Sens News & Notes

The positivity continues as the Sens re-signed all but one of their pending RFA’s: diminutive Erik Brannstrom returns on a one-year deal (900k); Mathieu Joseph (see below) chimes in with 4-years at 2.95; and the electric Tim Stutzle signed an eight-year extension at 8.35. The only player currently left on the docket is Alex Formenton. The moves were well received (I don’t count Nichols worrying over Stutzle‘s defensive play, is that’s a by rote concern with offensive players), as the hype train continues. I’m apparently the only voice of caution at the moment, so is there a fly in the ointment with these signings? The one that occurs to me is the salary cap–not for this year, but for the 23-24 season.

The Sens have 61 million committed to 23-24 (minus Formenton). That’s 74% of the cap. If we imagine keeping Debrincat at roughly what he makes now (unlikely, but let’s be generous) and toss in Formenton (let’s ballpark 2.5), that’s 70 million committed (85%) when the team will need new contracts for Shane Pinto, possibly a goaltender, and half their blueline (Zub, Hamonic, Holden, and BrannstromLassi Thomson taking a spot doesn’t change much).

That’s very little cap space to work with, which likely means Dorion will be forced to move someone from the forward group. The Sens are disproportionately committed to their forwards, a gamble that did not produce playoff success last year (as Travis Yost notes, “No team with a below-average top four on defence reached the postseason [last year]“). Even if the Sens move Formenton without taking salary back, they’d still have just 15 million to work with (assuming Debrincat stays near his current salary). The Sens blueline has been awful (cf Nichols), so simply locking-up what’s in place will not suffice [after I posted this Ian Mendes echoed the point].

This scenario is one of the reasons why I brought up the potential cost of overpaying in the deals they’ve signed (I think both Giroux and Norris could have been signed for less). The odds are that at least one of the new deals will turn sour and the Sens will struggle to move the player (Zaitsev is still here, which is the perfect example of how hard it is to get rid of underperforming cap problems). I’ve seen no reflection of this issue either in the press or from fans–some of that is due to it being an issue for next season, but cap management is a key component for success, so it will be interesting to see when it does start getting debated (how the season starts will likely determine it).

Cap aside, I’m happy with the Stutzle deal–I’ve always been in favour of paying for skill and that’s what he brings. While we can’t know how he’ll project out (cf), there are no high end center prospects within the org and they are practically impossible to trade for, so it’s essential to keep him.

Nichols bent over backwards to praise the re-signing of Mathieu Joseph whose brief, meaningless late season numbers undoubtedly impressed Sens’ brass. The reason I’m dismissive of Nichols’ analysis is because he only looked at the numbers in Ottawa–Joseph has played 232 NHL games, so I’d rather see the whole picture for a breakdown. As for the deal itself, I don’t like its length, although Dorion avoided giving him Colin White money. While I don’t expect Joseph to perform like he did at the end of the season, if he truly underperforms (which I’m not saying he will, it’s just a potential) at least his salary is reasonable enough that he can be moved.

Erik Brannstrom is at a turning point in his career (Ary argues that’s not necessarily the case–link below–and while he’s right abstractly, I don’t think the org has patience for him). He’s only 23, but his numbers are underwhelming. When drafted he was compared to Victor Mete (ouch) and Timothy Liljegren (whose curve seems better). He’s undeniably fourth on the chart on the left side at the pro level (behind Chabot, Sanderson, and Holden), so outside of injury or someone playing their off side, it’s hard to know how much he’ll play. I think the Sens had to re-sign him (for depth reasons and to pump up his value), but I doubt much enthusiasm remains for him–I don’t think the coach is a fan.

I mentioned that we’d have to wait for sources outside of Ottawa to see words of caution about the Debrincat trade. That caution has arrived via an article by Sean McIndoe (which is ostensibly about Matthew Tkachuk), where he talks about how rarely trades like this (when the player is resigned long term) work out.

“…the dreaded Shiny New Toy. It’s a category of bad contract that I first proposed in a piece I wrote six years ago. … The scenario is in play when a team acquires a star player in a major trade, usually to great fanfare, and then has to immediately contend with an extension. … That puts the team in a bind. Sure, it’s great that they added a new player, but now they have to keep him. Their fans are excited. The GM is reading media coverage about what a great job he’s done. They may even be selling a few more season tickets. But all that positivity disappears if they let this new star walk away for nothing in a year or so.”

McIndoe then includes a long list of such failures (Seth Jones, Jeff Skinner, Erik Karlsson, Jacob Trouba, Jonathan Drouin, Justin Faulk, Ryan McDonough, Corey Schneider, 2012’s Jordan Staal, Ottawa’s own Bobby Ryan, and 2014’s Jason Spezza). The Sens have not yet signed Debrincat long term, but the expectation from both the fans and media seems to be that they will lock him up long term.

Travis Yost had an interesting look at goaltending performance. In it you can see some warning signs about Cam Talbot (using Goals Saved Above Expected, or GSAE); the newly acquired ‘tender hasn’t been above average in his last five seasons and below it twice. We know the Sens don’t believe in analytics, so this wouldn’t factor into their decision to trade for him, but it’s something to keep in mind for the upcoming season. This doesn’t concern me too much, since Talbot is here as a short-term back-up, but if there are injuries it’s worth keeping in mind. I don’t want the org to have to lean on Sogaard if things go wrong, as the Dane is very young and we’ve seen how pushing young goaltenders can turn out poorly (Lehner, Elliott, Hogberg, etc).

In a minor league deal the Sens added winger Jayce Hawryluk. This is his second tour of duty with the org, as he was a waiver pick-up in 2020. At that time the former 2nd-round pick put up solid season ending numbers (11-2-5-7) which was enough to convince Vancouver to sign him (he proceeded to bomb out completely). He spent this past season with Skelleftea in the SHL, where he was unimpressive (39-8-11-19, finishing 10th in scoring). While Hawryluk isn’t an NHL player, his AHL numbers are adequate (148-27-68-95 0.64). On the surface it’s an unimpressive addition to the BSens, but it’s not an obvious fail like some of last summer’s signings (cf).

This article was written by Peter Levi

Another Summer of Optimism

Put aside the cynicism, forget the past (kill it if you must, right Rian Johnson?), and embrace yet another summer of optimism for your Ottawa Senators! I’m reminded so much of last summer (whose marketing wonk appears to have been largely forgotten in the fanbase), but this time even people like Shawn Simpson are drinking the Koolaid (and in fairness to him, in relative terms the hype has more substance than is typical for the franchise). That’s not to say I don’t understand why people are excited or that I think they shouldn’t be excited, just that I’ve seen this movie before (including under Dorion–summer 2017 comes to mind), and I’ve learned to look for substance before I buy into the hype.

This article is not all doom and gloom (it’s astonishing how many people just skim the opening paragraph or two). There is criticism because that’s a good part of any assessment process, but also because it’s completely absent right now.

I mentioned some time ago that the vocal fanbase, like most fanbases, has no appetite for constructive criticism until after things have started to go off the rails. Remember when Filip Gustavsson was the goaltender of the future (cf)? Yost has given a little caution at the end of his Debrincat article (and about the defensecorps), but we’ll have to wait for someone like Dom Luszczyszyn to get our moment of clarity outside this space.

What is fascinating to me (and why I wrote my last article), is how easily people forget the parallel’s to the Matt Duchene trade in 2017. Then, as now, Dorion believed he was on the hunt for playoff success and made moves to shore up the forward group (giving up valuable picks to do so). In doing so he moved a useful forward who was nearing decline (Turris/Brown) and a failed goaltender he’d overvalued (Hammond/Murray)–sounds familiar, doesn’t it, even if the parallel’s aren’t exact? One difference I didn’t mention in the article is that it was an older Sens team–the 2017 team’s average age was 28 (in Dorion’s mind, peaking after the 2011 rebuild), while the roster at the end of this season was a full two years younger (its rebuild beginning in 2018). The whole point of this exercise is Dorion has tried this before and failed, so caution should be exercised in judging the moves.

How do we assess the various moves? I thought the simplest way was this: 1) Does it improve the team? (I’m not concerned with how much in individual terms, just in relative terms), 2) How impactful is what was sacrificed for the move? Here we’re thinking both about the immediate impact as well as down the line.

