With the way that the Ottawa Senators roster is constructed, Pierre Dorion has his work cut out for him if he wants to actually compete next year.
A lot of that is his own doing, but it’s not as if the Senators are some talentless void that has to build up from rubble. As I have said since last year, this team has some very good players that need to be surrounded with better role players who can not only hold their own, but actually play well. And part of that equation includes a top part of the forward group that has been very solid.
The Senators are only 23rd in the league in goals per game, but it’s not all bad news: the quartet of Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel have been incredibly effective, giving some hope for next season. If Derick Brassard was still here it would look even better, but I’m still pretty happy with those four in the top-six moving forward.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how these four have performed.
The most obvious difference with the Senators in the past few months has been the tremendous chemistry between Hoffman and Duchene. In their past two games they have both been held pointless, but in the previous 22 games, Hoffman had 10 goals and 11 assists, and Duchene had 11 goals and 13 assists. 12 of those games have been without Stone, making their play even more impressive.
If Duchene’s play with Hoffman has convinced the organization that Hoffman shouldn’t be traded, then perhaps giving up a 1st round pick in the Turris trade was worth it after all. The two are a buzzsaw together, and when they’re sometimes with Dzingel, it must be one of the fastest lines in the league.
As for Dzingel, his 13 assists leave something to be desired, but hitting the 20+ goal plateau is a phenomenal accomplishment for the 26-year old. I don’t think he’s more than a 40 point player, but as a 2nd line left-winger that brings a ton of speed, I’m pretty happy with that. As for his high 17.7% shooting percentage, my colleague Colin Cudmore quashed the idea that he’s bound for heavy regression:
Career breakdown— Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) March 10, 2018
2017-18 (NHL): 17.4% (109 shots)
2016-17 (NHL): 11.4% (123 shots)
2015-16 (NHL): 13.0% (23 shots)
2015-16 (AHL): 10.9% (110 shots)
2014-15 (AHL): 16.5% (103 shots)
2013-14 (AHL): 14.3% (14 shots)
2013-14 (NCAA): 18.8% (117 shots)
2012-13 (NCAA): 15.8% (101 shots)
He also sits 42nd amongst left-wingers in points per game (0.48), which is comfortably in the top-62 to be considered “top-six” by definition.
I’ve saved the best for last and that is of course Mark Stone. Stone’s missed the last 13 games due to injury, but his 62 points in 58 games are nothing short of a miracle considering how bad this team has been. He’s been so good that he’s tied with Sidney Crosby and Jakub Voracek for 15th in the league in points per game, and is 8th in the league in points per 60.
He’s also just wickedly good at everything else on the ice that can’t be quantified, as it’s pretty much impossible to point out a big weakness in his game. Everybody knows this by now, but it always bears repeating just how awesome it is to watch him play. With his sensational play this season, Ottawa has actually gotten some good contributions from their top forwards, especially as of late.
Overall, this group of four isn’t elite by any means, but they’re respectable.
Going by the textbook definition of “top-six,” there are actually five scorers in the top-186 in points per game and their ranks are 17th, 71st, 86th, 151st, and 167th. Like I said, it can be better, but this team hasn’t had much to work with, and I think it’s quite easy to improve the overall offense with the assets they have.
Besides those top four, Bobby Ryan isn’t that bad (somehow actually tied with Duchene for 2nd on the team in points/60), although the biggest issue with him is his health. Jean-Gabriel Pageau certainly has some skill and looks much better when he isn’t playing with anchors, but on a good team, he should be on the third line.
While I’d ideally have two new additions in the top-six to push Ryan and Pageau down the lineup, it’s not as if those two lines are terrible. Hoffman-Duchene-Stone have the ability to match up against the best of the best, but what’s missing is another top weapon on the second line, and that’s what will bring Ottawa back to respectability. Who could that be then?
Enter Logan Brown. Or Drake Batherson. Or Colin White. Or Filip Chlapik. Ottawa has to hope that one of their top forward prospects can break into the league as a 45+ point player, because if they can easily add to their top six without spending anything, that is a massive boost. Brown played only 32 games in the OHL this year, but he was 8th in the league in points per game (1.5), and it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be a solid player as soon as next season.
I’m not sure if I expect any of their other forward prospects to be impactful scorers in the future, but they have a decent amount of lottery picks that could turn into at least a few good players.
Ottawa still needs to do a much better job at identifying good depth players, but at least they have some top players to build around. And with prospects like Brown, White, Batherson, and Chlapik very close to the NHL, it’s fun to dream on the top three lines that could look something like this:
Obviously three of these prospects panning out is unlikely, but the point is that there’s at least some hope with the forwards. With a bit of luck in regards to prospect progression and perhaps the addition of one ~40 point player, all of a sudden the forwards might not look so bad after all.
Not much has gone right this season, but at least the top forwards have played great, and there’s reason to hope that it will keep getting better.