As expected when you’re watching a club rebuild from the bottom up, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a good Ottawa Senators team on the ice.
However, with a promising group of young forwards developing in Belleville, as well as numerous picks in the upcoming draft - 5th and 6th overall at the absolute worst - better days are definitely ahead. The Senators’ forward corps will be solid in a few years, but will it be able to strike fear into the hearts of even the top teams in the league? Here’s my argument for why the answer should be an emphatic “YES!!!”.
Over the last decade or so, Ottawa has struggled to put together a top-six worthy of competing for a Cup. The season with the best overall group? I’d go with the one from 2014-15; the Hamburglar run, featuring Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad and Clarke MacArthur. Despite lacking a true #1 centre, they were definitely capable of winning multiple playoff rounds, supplemented by an Erik Karlsson-led defence group, and Craig Anderson’s near-unmatched goaltending. Only a world-class performance by Carey Price (his last playoff series win!) was enough to stop them.
Most other seasons, there were holes that simply weren’t filled. Take the ‘16 and ‘17 seasons, during which the team opted to internally replace the injured MacArthur with Zack Smith and Ryan Dzingel, neither of whom could provide top-six offence at the time. Notably, the organization struggled to draft and develop top-six talent throughout their original 2011 rebuild. Looking back, it’s not hard to see why this team was mediocre for quite a while, despite the star power they had at their disposal.
So, what does the future of the Senators’ offence look like right now? For starters, you have Brady Tkachuk:
He may not be the most flashy player out there, but Brady has all the offensive qualities of a top-six forward, plus he generates higher quality scoring chances than most because of his ability to bully the opposing defence in front of the net.
Also featured on the left wing is Anthony Duclair, who broke out this season with 23 goals and 17 assists in 66 games (49 points in a full season). Not only is he the closest thing to a pure goal scorer on the team, he’s also one of the faster skaters in the league:
Duclair was incredibly streaky this season, scoring one goal in his first eight games, then 20 in his next 29, followed by only two in his final 29. Combined with his history of being traded multiple times and having played for five different organizations early in his career, there are some understandable concerns, but I honestly think that this is simply a matter of luck. His shooting percentage this season was a modest 12.5%, so it doesn’t seem to be a case of him not shooting enough. The pucks were just going in a lot more in the first half of the season.
A pending RFA, Duclair projects to be part of the Senators’ top six for at least the short term. I personally would sign him to a three-year deal this summer and then let him sign elsewhere as a UFA.
I’m sure many would agree that the best prospect currently in the Senators’ system is forward Drake Batherson. He’s put together two dominant seasons in the minors, and he’s added some new elements to his game this year in the form of physicality and two-way ability that have erased many of the concerns surrounding him as a player.
At the centre position, the team is looking to hit it big with Colin White, Josh Norris and Logan Brown. Norris is the one I’m most confident in, as he had quite a better rookie season in Belleville than the other two, and should find instant chemistry with Tkachuk once the former makes the jump to the NHL.
That’s four solid top-six options in the making, but there are still big holes at centre and on the wing. That’s where the two top picks come in.
Even with a worst-case lottery scenario of 5th and 6th overall, Ottawa can still draft centre Marco Rossi, who had 120 points in 56 games this season for the OHL’s Ottawa 67s, and right winger Alexander Holtz, a pure goal scorer whose numbers in Sweden’s top U20 league last season dwarf those of upper echelon talents like William Nylander and Filip Forsberg.
The top-six looks great, but what about the depth? Who will step up when our stars get hurt? Fortunately, GM Pierre Dorion has equipped a fire hose that’s been left running in the prospect pool for quite a while. Sure, guys like Alex Formenton and Rudolfs Balcers aren’t world-beaters, but with their strong play at lower levels, you can see the potential beginning to emerge from that group; guys with a clear NHL future, with a ceiling akin to a middle-six forward, maybe even higher.
Here’s something we can all look forward (no pun intended) to; our lineup in three years could look something like this:
Brady Tkachuk - Josh Norris - Lucas Raymond
Alex Formenton - Colin White - Connor Brown
Nick Paul - Filip Chlapik - Rudolfs Balcers
You’ve got a first-line centre in Byfield, a hell of a power forward in Tkachuk, high-end talent on the wings, and a very capable bottom six among other things. That’s a lineup worth watching. That’s a lineup that’s going to be winning playoff rounds, let alone playoff games. And you just know that D.J. Smith is going to ensure that every single one of them is operating at 110 percent.
You can’t ignore the dark cloud hanging overhead, but you have to put that crap aside when evaluating the on-ice decisions of Senators’ management.
Have they made the right decisions? When it comes to the Senators’ offence, let’s just say that Dorion’s shooting percentage is at a career high.