I talked at length about Alex Debrincat (link above), but to sum it up: he should be a significant contributor, but we have to keep in mind how much his performance has been enhanced by playing with Patrick Kane (he’s not Warren Young, but plenty of players drop off when removed from their elite partner), that he’s likely a two-year rental (barring being badly overpaid), and that he’s adding where the Sens are already strong (at forward, rather than fixing their blueline).

Buying out Colin White received mostly positive coverage, but this is Dorion spending money to escape yet another error in judgement (something many, including me, foresaw when it happened). There was no reason, other than marketing, to sign White to the ludicrous deal at the time and it illustrated poor judgement in assessing what kind of player he was (a chronic problem for Dorion, as it seems like every season he has to get himself out of a dumb contract he signed). White‘s impact on the lineup wasn’t huge, but I certainly don’t think he hurt the team.

Buying out Del Zotto was another self-own by Dorion, as literally no one outside the org understood why they signed the vet. The buyout was necessary, but spending your way out of trouble is not a sign of astute management. Moving him helps the team (his presence was a distraction), but having put him on the roster in the first place is a fail (that’s money spent that ought to have gone somewhere else).

Trading Matt Murray isn’t a ‘success’ but (again) making up for another Dorion error that cost the team a 3rd in 2023, 7th in 2024, and money (the latter pick won’t haunt them, but a high pick in the third round could, albeit that cost is years away). Let’s keep in mind the team gave up a second-rounder to get him in the first place (Joel Blomqvist)–that’s three picks and money for someone who never helped the team. The unknown of Murray‘s performance (and the picks) could turn this into a loss, but the immediate positive is getting rid of him. The fail is obvious–virtually no one outside the org liked the deal he made for the ‘tender and it failed as badly as was feared.

Picking up Cam Talbot from Minnesota as insurance for Anton Forsberg is a good idea; this is the former’s last season under contract and if Forsberg goes full Andrew Hammond and collapses there’s security from the declining veteran. Giving up Gustavsson is probably the right move, but as a young ‘tender, there’s always a chance he lives up to the hype.

In dumping Filip Gustavsson, the Sens have given up the last meaningful piece from the Mika Zibanejad trade (the ‘tender being the holdover from dealing Derick Brassard the next season). If you look at the assets, moving the future Ranger star has landed the Sens Talbot and failed prospect Luke Loheit–Dorion wins again! We’ve already graded the move for Talbot above, but just wrap your head around Dorion starting with Zibanejad and ending up with an old goaltender and failed prospect in return for one playoff run.

Descending down from the heavens comes Claude Giroux–good local guy and everything like that. At 34, Giroux is still an effective player, although he’s on the downward side of his career. There’s no question he will help the team and the deal is not unreasonable in length, albeit the cost is high. The fact he wanted to sign with Ottawa should have kept the price lower, and again we have to keep in mind he helps where the team needs it least (at forward). I understand how much he helps marketing and ticket sales and I don’t think that’s a consideration to be ignored, but I think this (like the Norris-deal) is paying more than necessary.

Speaking of Josh Norris, the deal seems very reflective of the Brady Tkachuk contract signed in the fall. In each case I think the Sens slightly overpaid (assuming production remains at a good level). The possible downside is if Norris declines (there’s no sign of that, but it can happen) and how much it may effect the cost of re-signing Stutzle.

Dumping Connor Brown for a 2024 2nd-rounder to Washington isn’t a bad return, depending on what they do with the pick (the pick is likely to be mid to late in that round). I’d much rather the team move an asset before letting them walk for free. Brown is a very useful player (most TOI on the team). As for the return, it’s up in the air (I have a suspicion Dorion will package the pick in a trade), but it has the potential to be very good (this kind of deal is always a conundrum for the fans who say picks don’t matter when Ottawa surrenders them, but then trumpet picks when acquired).

Someone will have to explain to me why the Sens think Dylan Gambrell helps the team–numerous people have stated flatly that he’s not an NHL-caliber player.

I’m not a fan of Dillon Heatherington and he got a two-year deal, but that dislike isn’t based on his capabilities in the AHL (I just thought a better addition could be made). There was an initial fear when CapFriendly indicated he was a one-way in the second year, but they’ve since fixed that, so I can live with the contract. The BSens coach is a fan (as are a few in the fanbase). My lack of enthusiasm is because players like him are a dime-a-dozen–big blueliners with limited talent clog up the bluelines in the AHL, ECHL, and Europe. While I think there’s better ways to approach building the team, having him isn’t a problem and he’s someone easily traded should the need arise.

Speaking of big blueliners, the Sens added Rubins Kristians from Toronto’s system. The big Latvian is virtually a clone of Heatherington (AHL career PPG 0.22 vs 0.28; they even play the same side). I love Latvian players (I have fond memories of Kaspars Daugavins and Sergejs Zoltoks), but there ought to be a limit to the number of lugs needed to fasten your wheels. While he’s technically an RFA at the end of his contract, I don’t see a future for him and I’m not sure that he adds much to the BSens–on the flip side, there are worse decisions they could have made.

A few other minor league deals I want to applaud (regardless of how their seasons go): Jacob Lucchini, who was vital to the BSens last year; Rourke Chartier, for the same reason (albeit to a lesser degree); also Scott Sabourin for how he played in the AHL (he seems to thrive under Mann). I’m all about rewarding players who actually impacted the team and are not given absurd deals. All players could regress and in Lucchini/Chartier‘s case that would hurt much more than Sabourin‘s, but signing the deals makes sense based on their performance.

I don’t expect many forward signings for the BSens, considering that Angus Crookshank should be back after missing the entire season, Viktor Lodin is here full-time, Philippe Daoust won’t be loaned back to the Q, and Ridley Greig has arrived. Both Tyler Boucher and Zack Ostapchuk are signed, but I expect them to be returned to junior (it doesn’t seem worth it for them to play third or fourth line minutes). Jakov Novak is going back for a fifth year in the NCAA, so isn’t on the horizon.

It seems like the Sens are leaving Tyler Kleven in the NCAA (which is fine). With the aforementioned pair of blueliners and Leslie on an AHL-deal, I’m not sure any further additions will be made in the AHL. [After writing that, the Sens signed failed former 1st-rounder Jacob Larsson, the former Duck having played his way onto their AHL-squad with unremarkable numbers, 55-2-13-15 0.27–the 25-year old is another lefthand shot (all three prospects on the team, minus Aspirot, are righthand shots: Bernard-Docker, Thompson, and Guenette).]

For goaltending, a veteran will be signed, but whether the team wants to go with Sogaard-Mandolese as the starting tandem isn’t clear to me. Leevi Merilainen is signed, but I expect him to spend another year preparing for the pro game. [After I wrote this the Sens signed vet Antoine Bibeau, the 28-year old former Leaf pick split last year between the AHL and ECHL in Seattle’s system, so poses no threat whatsoever to the prospects, while being capable of filling in as necessary. I like the signing, as both young goaltenders need to play regularly.]

I read that the Sens let Eric Engstrand‘s rights expire [apparently confirmed]–if that’s true it’s odd and I wonder if that’s on the player as much as the org. If correct he’d be the third European power forward the org has drafted who has failed to turn out for them. Speaking of those players, 2016 pick Markus Nurmi signed with Nashville and it will be interesting to see how the 24-year old does (the Sens clearly didn’t see a future for him).

