov is an interesting player to me because he has all the tools you’d want in a player to become an NHLer with the exception of pace - and that hole, for me, is glaring. Sokolov’s skating just isn’t up to a standard where he can make an impact at the top of an NHL lineup. The problem is everything else about his game says to me he probably should be able to compete at the top of an NHL lineup. He has the shot, he has the hockey sense, he wins battles. If he can get his skating up at least three notches from where it is, he has a shot at being a big power winger in the top six.

Second, Pronman has 2022 third round pick Tomas Hamara ranked ahead of 2021 first round pick Tyler Boucher and 2018 first round pick Jacob Bernard-Docker. This stands out not because I’m about to knock on either Boucher or Bernard-Docker but because Hamara appears to have quickly gone from third round pick to potential steal without playing that much hockey for opinions to change. Perhaps that is more of a reflection of how Pronman feels Boucher and JBD will turn out rather than how good Hamara really is, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

On the Future of the Atlantic

While it’s fantastic to be excited about the Senators having such a fantastic U23 pipeline, Pronman’s work also comes with some concerns. Why? Well, the top two teams ranked by Pronman are Buffalo and Detroit. Oh, and also, Montreal is #7. This means that of the top 7 U23 pipelines in the NHL, four of them are in the Atlantic Division.

This signals both a concern about Ottawa entering their window but also that the tides are turning in the Atlantic Division. Of course teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay still have fantastic rosters today but Toronto (20th) and Tampa Bay (31st) don’t have a lot of talent coming down the pipe. Florida, in my opinion, got a bit worse this offseason overall and their U23 players ranked 25th by Pronman. Boston is only getting older and their last place finish in Pronman’s rankings signals that once the Brad Marchand’s and Patrice Bergeron’s of the world age out, they might be looking at a rebuild.

Luckily, I think Ottawa’s current team is better than any of Buffalo, Detroit or Montreal and they also have the fifth best U23 group, so they’re likely to be the first team to take advantage of one of the above teams declining. That being said, over the next few years, the Atlantic is looking more and more like a blood bath.

On the Dog Days of Contracts

This is an interesting time of year, despite the complete lack of news. With the one year, $1.5M deal the Vegas Golden Knights signed with Phil Kessel on Wednesday, there is still a relatively long list of free agents out there. Training camp is a mere few weeks away and there are a number of players who either need to get a contract soon or will be finding themselves either heading overseas or hitting the PTO list as camp opens up.

With Ottawa’s roster and cap restraints, it’s unlikely that we see any of these free agents land in Canada’s Capital but there are even a few options that could be had at a discount, should Pierre Dorion be able to pull off his final offseason magic trick by moving Nikita Zaitsev’s contract off the books.

Ottawa’s biggest question remains on the right side of the blueline and there are some veteran options to think about. First is PK Subban. Of course, the PK Subban of 2022 is not the PK Subban of 2015. That being said, he could still be a serviceable third line partner at 33 years of age after posting 22 points in 77 games last season. Most recently suiting up for the Arizona Coyotes, veteran right shot rearguard Anton Strålman is also available. At 35 years of age, his prime games are certainly behind him but you could do a lot worse than him as a depth addition to this blueline.

While they won’t be on the radar in Ottawa, there are also a number of forward options out there. Evan Rodrigues, Sonny Milano and Viktor Rask remain unsigned while the Best To Ever Lace Em Up, Tyler Ennis, is also on the market for a new home. Of these players, the first two are most intriguing. Rodrigues and Milano are both coming off a 0.52 pts/gp season, career highs for both forwards who are still in their 20s. I’m guessing their respective teams have run out of cap space and are hoping they can bring these two players back on a discount while each is looking for more on the market. With rosters starting to settle down, it feels inevitable that these two get a one year contract in the coming days with a new club.

On Sens Prospects at the WJC

Last weekend the weird August World Junior Championship wrapped up with Ridly Greig and Zack Ostapchuk earning Gold Medals. They weren’t the only Sens prospects who walked away with some hardware as they topped Roby Järventie and Levi Meriläinen in the gold medal game.

I won’t pretend that I watched every game of this tournament. At the end of the day, it’s August, I have a toddler and most of the games I cared to watch (ones which involved Sens prospects) were scheduled for 6pm EST - which is, as my fellow toddler parents know, right in the middle of dinner/bath/bed time. That being said, of what I was able to catch, the two biggest standouts for me were Ostapchuk and Järventie.

I know what you’re thinking... what about Greig? To be frank, I expected Greig to be as good as he was. I watched him in Belleville for that short stint, I watched a lot of his WHL games this year. He’s a dominant, pesky little jerk on the ice and he was always going to be Canada’s perfect 3C at this tournament.

For Ostapchuk, he went from not being invited to the team when this tournament was originally supposed to happen, to being added as an extra skater, to playing in every single game of the tournament. What impressed me most about his game was, yes I’m going to use that cliché, his compete level. While he wasn’t playing top minutes nor did he have the best linemates on the team, there were very few, if any, instances where I saw Ostapchuk take his foot off the pedal while he was on the ice. What’s even more exciting was how well it appeared Ostapchuk and Greig played together. Both are tenacious forecheckers who use their size and speed to their advantage to win battles and retrieve pucks. If that translates one day to Ottawa, that would be a great third line duo for years to come.

For Järventie, I said before the tournament started that what we needed to see from the young Finn was an incredibly tournament. After having just turned 20 at the beginning of this month, Järventie already has 127 professional games of hockey under his belt between Liiga and the AHL. In a tournament where much of his competition is still playing against other teenagers, Red Light Roby needed to be one of Finland’s biggest contributors. While he wasn’t on the top line and didn’t receive the largest share of minutes, he completed the tournament tied for fifth with Kent Johnson in scoring with nine points through seven games. After a respectable 33 point rookie campaign with Belleville last season, I’m expecting Järventie to be a powerhouse in the BSens’ top six this year, leading their top powerplay unit with his excellent play off the wall.

On Reverse Retros

There have been some leaks regarding the next edition of the Reverse Retro jerseys and they’ve brought in some interesting. Friend of the blog (probably?) Mike Gould did a good job of bringing some of the leaks together in a thread.

For me, I’m excited that Buffalo appears to be bringing back the other Sabres logo which I grew up watching while I couldn’t be more thrilled that the Fisherman is back, despite how much the Isles fanbase apparently hates it.

For Ottawa, these leaks didn’t really give us... anything.

It’s a black t-shirt with the current logo on it which is just... Ottawa’s current home set up. In the first round of Reverse Retro jerseys, all Ottawa really did was release their current style on a red jersey to go with their black home and white away jerseys. This time around, I think people were expecting a throwback to “the O”, maybe the Senagoth, possibly the SNES logo... and, in some cases, I saw a few people longing for a return to the logo displayed when the NHL returned to Ottawa in the 90s.

For me, I’m happy they’re sticking with their current logo but I’m definitely hoping they splash it onto a fun jersey of some kind. Maybe the barber pole or perhaps putting the current logo on some form of the Senagoth jersey. I think, though, the most likely scenario sees the team bring an almost identical version of this back.

Here’s to hoping they also bring the JOFA bucket and mitts back, too.

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