Weekly Question: What are you hoping to see from the final month of the season?

Faced with <em>another</em> up-and-down year, DJ Smith and co. have to be looking ahead to 2021-22.

The Ottawa Senators appear destined for their fourth consecutive finish in the bottom-five in league standings. They’re one of four teams with a goal differential worse than -40, and while they’ve played promising hockey at times this season — especially at home — let’s not kid ourselves: this is Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers territory. It’s a set of performances I never thought I’d experience when I became a fan of the team in the early-00s, or even after watching the up-and-down years of the 2010s, where the team would alternate playoff appearances.

Despite that, we’re being fed the message that the team is on the upswing. While I don’t expect people in hockey to ever come out and outright bash another franchise, this season has showed that the young players on this team are legitimately bursting with potential despite having a misidentified “supporting” cast holding them back.

So, dear reader, while you’re avidly searching for information on the 2021 NHL Draft like I am, I think it’s important to set our own expectations for the team. It’s a way to hold them accountable in our own hearts, and keep our critical thinking caps on while we look for signs of growth.

In the remaining 14 games, what are you hoping to see from the Ottawa Senators?

Here’s my list:

14 games played for Erik Brännström, Artem Zub, Alex Formenton, Michael Amadio, and Vitaly Abramov.

DJ Smith has jerked around one of the team’s star blueline prospects quite a bit this season, and while there’s evidence that — like Drake Batherson last season — Brännström could use some additional AHL time, there’s something to be said to putting him a position where he can succeed, especially with this blueline. I have Zub listed because a right-shot defender is going to have to come out for Bernard-Docker to get in the lineup, and under no circumstances should Zub be the one removed.

Formenton and the newly-acquired Amadio are already up with the NHL squad and those two should continue to play, even at the expense of fan favourites Ryan Dzingel and Clark Bishop, or a veteran like Artem Anisimov. If you’ve been reading Spencer’s BSens updates and the prospect reports put together by Owen and Shaan like I have, Vitaly Abramov has been Belleville’s most consistent forward this season, and at age-22, deserves a shot heading into the offseason as a pending RFA.

~10 games with 12+ minutes of ice-time for Jacob Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto.

It sounds like JBD was going to sign no matter what, but it was the allure of NHL games that sold Pinto on leaving college after his award-winning sophomore season. Based on some media interviews, it sounds like Smith has told Pinto that he’d play centre for the big squad when he’s in, and it’ll be interesting to see how minutes are distributed if the trade deadline is quiet and Colin White returns to the lineup.

Colin White returning from injury and continuing his strong season — whether that’s at centre or at right-wing.

This was a big year for Colin White, and while it started off shaky and he’s missed some time recently due to injury, White’s been a strong contributor in terms of his impact on shots and goals. While there’s certainly room for Norris, White, and Pinto to all play centre, I wonder if there’s a discussion about moving White into Nick Paul’s current right-wing role alongside Brady and Norris to put him in a position like he was in when he starred for the U.S. U20 squad at the World Juniors. A dependable, two-way winger with a balanced profile suits Tkachuk and Norris, and I’d rather see someone with White’s skill in that spot over Paul.

A split crease for Marcus Högberg.

It was so nice to see Högberg have a strong start in his return to Ottawa this past week. I would’ve hated for 10 poor games to erase the progress he’s shown over the last two seasons in the organization. While the team is committed to Matt Murray and there are young ‘tenders in Daccord and Gustavsson making Högberg’s status uncertain heading into an offseason where he’s in need of a new contract, I hope he’s given a shot to force the team into a difficult decision. It’ll be important to have depth, especially if a goaltender is who the organization loses to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.

What are you hoping to see happen? Let us know in the comments!

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