Assessing the Team

How does the team compares to what it was when the season ended? Let’s take a look (I like to organize by age; I’ve included how they arrived on the roster, how many years remain on their contract, their prior season, their career average, and where they are in their career (RS=re-signed; the number in brackets is their career PPG; green are new to the lineup), and declining or improving if evident (this trend needn’t be catastrophic, just to be noted):

Forwards
Claude Giroux, C/RW, 34, FA, 3 yrs, 75-21-44-65 0.86 (0.91) declining
Austin Watson, W, 30, T-Nsh (4-124/21, Jack Matier), 1 yr, 67-10-6-16 0.23 (0.25)
Mathieu Joseph, C/W, 25, T-TB (Nick Paul trade), RFA, 69-12-18-30 0.43 (0.35)
Dylan Gambrell, C, 25, T-SJ/RS (7-204/22, Adam Zlnka), 1 yr, 63-3-4-7 0.11 (0.17) AHL-player
Alex Debrincat, W, 24, T-Chi (1-7/22, Kevin Korchinski, 2-39/22, Paul Ludwinski, 3/24), 1 yr, 82-41-37-78 0.95 (0.83)
Drake Batherson, RW, 24, 4-121/17, 5 yrs, 46-17-27-44 0.95 (0.67) improving
Mark Kastelic, C, 23, 5-125/19, 1 yr, 16-2-2-4 0.25 (AHL)
Josh Norris, C, 23, T-SJ/RS (Karlsson deal), 8 yrs, 66-35-20-55 0.83 (0.72) improving
Parker Kelly, C/LW, 23, FA/RS, 2 yrs, 41-7-5-12 0.29 (0.31)
Brady Tkachuk, LW/C, 22, 1-4/18, 6 yrs, 79-30-37-67 0.84 (0.69) improving
Alex Formenton, LW, 22, 2-47/17, RFA, 79-18-14-32 0.40 (0.36)
Shane Pinto, C, 21, 2-32/19, 1 yr, 5-0-1-1 0.20 (0.47) improving
Tim Stutzle, C/LW, 20, 1-3/20 (Karlsson trade), 1 yr, 79-22-36-58 0.73 (0.66) improving
Delete
Tyler Ennis, C/W, 32, FA, 57-8-16-24 0.42 (0.49) declining
Connor Brown, RW, 28, T-Wsh (2/24), 1 yr, 64-10-29-39 0.60 (0.49)
Chris Tierney, C, 28, FA (Flo), 1 yr, 70-6-12-18 0.25 (0.40) declining
Adam Gaudette, C, FA (Tor), 1 yr, 50-4-8-12 0.24 (0.32) AHL-player

We could argue that maybe Tkachuk has hit his normal production, but as this past season marked a significant improvement, I think there’s an equal argument to be made that he can still improve. We also need to keep in mind, for all the numbers, that the NHL had an unprecedented bump in scoring which could easily regress to boring levels. Most of the group is young (other than Giroux), and valueless players like Watson and Gambrell can be moved or buried at minimal cost–which is to say, there’s nothing barring younger players from being added to the mix. I’m unsure if Formenton has another gear or if we’ve reached his peak–he was never projected to be a top-scorer and his numbers are quite comfortable for his role.

The deletions don’t include 62 ineffective games from Sanford or a solid 59 from Paul. The only missing player who will be missed and has difficult minutes to replace is Brown.

Prospects who may crack the lineup include Greig, Crookshank, and Sokolov, but I think it’s unlikely to start the season as there’s limited ice time available so that dominating in the AHL makes more sense. We’ll get to the prospect pool later.

Defense
Nick Holden, DL, 35, T-VGK (Dadonov trade), 1 yr, 76-5-14-19 0.25 (0.28)
Travis Hamonic, DR, 31, T-Van (3-80/22, Elias Pettersson), 1 yr, 43-4-6-10 0.23 (0.29)
Nikita Zaitsev, DR, 30, T-Tor (Ceci trade), 2 yrs, 62-2-9-11 0.17 (0.26) declining
Artyom Zub, DR, 26, FA/RS, 1 yr, 81-6-16-22 0.27 (0.28)
Thomas Chabot, DL, 25, 1-18/15, 6 yrs, 59-7-31-38 0.64 (0.60)
Erik Brannstrom, DL, 22, T-VGK (Stone trade), RFA, 53-0-14-14 0.26 (0.27)
Jake Sanderson, DL, 20, 1-5/20, 2 yrs, NCAA 23-8-18-26 improving
Delete
Michael Del Zotto, DL, 32, Buyout (Flo), 1 yr, 26-3-10-13 0.50 (0.36)
Victor Mete, DL, 24, FA (Tor), 1 yr, 37-0-7-7 0.18 (0.18) AHL-player

Zaitsev isn’t a useful player on a bad contract (ala White), instead he’s a terrible player on a bad contract and the Sens are either going to have to buy him out or be forced to package something useful to get rid of him. The team isn’t committed to either of the other older defenseman, which means moving them (or moving on) is easy to do if they struggle or there’s younger players who deserve to play.

Goaltenders
Cam Talbot, GL, 35, T-Min (Gustavsson trade), 1 yr, .911 (.915) declining
Anton Forsberg, GL, 29, Waivers-WPG/RS, 3 yrs, .917 (.909)
Delete
Matt Murray, GL, 28, T-Tor (bag of magic beans), 2 yrs, .906 (.911) declining
Filip Gustavsson, GL, T-Min (Talbot trade), 1 yr, .892 (.905)

I’m deeply suspicious of Forsberg‘s year as I’ve seen this movie before (Hammond among others), so having the option of Talbot to take over is a good one, although I think when you look at the latter’s numbers there are hints that he struggles behind teams that aren’t strong defensively (which is a description that suits the current Sens). Regardless, I think he’s a solid addition and helps shore up the crease and prevents prospects from being rushed.

Summary

There is no doubt that the Sens are a better team now than when they ended the season. In my estimation they’ve only lost one useful player (Brown) and added three (Giroux, Debrincat, and TalbotSanderson too if you count top-prospects). Their top-six is solidified and they can arguably handle one or two injuries to that group in the short-term from within. The team’s goaltending has also improved, albeit with question marks attached. What arguably isn’t much improved is their blueline, which was terrible last season and, for the moment, dependent largely on internal progression. Will Zaitsev still be here? Is Sanderson ready for prime time? The depth can’t handle serious injuries, even if a prospect or two can handle limited minutes in the NHL.

Is this a playoff team? I sincerely doubt it, but if it is, the core players have to remain healthy. That said, there’s less need for prospects to perform than previously (outside the blueline), with most of the core locked in to avoid Dorion fittering away another Zibanejad for nothing. It’s certainly a more competitive and (possibly) entertaining team.

Should fans be optimistic? Sure, I just think expectations need to be tempered.

Prospect Pool

I’m including this as an ending because there’s a great deal of uncertainty in terms of where players are at and (therefore) what impact they can have. Most of the time they are not ready for the NHL, so keep that in mind. I’m going to go over the signed prospects who are going to be playing pro hockey. They are in order of age (this is not a player-by-player assessment, as I did that recently, here and here; keep in mind I have Kastelic on the NHL-roster above, a situation that’s not set in stone):
Forwards
Viktor Lodin, C/LW, 23, 4-94/19, 1 yr, SHL 44-12-15-27 0.61
Angus Crookshank, LW, 23, 5-126/18, 2 yrs, injured (0.84)
Cole Reinhardt, LW, 22, 6-181/20 (Wideman trade), 2 yrs,* 70-15-15-30 0.43 (0.41)
Yegor Sokolov, W, 22, 2-61/20 (Stone trade), 1 yr, 64-19-31-50 0.78 (0.76)
Philippe Daoust, C/LW, 20, 6-158/20 (Hoffman trade), 3 yrs, QMJHL 38-24-23-47 1.23
Ridley Greig, LW, 19, 1-28/20 (Pageau trade), 3 yrs, WHL 39-26-37-63 1.61
Roby Jarventie, LW, 19, 2-33/20, 2 yrs, 70-11-22-33 0.49

Defense
Jonathan Aspirot, DL, 23, FA, 1 yr, 45-5-13-18 0.41 (0.40)
Jacob Bernard-Docker, DR, 22, 1-26/18 (K’Andre Miller trade), 1yr, 58-2-7-9 0.16
Lassi Thomson, DR, 21, 1-19/19 (Duchene trade), 2 yrs,* 44-10-16-26 0.59 (0.49)
Maxence Guenette, DR, 21, 7-187/19, 48-6-13-19 0.40

Goaltenders
Kevin Mandolese, GL, 21, 6-157/18, 1 yr, .901 (.896)
Mads Sogaard, GL, 21, 2-37/19 (Jamieson Rees/Anttoni Honka trade), 2 yrs, .908 (.910)

*Both players have played two years in the AHL, but CapFriendly has them with two years left on their contracts–this is probably in error, although it might be due to Covid-related exemptions

Several of the forwards (Lodin, Crookshank, and Greig) seem like they could slot in below the top-six and be useful at the NHL-level, which isn’t to say it will happen or should happen, just that I don’t think they can only succeed in a scoring role. Other prospects, like Sokolov and Jarventie, should only ascend if they can have that top-end opportunity. The odd man out to me in the forward group is Reinhardt–I just don’t know what he’s supposed to do for you.

