Retrospective: Looking Back at the 2019 Assessment of the Sens Farm System

I’ve been away from the Sens and hockey for a couple of years (funnily enough, the last thing I wrote was a profile of Scott Sabourin). I never wrote about why I did, but there were two reasons: 1) unhappiness with management/the organization (something that hasn’t changed), 2) The NHL’s unwillingness to open the game up–I grew up in the 1980s and while the game is ‘better’ now, the excitement of that high scoring era is not matched (the peak, for me, is the ’87 Canada Cup finals). The NBA and the NFL have (at different speeds) realized that what fans want most is scoring, but the NHL remains far behind making that adjustment. The clutch and grab era may be dead, but despite all the speed of the modern NHL, scoring struggles continue.

So what’s prompted me to write now? No specific reason, although I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. The last couple of years of my Sens coverage was focused on prospects and I think to learn and judge analysis requires reflection. I wanted to see just how well I did in assessing Ottawa’s farm system back in 2019. I tackled it in reference to rankings from The Athletic‘s Pronman and I’ll reflect on both his and my comments. To make this visually easier, those whose development was predicted correctly are in green and those not in red, and where it’s unclear, as it frequently is, I’ve left it as-is. My bias: I value offense over defense, since the former is rare and the latter can be learned.

3. Alex Formenton (2-47/17)
Had an excellent first season in Belleville (0.86ppg), with a solid debut in Ottawa (0.30).
Pronman (& scouts) were uncertain about his skill level at the highest level, with the thinking being he’d be a third line center who could kill penalties. My issue with him was simply how early he was picked given that limited upside, but it’s still too early to judge his ceiling.

5. Josh Norris (Acquired from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson trade)
An excellent rookie season in Belleville (1.09), and an impressive NHL rookie season (0.62).
My fear was that Norris had been buoyed by talented teammates and fall to third-line production without, but it seems like that’s a concern we can wave away at this stage. This was both Pronman and the scouts contention as well, but clearly the Sens saw more in him than most and thus far they have been right. I still think there’s some suggestion that his numbers are boosted by his linemates (both in Belleville and Ottawa), but not in the sense that he’s drag on them (so he’s more like Dan Quinn than Warren Young, to make a reference maybe 5% of you will get).

8. Jakob Bernard-Docker (1-26/18)
Continued to do well in the NCAA (0.78 and 0.66) and made his brief debut.
Scouts and Pronman saw him as a safe, two-way, top-four defensemen. My quibble with him was (again) when he was picked given his upside (the Sens have drafted an abundance of players within that category). We really don’t know what he is yet, but his NCAA numbers imply modest pro production.

11. Filip Chlapik (2-48/15)
Equaled his production (0.60) at the AHL level while not offering much in limited time in half an NHL season. Unhappiness this past season saw the Sens let him go and he played the end of the year in the Finnish league.
There were a lot of questions when he was drafted and Pronman was not impressed, but broadly speaking his offensive side never did quite meet expectations (my concern that his QMJHL production had been boosted by Daniel Sprong seems correct), while he was better defensively than advertised. I always hoped he would develop more.

12. Parker Kelly (WHL FA 2017)
An unremarkable rookie season (0.28) saw necessary improvement this past one (0.55).
Pronman hoped for offensive skills that weren’t evident at the time and while we’ve seen improvement it’s still up in the air what kind of ceiling he has. I’m not sure that you need to sign a defensive forward with speed to an ELC, but he’s not a bust yet so there’s time to see a return on investment (he seems like a poor man’s Formenton).

13. Max Veronneau (NCAA FA 2019)
An awful AHL rookie season (0.30) saw him traded and he’s now playing in the SHL.
Pronman didn’t see NHL potential in him and while I agreed, I had different reasons for doing so. We were both right in the end, as he couldn’t even dominate at the AHL level, so this was a wasted FA-signing. In general the Sens have an extremely poor track record of FA signings out of the NCAA (cf).

14. Jonathan Davidsson (Acquired in the Matt Duchene trade to Columbus)
Unimpressive partial rookie season (0.27) followed by a worse start this past season leading to being loaned back to tier-2 Sweden.
Pronman, while not effusive, wasn’t as down on him as I was, and in this case I was absolutely correct. Davidsson just doesn’t have NHL (or, seemingly, AHL) talent.

16. Shane Pinto (2-32/19)
Good sophomore season in the NCAA (1.14) with an impressive NHL debut.
Pronman was extremely negative about him while scouts were divided; I worried the Sens were won over by his size (think of Gabriel Gagne and others), but thus far it seems as though Ottawa was on the right track.

17. Filip Gustavsson (Acquired in the Derick Brassard trade involving Pittsburgh and Vegas)
Echoed his atrocious rookie season (.889), but was much better this past season in limited action in both leagues.
Pronman was concerned he was in bust territory, while I thought his struggles were fine at the time. It seems like he’s rounding into form, although the small sample size from this past season is something we have to take with a grain of salt.

18. Kevin Mandolese (6-157/18)
Marked improvement (.895 to .925), while looking rough around the edges in his rookie season in the AHL (.888).
Pronman was very negative about him and scouts opinions were mixed. Goalies are extremely difficult to gauge and for a late pick if he doesn’t pan out it’s not that big a deal (I don’t mind the risk).

