Year in Review: Drake Batherson

It was a good, if bumpy, year for the Drake

We’re debuting a new feature today where we look back at the year that was for each member of the Ottawa Senators. We’ll go through their stats, talk about the story of their season, and we’ll look forward to what their role might be in the future. We’re limiting ourselves to players that are still with the team, and those that played at least 10 games during the 2021 campaign. That means no Jacob Bernard-Docker, but we will include Shane Pinto for example. We’ll also proceed alphabetically by last name, so we’re starting with Drake Batherson as Michael Amadio (insufficient games played) and Artem Anisimov (likely not returning) don’t qualify.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

By the Numbers:

Batherson had already played 43 NHL games across two prior seasons when 2021 got underway, but this was the first year that he entered training camp virtually assured of his place on the opening night roster. Batherson took full advantage of the opportunity, notching 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 56 games — good for fourth on  the team, just two behind Brady Tkachuk’s team leading 36 points. The Sens managed a 47.71 CF% at 5-on-5 with Batherson on the ice, but were virtually break-even by xGF at 49.96%. Here’s how Hockeyviz’s model assessed his offensive and defensive impact:

Probably unsurprisingly, Batherson ranks as a positive contributor on offense, and a slightly negative contributor defensively. He was also a helpful presence on a power play that struggled mightily at times. As far as linemates go, Batherson spent the most time with Josh Norris at centre with a nearly even divide Tkachuk and Tim Stützle as his left left winger. Chris Tierney was also a frequent linemate of Batherson’s.

Story of the season:

The story of the season for Batherson was one of proving himself at the highest level. After this 2019-20 AHL campaign in which he absolutely shredded the league, there was not much left to accomplish in the minor leagues. It seems obvious with hindsight, but there were still some lingering questions about how Batherson would fare in a full-time top six role in the NHL. By season’s end, those questions were answered but even early in the season Batherson’s struggles to light the lamp were causing some questions around the team. You may recall that Bruce Garrioch suggested during an intermission panel in early February that Batherson’s scuffling start might cause the Sens to consider making him a healthy scratch. How close this came to being a reality is probably not something we can ever know, but it is true that his ice-time was a paltry 12:51 on February 8th against the Oilers.

Batherson responded to the adversity by exploding for seven goals and three assists in a six game span; briefly setting the team record for most consecutive games with a goal. His scoring touch re-discovered, we never heard another peep about the possibility of a benching and it’s safe to say that his spot at the top of the Ottawa line-up seems assured for now.

Batherson’s season is also closely connected to that of Norris and Tkachuk, who together cemented themselves as the teams’ top trio with their play down the stretch. The young trio earned DJ Smith’s trust as the season went on, and they were leaned upon heavily not just to generate offense but also to protect leads late in the game; they were also trusted to handle more defensive zone starts and play against the opponent’s top lines. This is the natural evolution of a young team, and I’d expect the trend to continue next year. A big part of whether Ottawa can take another step forward will depend on their newly cemented top line being able to hold their own against the league’s best each night.

Future Outlook:

Through a combination of his own strong play and Evegenii Dadonov’s struggles, Batherson has positioned himself at the top of the Sens’ depth chart at right wing and is a central cog for the team’s power-play. With the expectation that 2021-2022 will bring a return to something resembling a normal season, next year should Batherson’s first full 82 game season with the team.

He’s in an interesting contract situation in that he’s an RFA and as aforementioned he does not have an extensive track record in the NHL with less than 100 games to his credit. Since he’s something of a late bloomer, Batherson’s already 23 and probably already in his prime. As an RFA there’s no real reason for concern that he won’t be with the team for several years to come, but that’s not to say that this won’t be something of a tricky negotiation; the Sens will likely argue he hasn’t proven he’s a top flight guy in the NHL but Batherson can also rightly say that’s how he’ll be deployed next year. This will definitely be one to watch.

At this point the biggest question with Batherson is whether he can take yet another leap forward. He’s improved virtually every year since the team drafted him in the 4th round in 2017. He’s shown he can hold his own at the top level, and that he can create enough offense to be a meaningful contributor. Is there yet another gear? Sens fans are dying to find out.

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