On the blueline, other than Thomson, I don’t think anyone is ready for time with the big club. This is a make-or-break year for JBD and if he busts that’s a sad end to the deal Dorion made to get him (K’Andre Miller looks like a good player). The org has brought in a lot of defensive protection for this group, but if they fail to produce the BSens will struggle with their transition game.

For goaltenders, this is a make-or-break year for Mandolese; I prefer the org not pressure or rush Sogaard and leave him in Belleville unless he’s having a breakout season (the org has a bad habit of rushing young goaltenders).

That wraps it up for me. All thoughts/comments are welcome. I am hopeful for the team going forward, but more cautious than the rest of the fanbase.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Debrinked: Offering Perspective and Caution

The big news from the draft for the Sens was bundling picks for Chicago winger Alex DeBrincat— understandably the fanbase is skweeeing about it (here’s a typical example). I’m not here simply to offer a negative take, but I do think there’s important context and deeper analysis to perform (for instance, the aforementioned post includes this incorrect assumption: “It’s very unlikely any of the three picks they gave up will turn into anyone as good as [him]“). We’ll explore why that conviction is far from clear below.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about the trade was, assuming team finances are unchanged, that the 24-year old is a rental, albeit of the two-year variety. Debrincat is a fantastic comparison to another big move from the Pierre Dorion, namely trading for Matt Duchene in 2017 (Nichols almost hits upon this, but not quite). At the time, just like now, Dorion thought he was on the cusp of playoff success, so let’s go back to the halcyon days of 2017, look at that trade, and see how it compares.

This was a threeway trade between Ottawa, Nashville, and Colorado (which the Avalanche won going away); that aside, we’ll concern ourselves only with the elements that apply to Ottawa.
Sens gave up (1 player, 3 assets):
Kyle Turris (Nsh) – 172-29-67-96 (0.55) over three seasons, which was below his Ottawa average (0.67); the Sens wisely got out of the Turris-business before his play collapsed and they avoided paying him the absurd salary Nashville handed out–moving him at this time was a good idea
Andrew Hammond (Col) – The Sens ill-advisedly rewarded him with a one-way contract and dumping him became necessary (Anderson-Condon was the tandem that season); the Avalanche buried him in the minors and let him walk at the end of the season
Shane Bowers (Col) – A first-round pick (!) that I thought was terrible at the time and, as Colorado discovered, I was not wrong (his AHL numbers with them: 117-23-22-45 0.38); the Sens picking him was a waste (a Mann pick, incidentally), but knowing to get rid of him was the correct move
2019 1st-round pick (Bowen Byram, Col) – Dorion dumped the first-round pick thinking he was managing a playoff team–instead the Avalanche got a lottery pick the Sens needed; Byram has won a Cup already (his NHL numbers through parts of two seasons: 49-5-17-19 0.38)
2019 3rd-round pick (Matthew Stienburg, Col) – The third-rounder is still plying his trade in the NCAA and doing well, but whether he’ll pan out is up in the air (it’s statistically unlikely)
Sens acquired (1 player):
Matt Duchene – 118-50-57-107 (0.90) over parts of two seasons as the Sens bottomed out to become one of the worst teams in the NHL; he was flipped to Columbus (a trade we’ll get into below); Duchene played very well, producing above his career average (0.76), but that production was wasted because Dorion misunderstood how good his roster was

What you can say about this trade is that, in terms of the established assets, Dorion did well (moving on from Turris, Bowers, and Hammond, and getting in on Duchene at peak performance). What Dorion failed at was assessing his own team and thus surrendering an asset he’d dearly love to have back. Dorion also struggled when forced to move Duchene, so let’s briefly look at that.
Sens gave up (2 players):
Matt Duchene – Finished out the season with the Blue Jackets (23-4-8-12), but walked and signed with Nashville afterwards (so he was a pure rental)
Julius Bergman – Previously acquired in the Mike Hoffman deal, the Sens jettisoned him after just part of one-season in the AHL (he finished out the year and then went back to Europe)
Sens acquired (3 players):
Vitaly Abramov – The prospect received a lot of fanfare, but suited up for just 5 NHL games over three seasons before returning to Russia
Jonathan Davidsson – A signing Columbus clearly regretted, the Sens brought him over for one season where he accomplished nothing in the AHL (30-2-3-5) and returned to Europe
2019 1st-round pick (Lassi Thomson) – Is on the right trajectory, although it’s too early to say if he’ll become an important NHL regular or not

Dorion again made the correct decision to dump Duchene when he did (as well as moving an asset he didn’t want in Bergman), and Davidsson was simply part of the price to be paid for the trade, but the team failed hard in gauging Abramov’s potential. Given that Columbus retained none of the assets in what was a playoff-push trade, the Sens win the exchange if Thomson turns into even a marginal NHL-regular, however, big picture we’d all rather have Byram than Thomson, which means Dorion loses the entire Duchene cycle–not just because of the final assets, but because Duchene’s time with Ottawa was wasted. His performance, while good individually, did nothing for the team.

With that lengthy preamble aside, let’s see what Dorion has learned. The pint-sized Debrincat (368-160-147-307 0.83) was a 2nd-rounder in 2016 who has flourished with the largely non-competitive Hawks since he debuted. He’s young, hasn’t had notable injury concerns, is signed and an RFA for the following season–he’s expensive, but in theory there’s two seasons for the budget-conscious Sens to get out of him. What did they give up?
2022 1st-round pick (Kevin Korchinski)
2022 2nd-round pick (Paul Ludwinski)
2024 3rd-round pick

A top-ten pick is nothing to sneeze at and the 2nd is very early, meaning the odds of Ludwinski also turning out are (relatively) high–the 3rd-round pick is much more of a crapshoot. Let’s take a look at players picked in those positions over 2012-20 (those in italics either failed or were marginal players; those undetermined have their current league/circumstance noted):
7th overall: Matt Dumba, Darnell Nurse, Haydn Fleury, Ivan Provorov, Clayton Keller, Lias Andersson, Quinn Hughes, Dylan Cozens
39th overall: Lukas Sutter, Laurent Dauphin, Vitek Vanecek, A. J. Greer, Alex Debrincat, Jason Robertson, Olof Lindbom, Jackson LaCombe (NCAA)

I appreciate the irony of Debrincat being a 39th pick. That aside, 75% of the time the 7th-pick has become a significant asset; on the other side, two cases remain undecided (Vanecek and LaCombe), so of what’s left it’s 33% (which is still quite high). Let’s also keep in mind that the best later pick was made by Chicago, the team Dorion just traded with. In the long term, it’s unlikely the Sens win this trade (to do so Chicago needs to fail), so this trade isn’t for the long term.

With Debrincat, just like Duchene five years ago, this deal requires the Sens to win now. We understood that urgency when Melnyk was in charge, but he’s no longer with us, so where is the pressure coming from? My theory is Dorion knows he’s on very thin ice–this could be his last year as GM and, if that’s the case, he wants to go for broke. Are the 2022-23 Senators better than the 2017-18 Senators? It’s easy to say yes in hindsight, but the latter were coming off almost making the Stanley Cup finals, so I don’t think it’s that simple. Let’s briefly compare the two (I’m going to note the season they had prior and then the current season; bold is improved, italics is not):

Top-six forwards
Mark Stone (1.06/1.05)
Mike Hoffman (0.82/0.68)
Matt Duchene (0.53/0.72)
Ryan Dzingel (0.39/0.52)
Derick Brassard (0.48/0.65)
Bobby Ryan (0.40/0.53)
Top-four blueline
Erik Karlsson (0.92/0.87)
Thomas Chabot (junior/0.39)
Cody Ceci (0.21/0.23)
Dion Phaneuf (0.37/0.30)
Starting ‘tender
Craig Anderson (.923/.898)
Significant Roster Losses
Marc Methot

The Sens were slightly better offensively in the 17-18 season, but their goaltending collapsed and that had hidden deficiencies on defense. Dorion’s inability to read the tea leaves in terms of the blueline and goaltending sent the team crashing down into its lengthy rebuild.

