Ottawa Senators Report Cards -- Zack MacEwen

The last entry in our end of year Report Cards

Ottawa Senators Report Cards -- Zack MacEwen
Photo by Taylor Friehl / Unsplash

Editor's note: At long last, we've reached the last of our Report Cards for the Ottawa Senators' 2023-24 season. You can check out a full recap of every grade that we assigned here. Thank you for following along!

Reader Grade: D+ Staff Grade: D+

Zack MacEwen's first season with the Ottawa Senators was turbulent: he missed time due to injury, he was demoted to the AHL, and even when he was in the NHL he struggled to make a positive impact. If Ottawa was expecting a 13th forward when they signed him last off-season, that's basically what they got. But I can only assume that to spend money on a free-agent, and to sign them to a three year deal no less, both parties would be hoping for a little bit more.

MacEwen profiles as a middle-of-the-road fourth liner: he's reasonable defensively, he lays the body at every opportunity, he fights, he has to be sheltered, and the team struggles badly to generate offense when he's on the ice. Here's how Micah McCurdy's model sees him:

Like most fourth liners, MacEwen's not killing you all by himself, but he's not especially helping matters either. It would likely be a problem if he was out there against an opponent's top two lines.

One thing that must be said about MacEwen is that, given some time and space, he can absolutely rip it. His first goal as a Senator (featuring a cameo from Erik Brännström playing forward – remember that?!) is a prime example of his ability to blast one past the goalie:

MacEwen’s first goal with Senators |
BUF@OTT: MacEwen doubles lead with slap shot in 1st period

Here's another example:

OTT@PHI: MacEwen scores goal against Samuel Ersson | Ottawa Senators
OTT@PHI: MacEwen scores goal against Samuel Ersson

Phew, now that's a laser beam.

Unfortunately, those were the only two goals that MacEwen potted all season. It's one thing to be able to absolutely blast it, it's another thing to be able to consistently get into position to fire the shot.

The reason I bring this up is not to make light of MacEwen's abilities – quite the opposite in fact. It's rather to remind ourselves that in the NHL, even the guys at the bottom of the depth chart have real, elite skills. MacEwen scored 31 goals in his last year in junior. When he was sent down to the AHL, he notched five goals and seven points in ten games. By all accounts, he was one of the B-Sens' best offensive players. The difference between a good NHLer and a guy hanging onto at the fringes is small. That extra half second faster that everything moves in the NHL transforms a goal-scorer in junior or the AHL into a fourth line scrapper.

Which brings me to his contract. We've harped on Travis Hamonic's inexplicable deal before, but MacEwen's is just as weird. The AAV is a mere $775k, but he remains signed for two more years. This isn't a case of age-based regression catching up to a formerly productive player, either: MacEwen is 27, theoretically in the prime of his career, and it's not like he profiled as anything but a 13th forward in any prior NHL season. It's not the biggest problem on the Sens' balance sheet, but it's a weird one. Certainly you cannot fault MacEwen for taking the security and running with it. He never shorted the Sens on effort but what you see is what you get.

I don't mean for this write-up to sound overly harsh: I have no indication MacEwen is anything but a hard-working, well-liked teammate and he's not the sole reason that the Sens did not live up to their play-off aspirations. At the same time, MacEwen is typical of Ottawa's weak depth: if the Sens are serious about making the postseason in 2024-25, they don't need to get rid of MacEwen specifically. But they do need to have enough good options for the bottom part of their line-up that he's rarely (if at all) playing. Where he fits into the Sens' depth chart over the next two seasons will be a decent barometer of where the organization is at.

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