19. Jon Gruden (4-95/18)
After struggling in the NCAA he had a solid season in the OHL, but was traded to Pittsburgh where he had an okay AHL debut (0.43).
Pronman and I shared the opinion that he wasn’t an NHL player, so why bother picking him? I have no idea why the Sens signed him, but at least they were able to dump him on Pittsburgh soon after.

21. Luke Loheit (7-194/18)
Put up back-to-back horrendous seasons in the NCAA (0.18 and 0.17)–not picked as a scorer, but these are abysmal numbers regardless.
Virtually no one ranked him and it’s difficult to find positive opinions about him (Pronman included)–the Sens could easily have let him sail through the draft and signed him as an FA if warranted.

Depth: Markus Nurmi (6-163/16)
Showing steady improvement in Finland (0.49 and 0.78).
The Sens have sat on Nurmi for a long time, whom they clearly saw as raw material that might develop one day. Pronman was not impressed, but Nurmi is getting to the point where the Sens might sign him. His numbers in Finland aren’t overwhelming and at best he’s a depth player, but that potential remains (he’s only 23).

Not discussed:
1. Drake Batherson (4-121/17) – One of my favourite players; superb AHL numbers turned into strong NHL numbers (0.60)
2. Erik Brannstrom (Acquired in the Mark Stone trade) – Has been great in the AHL; starting to round into NHL form (0.43)
4. Logan Brown (1-11/16) – Excellent AHL numbers haven’t yet earned him a full NHL spot
6. Lassi Thomson (1-19/19) – Decent season in Finland before a solid AHL debut (0.37); this is yet another top-four with limited upside prospect
7. Mads Sogaard (2-37/19) – Tread water in 2019-20, but was solid in limited rookie action in the AHL
9. Vitaly Abramov (Acquired in the Matt Duchene trade) – Has been a good AHL player (0.80 and 0.82), but ought to be a dominant one [After I posted this I saw that he’d signed in the KHL–so ends his tenure with Ottawa]
10. Joey Daccord (7-199/15) – Had a strong rookie season, but struggled as a sophomore; claimed by Seattle
15. Marcus Hogberg (3-78/13) – Had a strong 2019-20, but faltered as an NHL goaltender (.876) and the Sens have moved on (he’s signed in the SHL)

As Pronman said nothing about them, I can’t comment on his opinion. As for me, if you draft for skill it will pay off as it has with Batherson. I don’t have strong opinions on Brannstrom, but I like Brown. Thomson, it’s agreed, lacks high end skill, but let’s hope there’s more upside than predicted. I liked the Sogaard pick. At 23 Abramov needs to establish himself at the NHL-level. I liked Daccord, but the Sens really didn’t have room for him (the same for Hogberg).

Not making the cut:
Todd Burgess (4-103/16) – Middle of the road NCAA numbers saw him unsigned; the Manitoba Moose picked him up; excluding him counts as a win for Pronman
Angus Crookshank (5-126/18) – His 2019-20 season was roughly equal to his prior, but he improved this past year (0.90) and had an excellent AHL debut (0.84); excluding him counts against Pronman
Jakov Novak (7-188/18) – NCAA numbers improved (0.85 and 1.13), he’s switched schools for his final college season; excluding him counts against Pronman
Viktor Lodin (4-94/19) – Took a step back in 2019-20 (spending only half the time in the SHL), then was kept in tier-2 where he put up his best numbers (for whatever that’s worth); on loan to the SHL for the upcoming season
Mark Kastelic (5-125/19) – Matched his prior year in the WHL and then had an adequate debut given expectations (0.32)
Maxence Guenette (7-187/19) – His final two QMJHL seasons were about equal in terms or production (0.61 in the last), which isn’t all that impressive

The only Pronman angle above is that he left them out. The Sens letting Burgess walk makes sense, as he never broke out in the NCAA. I liked the Crookshank selection (again, going for skill). Novak represents the same risk taken with Burgess–both were high scoring NAHL players–but with better results (how well that translates remains to be seen). Kastellic always seemed liked an AHL player not worth drafting and I don’t see Zack Smith in him (which is what I think they were angling for). I was unimpressed by Lodin’s talent when drafted and despite finally putting up numbers in tier-2 this still seems like a wasted pick to me.

In reference to my prospect rankings (posted about a month after the article here), I stand by my goaltender comments (irrespective of changes). On defense the jury is out on whether I was too high on Christian Wolanin (who I saw as a top-four blueliner), but I was spot-on with Olle Alsing (who crashed and burned) and Andreas England (thankfully gone). As for forwards it’s a bit more of a mixed bag, as I undersold Josh Norris and Shane Pinto, but I’m very happy with my Max Veronneau, Michael Carcone (anyone remember him?), Andrew Sturtz, John Gruden, and Luke Loheit assessments. As for those outside the list, one can quibble with my Nick Paul assessment, but I was spot on about Jack Rodewald, too conservative about Brady Tkachuck, and not ready to give up on the potential of the departed Max Lajoie or Christian Jaros. My assessment of the various AHL-signings was all on-point other than, perhaps, Jonathan Aspirot.

Any thoughts or comments are welcome. I have been out of the rotation for awhile, so there could be nuances I’m missing.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

3 Comments

  1. […] Retrospective: Looking Back at the 2019 Assessment of the Sens Farm System […]

  2. Great to have you back. Yours is an under-heard voice in the Sens blogosphere.


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