Top-six forwards
Alex Debrincat (0.95)
Brady Tkachuk (0.84)
Tim Stutzle (0.73)
Josh Norris (0.83)
Drake Batherson (0.95)
Shane Pinto (injured)
Top-four blueline
Thomas Chabot (0.64)
Artyom Zub (0.27)
Jake Sanderson (NCAA)
Erik Brannstrom (0.26)-Lassi Thomson (AHL)
Starting ‘tender
Anders Forsberg (.917)
Significant Roster Losses
None

The Sens suffered a ton of key injuries this past season and are leaning heavily on younger players. There’s no depth to replace key losses, such that it’s impossible for success if there are any significant health issues (this also applies to individual regression or struggles). Goaltending, just like in 17-18, is a huge question mark, as Forsberg is a career backup and there’s only uncertainty behind him.

We also can’t help but repeat what Nichols and others have found by digging through the numbers: how much playing with Patrick Kane has helped boost Debrincat‘s numbers–and it does no good to say, well, if he’s not as advertised, the Sens aren’t committed, because they’ve already surrendered significant assets to get him that can’t be replaced. Debrincat must work out or this trade is a disaster.

Also, as others have pointed out, Debrincat helps the team in the way it needs least: on offense. While it’s safe to say the top-six without him is hardly dominant, scoring wasn’t the primary issue for the team this past season. Not only that, but by surrendering two top-40 picks, the Sens are delaying the addition of new top talent in net or on the blueline. Do I think Jake Sanderson will be a good NHL player? I do, but how long is he going to be playing with Chabot and Zub? It’s also unclear if the Sens have a proper #4 to complete the picture (along with zero capacity to make-up for injuries on the blueline). The net is a mess and clearly Dorion is praying for the continued evolution of Mads Sogaard, but he’s only 21 (shades of Murray waiting for Robin Lehner or Dorion relying on Marcus Hogberg). The echoes to 2017 and the Duchene trade are ringing louder and louder.

At the end of the day, I hope the Debrincat addition is all people hope it will be (I do love offense, lest we forget), but Pierre Dorion has a magical talent for losing trades, so I’m going to remain cautious until we’re well into the coming season.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens Prospects Review

Let me begin by making it clear what prospects I’m looking at: those not already in the system (so not already in Ottawa or Belleville). I make this distinction because I think the data available for the latter is so different that they occupy different categories of analysis. It’s also important to recognize that most of these players will never be significant NHLers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun looking and assessing. Speaking of which, I do not have access to the minute data that scouts do (or those willing to pay for it, ala Ary etc), nor have I seen most of these players play this season, so I’m purely analyzing from pre-existing scouting reports and statistical comparisons (both immediate and in relative terms).

I like to divide players by age, since that makes comparing where they are in the development curve easier (keeping in mind goaltenders almost always take longer to pan out), so the players below are in order of oldest to youngest. I’m going to link my thoughts on the players when they were drafted (and you can see where I was right or wrong interpreting scouting data). For the most current season I’ve included (in brackets) how they performed on their team in relative scoring (forwards vs forwards and defensemen vs defensemen).

Jakov Novak, LW/C, Oct 98, 6’3, 7-188/18
2017-18 NAHL 56-32-41-73 1.30
2018-19 NCAA 37-7-8-15 0.40
2019-20 NCAA 35-16-14-30 0.85
2020-21 NCAA 15-7-10-17 1.13
2021-22 NCAA 39-8-9-17 0.43 (6th)

Novak switched from Bentley to Northeastern in his final season and saw his steady increase of progression halt as he played behind other drafted players. Because of the league he was drafted from, there was precious little scouting information about him when drafted, but he compares to another Sens pick (pre-Mann) Todd Burgess (2016), who came from the same league. Burgess was never signed and spent most of this season playing with Manitoba in the AHL (35-7-6-13). The two players aren’t clones, as offensively Novak has better career NCAA numbers (0.63 vs. 0.49), Burgess spent an extra year in college, and so on. Will/should the Sens sign Novak? It’s hard to say–looking at the stats isn’t enough given his change in schools and it’s less clear to me what role the Sens envision for him–his size is in his favour. As a fan I’d like to see him perform better than sixth on his team in scoring, but that’s not the be-all, end-all for all prospects.

Viktor Lodin, C/LW, June 99, 6’2, 4-94/19 (signed)
2018-19 SHL 41-1-4-5 0.12
2019-20 SHL 22-0-4-4 0.18
2020-21 Allsven 47-14-26-40 0.85
2021-22 SHL 44-12-15-27 0.61 (3rd)

Son of long time Swedish defenseman Hans, Lodin was an off-the-board pick I couldn’t find much information on at the time. What little I could find made me think he was yet another grinder, but that impression was false (such that my reaction, link above, was off). At least at the minor pro level, Lodin is a point producer. The Sens signed him after the 20-21 season, but loaned him to Timra and that seems to have been beneficial to him. His minor pro sample size is small (ten games), but it seems like he can play at that level. Can he be an NHL regular? I think that’s up in the air and I suspect he has to make space for himself in the bottom six and be a specialist like an Erik Condra or Peter Schaefer (which is to say, provide some offensive punch in a depth role).

Jonny Tychonick, DL, Mar 00, 6’0, 2-48/18
2017-18 BCHL 48-9-38-47 0.97
2018-19 NCAA 28-0-4-4 0.14
2019-20 NCAA 24-4-7-11 0.45
2020-21 NCAA 23-3-5-8 0.34
2021-22 NCAA 24-2-6-8 0.33 (4th)

The offensive defensemen the Sens picked in the 2018 draft has not been able to maintain that production at the college level (you’d like to see is an arc that steadily increases). The org is unlikely to leave a high pick unsigned, but the expectations of what kind of pro he’ll be has to have changed and Tychonick will need to be a good defender to carry forward his pro career (if we’re looking for an Ottawa prospect comparable it would be a borderline player like Max Lajoie–similar size and okay but not great offensive numbers).

Eric Engstrand, LW, May 00, 6’4, 5-155/20
2019-20 SuperElit 37-23-35-58 1.56
2020-21 SHL 45-1-4-5 0.11
2021-22 SHL 41-7-3-10 0.24 (12th)

Already re-signed by Malmo for the next two seasons, Engstrand won’t be in an arena near you any time soon. An overage pick in the mold of a Filip Ahl (2015) and Markus Nurmi (2016)–a big, physical European winger–he’s the second youngest on the roster and his progression is in the right direction. I believe the way it works with Swedish draft picks is you have 4-years to sign them, so the org can be patient and watch how his play evolves. Incidentally, speaking of Nurmi, I think there’s a chance he could make it as a depth NHLer (albeit the Sens no longer have his rights), perhaps ala Marcus Sorensen who the Sens never signed but spent five years with San Jose.

Luke Loheit, RW, Jul 00, 6’1, 7-194/18
2017-18 USHS 24-12-18-30 1.25
2018-19 BCHL 43-8-16-24 0.55
2019-20 NCAA 33-5-1-6 0.18
2020-21 NCAA 28-3-2-5 0.17
2021-22 NCAA 34-2-4-6 0.17 (11th)

Always intended to be a long term college prospect, I think my analysis at the time he was drafted is spot on. He has one more NCAA season to show his mettle, but at this point it’s difficult to imagine anything will change. This is a player who can only become a pro through great defensive play and/or being an agitator, but from what we can see the skillset just isn’t high enough for that to ever happen.

Philippe Daoust, C/LW, Nov 01, 6’0, 6-158/20 (signed)
2019-20 QMJHL 58-7-22-29 0.50
2020-21 QMJHL 21-6-22-28 1.33
2021-22 QMJHL 38-24-23-47 1.23 (3rd via ppg)

I like gambling on skill and while Daoust isn’t going to be a world beater, he was able to put in some time in Belleville (15-games) and has solid QMJHL numbers. What’s his ceiling? Probably not high, but he should help the BSens and could be a top-nine player (the hope for a pick like this is always another Pageau (2011), but getting players of that caliber late rarely pans out).

Tyler Kleven, DL, Jan 02, 6’4, 2-44/20
2019-20 USDP 45-2-10-12 0.26
2020-21 NCAA 22-5-2-7 0.31
2021-22 NCAA 38-7-3-10 0.26 (4th)

His goal to assist ratio for a defenseman is bizarre; he was Sanderson’s teammate on a team stacked with draft picks (9 in total). How good is he? I think that’s very much up in the air–the Sens tend to get blinded by size and so the question remains if he can fulfill their plans for him. With that said, in theory he has another two seasons in the NCAA to develop, so there’s no rush to judgement on him.

Jake Sanderson, DL, Jul 02, 6’2, 1-5/20 (signed)
2019-20 USDP 47-7-22-29 0.61
2020-21 NCAA 22-2-13-15 0.68
2021-22 NCAA 23-8-18-26 1.13 (1st)

Son of NHLer Geoff, his production curve is exactly what you want to see from a high pick and while it doesn’t guarantee greatness at the NHL level, it is nice to see a Sens top pick perform as expected. There’s always less to say about a player who is properly on the curve, so at this stage we just have to wait and see–is he ready for prime time in the NHL, or will he need (like Chabot) to spend some time in the AHL? I’m perfectly fine if he needs that seasoning–there’s no reason to rush.

Ridley Greig, LW, Aug 02, 6’0, 1-28/20 (signed)
2019-20 WHL 56-26-34-60 0.93
2020-21 WHL 21-10-22-32 1.52
2021-22 WHL 39-26-37-63 1.61 (1st by ppg)

Son of marginal NHLer Mark, like Sanderson above, he has the curve you want in a prospect. How will his agitating game translate at the NHL level? I have no idea, but that edge means if his production doesn’t translate there is another role for him. I’m not sure if he’s ready at the NHL-level (Sens marketing in the summer will tell you he is, but that doesn’t mean much). He’s definitely capable of helping in the AHL and I’ll be interested to see what the Sens do with him. Just like Sanderson above, I’m happy with a patient approach.

Leevi Merilainen, GL, Aug 02, 6’3, 3-71/20
2019-20 U20 .908
2020-21 U20 .934
2021-22 OHL .891

An off the wall pick from Finland, he crossed the pond to play in the OHL this season where he was middle of the pack among goaltenders (which is completely fine). The Sens amateur scouting for goaltenders has been pretty good–not great, perhaps, but in finding players who can play pro hockey. Goalies can take forever to develop and the Sens can be impatient, but there’s no rush with him at this point.

Ben Roger, DR, Nov 02, 6’4, 2-49/21
2020-21 did not play
2021-22 OHL 55-1-12-13 0.23 (5th)

The mystery is: can he be more than a big body (ala Ben Harpur, who could not stay in Nashville’s lineup this year)? There’s plenty of time to find out and I don’t think we’re close to answering that– his size will give him time to prove himself with the org, but I’m generally pessimistic about players who don’t produce at the junior level, so I need to see that before thinking he can make it.

Tyler Boucher, RW, Jan 03, 6’1, 1-10/21
2020-21 USDP 14-9-5-14 1.00
2021-22 OHL 24-7-7-14 0.58 (4th by ppg)

Son of former NHL goalie Brian, he bailed from Boston U mid-season to join the OHL, where he did not produce like a top-pick (keeping in mind the 67s were a low scoring team). I was underwhelmed by the selection when it was made and I’m still pessimistic about it, but there’s time for Boucher to prove me wrong.

Carson Latimer, RW, Jan 03, 6’1, 4-123/21
2020-21 WHL 22-5-11-16 0.72
2021-22 WHL 62-18-22-40 0.64 (5th)

When drafted his main claim to fame was he is fast; the questions was if he was anything else and that remains unanswered at this stage. I think he’s entering the make-or-break stage as a prospect and he needs to break out offensively or be dominant as a PK/specialist to move forward.

Zack Ostapchuk, LW, May 03, 6’3, 2-39/21 (signed)
2020-21 WHL 22-7-9-16 0.72
2021-22 WHL 60-26-17-43 0.71 (3rd)

Enjoying a great playoff and I’m always happy when the org gambles on skill. How good can he be? I think that’s up in the air–we need to see more before we can truly gauge that (given that his production didn’t jump expectations should be tempered). The brass are satisfied, so when it’s time we’ll at least see him at the AHL-level.

Chandler Romeo, DL, Jul 03, 6’5, 7-202/21
2020-21 did not play
2021-22 OHL 67-2-16-18 0.26 (4th)

Normally I’d complain about picking a player purely due to size, but the seventh round is the place to swing for the fences–will Romeo pan out? Probably not, but I won’t be too critical if not. At his age there’s plenty of time to let him marinate and develop.

Oliver Johansson, CL, Jul 03, 6’0, 3-74/21
2020-21 Allsven 5-0-3-3
2021-22 J20 33-19-22-41 (1st by ppg)

An excellent skater who is still finding his way in the junior leagues in Sweden; there’s plenty of time to wait and see if Johansson can turn the corner to be good enough to cross the pond, but this season doesn’t change my opinion of him one way or another. I’d expect at least another couple of years in Sweden (barring a breakout), where he tests himself in the Allsvenskan/SHL.

Final Thoughts

There’s less to tease out with the prospects from the most recent draft, but a year of development does add to the body of evidence we have for them. Most of these prospects, as mentioned at the top, won’t make it and the expectations of most are modest–they are depth players. That’s not inherently a flaw so long as a few could be something more. Let’s categorize them for convenience:

Top-six F/top-four D/starting ‘tender (or better)
Jake Sanderson
Ridley Greig

Top-nine F/top-six D/back-up
Viktor Lodin
Jonny Tychonick
Philippe Daoust
Tyler Kleven
Leevi Merilainen
Tyler Boucher
Zack Ostapchuk
Oliver Johansson

Fourth-liner/6-7 D/minor starter
Jakov Novak
Eric Engstrand
Ben Roger
Carson Latimer
Chandler Romeo

No Future
Luke Loheit

I’m curious what lessons, if any, the Sens scouting staff has learned from the last few years, where a very skilled Tampa has won and only teams with deep talent pools have made it to the conference finals this year. I’d like to think at least some awareness of that has seeped into the org–Mann seems aware that speed is important enough to invest in, at least. I don’t know how myopic Dorion is–we have to remember that coming into the 2021-22 season he thought Ottawa would compete for a playoff spot, so will he spend a lot of capital for some perceived final piece to get them over the hump? That’s a fear I have, as Dorion’s pro deals are generally disasters. Time will tell. Regardless, I’m happy to hear thoughts or corrections in the comments and I’m looking forward to the draft.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Reviewing the Performance of the BSens Roster

Back in August I took a look at the BSens lineup and with the regular season over it’s time to look back and reflect. The players below are organized by age, followed by points-per-game in their previous season, their career average ppg in brackets, and then this season after the dash. Those in red are either no longer with the team or missed the season due to injury, while those in green were added after the original article.

Veterans – Forwards

Andrew Agozzino 0.77 (0.77) – 0.65
The now 31-year old vet played in most of the team’s 72-games; his drop in production is perhaps a sign that he’s in decline, but it’s still a solid season and he was a worthwhile acquisition.

Scott Sabourin 0.33 (0.25) – 0.43
In terms of points-per-game this was a career year for the veteran (just a nudge over his 0.37 rookie campaign); he also had the most fights since the 2016-17 season (granted, he had just one less in 18-19). For Trent Mann he’s been a regular contributor and performed better than I expected.

Tyrell Goulbourne 0.11 (0.20) – traded CGY Mar.21 0.06
One of the puzzling off-season acquisitions–how many ‘tough’ fourth-liner veterans can an AHL team afford? It took the org quite some time to offload him–he only played in 9 games (in which he had no points).

Pontus Aberg 0.38 (0.68) – released Dec.5 0.65
This is one of the weirder situations (I couldn’t find any comments about acrimony, so the parting was presumably mutually agreeable); the Swede’s numbers are within his averages, but he returned to Timra after just 17-games with Belleville.

Logan Shaw 0.62 (0.49) – 0.66
My prediction that Shaw wouldn’t see much time in Ottawa was wrong (17 games), but otherwise he continued the production he demonstrated last season and managed to stay healthy for the first time in three years.

Jake Lucchini 0.21 (0.31) – trade MTL Oct.12 – 0.71
I’m often critical of the trades the org makes, but this was an inspired move, as acquiring him from Laval cost the team nothing and paid huge dividends (leading the team in scoring). The NCAA grad had failed to find his footing with either Pittsburgh or Montreal, but with Belleville, outside a rough 8-game streak mid-season (8-0-1-1), his production remained excellent. Full credit to those behind the acquisition.

Clark Bishop 0.62 (0.31) – 0.34
Managed to get back to his career average at the end of the season, but I still have no idea why the Sens signed the AHL fourth-liner to a two-way contract (presumably they thought his brief spike in production last year was meaningful; mercifully they are off the hook after this season).

Rourke Chartier 0.36 (0.55) – PTO Oct.4 – 0.76
Another inspired pick-up, even though he’s been limited to 33-games (Chartier has only played a full AHL season once in his 5-year career). Like Lucchini above, he had a cold spell (in February, 7-0-0-0), but otherwise contributed regularly when healthy.

Kole Sherwood 0.38 (0.38) – traded NSH Nov.30 0.25
Much like Goulbourne above, I have no idea what the point of signing him was and the BSens seemed to realize their error fairly early, as Sherwood was gone after 13-games.

Chris Wilkie 0.59 – trade CHI Nov.13 – 0.54
A solid pick-up whose production fell off as the season progressed (7-0-1-1).

Zach Senyshyn 0.72 (0.45) – trade BOS Mar.21 – 0.51
An asset I doubt the Sens were interested in, but acquired as part of the process of getting rid of Josh Brown. Senyshyn has been awful with Belleville (16-0-3-3) and I suspect isn’t a lock for regular play in the playoffs (nor will he be around next year).

Cedric Pare 0.59 – PTO Oct.3 – 0.24
Clearly the Sens were expecting more from Pare, who suffered from horrendous cold spells (18-1-1 to end the season). Whatever hope the former Boston pick might have had to carve a niche for himself has failed.

Matthew Wedman 0.23 (ECHL) – PTO Oct.2 – 0.24
An Atlanta Gladiator signee (and former Florida pick) who was invited to camp and, despite horrendous skating, carved a niche for himself playing on the fourth line–he’s not part of the future in Belleville.

This is primary area of roster change. Coming into the season, Sens brass had eagerly added grinders to the roster who underperformed and were thankfully moved. The injury to Crookshank (below), as well as Aberg returning to Sweden, is part of the reason why so many players were added (both would have been penciled in as top-six forwards). Of those additions, the most significant was Lucchini (it’s difficult to imagine the roster making the playoffs without him), and to a lesser extent Chartier (keeping in mind he only played 33 games). It wasn’t all wins for the org, as both Pare and Senyshyn performed below expectations. Beyond additions, most of the performances were within expected parameters, albeit clearly the Sens did not think Bishop would regress to the mean.

Veterans – Defensemen

Zac Leslie 0.33 (0.35) – 0.42
A full season from the veteran saw a modest improvement on his typical production; he was an adequate addition.

Colby Williams 0.37 (0.26) – 0.16
The ‘truculent’ blueliner saw his production completely crash after a career year with the BSens (some of the drop would be due to usage, but that change alone wouldn’t explain over a 50% drop).

Dillon Heatherington 0.17 (0.28) – 0.29
I didn’t think much of the addition, given his limitations, but he is what he is and produced at that rate (only playing 45-games).

Broadly there’s nothing to get excited about here, as Leslie slightly overachieving is more than balanced by Williams underachieving. There’s an excellent chance none of these players are back next season.

Prospects – Forwards

Mark Kastelic 0.32 – 0.44
Ottawa journalists and the org are big fans; he saw a solid statistical bump and his 5-fights are second only to Sabourin’s; I think he’s overvalued, but growth is growth.

Viktor Lodin 0.85 (Allsvenskan) – 0.80
I was not overly impressed when he was drafted in 2019–lacking scouting reports, his numbers did not stand out; however, the Sens let him get plenty of seasoning in Sweden and it seems to have paid off in AHL-terms, with Lodin playing a key role in the playoff run.

Angus Crookshank 0.84 – injured
What an unfortunate turn of events for Crookshank, who was poised for a huge season in the AHL and missed it all with an injury.

Parker Kelly 0.54 (0.37) – 0.42
Another player the Sens are very high on; he played only 33-games in Belleville as he bounced back and forth between it and Ottawa; his numbers shrank, but some of that is usage.

Cole Reinhardt 0.36 – 0.43
As in my preview, I have no idea what sort of player he’s meant to be. The modest increase in production suggests he’s not going to be a producer, but he also isn’t much of a grinder, so what is he?

Yegor Sokolov 0.71 – 0.78
I think fans expected a breakout from the affable Russian, but the modest increase isn’t a disappointment. Sokolov isn’t a dynamic player and his skating still needs work, so there’s nothing wrong with spending another season in Belleville.

Roby Jarventie 0.52 (Liiga) – 0.47
The 19-year old slowed considerably at the end of the season (11-0-1-1), which isn’t surprising given the length of the season, his age, and a change in usage during the playoff push. I think it’s been a good year for him and there’s plenty of time left for growth.

For the forward prospects there were no surprises other than Lodin being better than expected.

Prospects – Defense

Jonathan Aspirot 0.41 – 0.38
I’m still not sure why the Sens signed him to an ELC, as there’s no room for him in the NHL (now or in the future). With that said, he echoed his production from last season (playing a little over half the season, 47-games).

Jacob Bernard-Docker 0.66 (NCAA) – 0.16
Fans and the org expected a lot more from the high pick, but he was not ready. That doesn’t mean his season is a disappointment, just that it’s unlikely he’ll be a contributor for the Sens next year.

Lassi Thomson 0.37 – 0.59
This is excellent growth from Thomson who, in terms of points-per-game, lead the blueline; I don’t think there’s anything left for him to prove at this level and I’d expect him to be with Ottawa next season.

Maxence Guenette 0.61 (QMJHL) – 0.40
A solid season from the rookie who carved a path into a clogged blueline. It’s too early to guess his trajectory at this stage, although as I pointed out in my preview, there are similarities to Max Lajoie.

The things that jump out most are Thomson taking a significant step forward and Bernard-Docker not being ready for prime time (the latter was part of the discussion for the blueline during the summer). The evolution of Thomson will make buying out Zaitsev easier, since they play the same side.

Prospects – Goaltenders

Filip Gustavsson .910 (.894) – .915 (11-6-1)
Coming into the season, Gustavsson was supposed to challenge for the back-up spot in Ottawa or be the default starter in Belleville–neither of those things occurred, as he struggled in the NHL and fell behind Sogaard in the AHL. I’ve long held that Gustavasson has always been inconsistent–brilliant in small doses, but over time his numbers regress.

Kevin Mandolese .888 – .901 (9-5-0)
Came into the season as the third-wheel in Belleville and that hasn’t changed; in limited action his numbers saw some improvement (including in the ECHL, .916).

Mads Sogaard .917 – .908 (19-14-1)
The big Dane surpassed Gustavsson as the starter for the team (and, seemingly, on the depth chart with the brass), although there’s no need to rush him into the NHL next season.

For the goaltenders there’s no real surprises here–I correctly predicted that Mandolese would spend time in the ECHL, Gustavsson‘s erratic play would continue, and that Sogaard‘s development would be positive.

Team Performance

I didn’t spend a ton of time on projecting the team in my summer assessment, but I will go over what I did bring up (primarily offense in comparison to the rest of the league). Andrew Poturalski lead the league in scoring again, with T. J. Tynan also repeating as the ppg leader (1.58 vs 1.30 last season); within the BSens division rookie J. J. Peterka was the leader in total points (10th overall), but behind ppg champ and teammate Jack Quinn (1.36, 3rd overall). The top-scoring blueliner was Jordan Gross (who also lead ppg 1.07), while the tops in the division was Toronto’s Joseph Duszak (2nd, who also lead in ppg 0.85, 4th). In both cases, the BSens top performer (and we’re ignoring Del Zotto’s brief appearance) was well down the list. As for the team, which struggled offensively last season (2.9 goals per game), they saw only a slight increase (3.04), remaining second worst in their division and 17th overall. Their goals against improved vastly (13th vs 26th) and is largely the reason why they made the playoffs (that can be put down to better goaltending and defensive play overall).

Final Thoughts

To sum up, I think the org created its own problems prior to the start of the season with questionable signings, however, unlike the NHL side of the operation, it was able to right the ship enough to make progress (not all the moves worked out, but enough did). In terms of the prospects, there was broad improvement, albeit no standout (Thomson comes close; Lodin simply didn’t play enough to be judged). It sounds like a broken record, but pro scouting remains a giant weakness in the org (the acquisition of Lucchini and Chartier clearly leaned on prior amateur scouting).

[May 11th update: Spencer has put out his own grades for the BSens, but unfortunately there’s nothing in depth provided for the grades, so there’s no information I can use to tweak my own opinions. The only significant variance, perhaps, is how much weight he gives Heatherington‘s impact on the team.]

This article was written by Peter Levi

Pierre Dorion’s Recent Trades and Other Thoughts

If my memory is correct, be it a trade or the draft, Pierre Dorion’s response to fan backlash about a roster move is don’t judge me now…and if the move remains a disaster, hey, let’s not talk about the past, let’s move forward. I’m not suggesting all his moves have failed, but that on the pro side there are a lot of issues. Given that I discussed the trade deadline last time, let’s talk about Dorion’s overall moves post-draft to now, keeping in mind what the Sens are trying to accomplish long-term (becoming playoff contenders):

Evgeni Dadonov for Nick Holden and a 3rd (Van) ~ 3rd (Van) for Travis Hamonic
Largely a money move, but the Russian has been better with Vegas (0.55) than he was with the Sens (0.36). As for Ottawa, Holden is a solid, bottom pairing defender, but the soon-to-be 35-year old isn’t part of the future, so what does having him for a couple of seasons actually do for your roster? Dorion used the 3rd-round pick to add a money dump from Vancouver (Hamonic). The veteran blueliner has one more year left on his deal which, much like Holden, begs the question, how does this build your team for the future? The Sens won’t be in contention next year, so where this take you? Unless Hamonic is retained and remains an important piece or is moved for something better, Dorion loses out on both deals.

Logan Brown and a conditional 4th (retained) for Zach Sanford ~ Sanford for a 5th (Win)
The former first-rounder wanted out and the Sens opted for a rental while risking a pick to move him; fortunately, the Blues voided the condition, but ultimately Dorion gave up Brown for a 5th-round pick, something unlikely to yield anything for the future. That’s terrible management of the asset that was Brown (who had much more value a year or two ago).

7th (SJ) for Dylan Gambrell
I have no idea why the Sens wanted the player, who isn’t an NHLer, or why they gave up an asset (even if it is a 7th) for him.

Kole Sherwood for a bag of magic beans (Nsh)
When he was signed I had no idea why (as has long been the case for the BSens, their signings are often baffling). I won’t give Dorion credit for figuring out that it was a bad idea, as he should have known that beforehand, but we can be thankful Nashville took him.

Nick Paul for Mathieu Joseph and a 2024 4th (TB)
This isn’t a bad trade, as long as Joseph‘s garbage time production doesn’t go to Dorion’s head–Paul wasn’t staying, so it was important to move him, and a pick in 2024 is probably better given how late TB’s picks will be this year and next. How good Joseph actually is remains to be seen (and he has to be resigned), but this is the best move on this list.

Josh Brown and a conditional 7th (retained) for Zach Senyshyn and a 5th (Bos)
A player the Sens needed to dump (lest we forget, Dorion gave up a 4th to acquire him), but they picked-up a terrible prospect in Senyshyn in return, so what the Sens have really done is get two unremarkable NHL seasons from a depth blueliner and a 5th rather than keep a 4th in 2020.

Bag of magic beans (Ott) for Michael McNiven (Cgy)
The Sens did Calgary a favour acquiring the dead asset (who got him from Montreal for their own bag of magic beans), and he’s been awful with Belleville in limited appearances. Acquiring him cost the team nothing, so it’s an irrelevant move for assessment.

Assessment: we have to hold final judgement on Dadanov/Hamonic, but the odds strongly lean one way more than the other. We have four clear fails and an irrelevant pickup from Calgary, leaving just the Joseph acquisition as a wait-and-see. There are no definitive wins here, so it’s an 0-4-2 record as it stands. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Sens pro scouting is terrible as are Dorion’s pro deals.

Let’s offer some balance to this, just to be fair, and look at some prospects I thought had potential that the team flipped and haven’t panned out:
Christian Jaros – While the Sens acquired a useless player in return and the 7th they flipped for Gambrell, it does seem like Jaros is not going to be an NHL regular. Now 26, he couldn’t stay in San Jose’s lineup when moved and has seen limited action with New Jersey. Did they maximize the asset? No, but they did make the correct determination on his potential.
Christian Wolanin – Here again the Sens acquired nothing worthwhile for him, but the 27-year old hasn’t been able to establish himself in LA’s lineup.

Just Dorion Things

–Remember those articles about how great Victor Mete was before the start of the season? Not so much
–I have no idea what the logic of keeping Mads Sogaard in the NHL for a couple of weeks was when the BSens are trying to make the playoffs (speaking of that race, shoutout to Viktor Lodin‘s performance for the BSens since coming over from Timra)
–What was the point of trading for Clark Bishop? He’s now patrolling Belleville’s fourth line–it’s one thing if the logic was simply moving Max Lajoie, but re-signing Bishop is another example of poor asset management

Goals Goals Goals

I’ve been surprised by the offensive explosion in the NHL (one of the impediments to popularity for the league), but I’m not the only one. TSN (Yost) offers this:

“One of the key evolutions of the sport in the past two decades or so is a realization that talent and skill at depth positions isn’t just nice to have; it’s of critical importance and what separates genuine Stanley Cup contenders from the rest of the pack. Teams have, over time, hunted the opportunity to displace specialists with more skill.”

This wasn’t a difficult conclusion to arrive at, but be that as it may, I think Yost’s other point (that some teams have separated themselves out significantly in terms of talent, thus having more skilled depth) is probably the most relevant factor. NHL brass have spent decades suppressing scoring, so I’m curious to see how long the trend lasts, but it’s a good trend for the sport and we can hope that it will continue.

Boring Playoff Races

The NHL hasn’t expanded playoff spots since it was a 21-team league, such that for many there are no meaningful games to play for months. This season has lacked dramatics in the playoff race, illustrating just how badly the NHL is in dire need for something to make the long regular season worth investing in. I’m all for expanding the playoffs in general (as in, more teams make it), but if that’s off the table, giving the 50% who are not participating something else on the line to keep fans interested. Every major sport outside of baseball does it better than the NHL right now, so it’s high time for the league to figure this out.

I got stuck listening to TSN 1200 recently and was forcibly reminded of how dull Chris Stevenson is–if the man has a thirty-second opinion it’s going to take him fifteen minutes to spit it out and not be worth the listening regardless. I realize radio is for old people, but outside of Shawn Simpson it feels like the program director has given up. I’ve complained about media coverage of Ottawa since I started writing about the team, but throughout most of that time there were shows on the radio that were worth listening too. Is legacy coverage simply in its death throes, or are we at a pivot point where the need to attract listeners creates changes? Not surprisingly you can get more interesting coverage on Youtube and elsewhere.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Thoughts Post-Deadline and Post-Melnyk

I started writing this a week ago after the trade deadline, but the news of Eugene Melnyk’s unexpected passing has pushed me to complete it. My only interest in commenting on him here is wondering what this means for the future–will the family take over the team, or will the NHL manage as it seeks a new owner? I think even if the team remains in the family, Pierre Dorion’s days as GM are nearing an end–whatever one thinks of Dorion, a new person will want to inject ‘their guy’ in charge of the operation. Time will tell, but if I was going to guess Dorion will manage the draft and off-season, but 2022-23 will be his last as Ottawa’s GM.

Here are my scattered thoughts on the Sens with another season down the drain. Let’s state the obvious: this team was always going to sit near the bottom of the league (cf and cf). And now, trade deadline stuff:
—I’m happy the team got rid of Josh Brown. As per usual they overpaid for him in the first place and he failed to pan out, but at least they moved him.
—I’m also happy with moving Nick Paul, if for different reasons. He’s always been a nice enough support player, but the team needed him to do too much and, at 27, he is what he is (I’d rather have him off the books to make space for someone else).
—Is the ‘someone else’ Mathieu Joesph? I have my doubts, but it’s less of a risk and commitment (RFA) should they keep him (and at least they got a pick with him, even if it will be a 4th in 2024).
—Getting rid of Zach Sanford also made sense–an unimpressive veteran they weren’t going to keep.
—I don’t think much of Zach Senyshyn or Michael McNiven, but there’s no commitment to either and I assume they will be out the door at the end of the season.
—The big move is overpaying for Travis Hamonic. This is a classic Pierre Dorion trade–pick up a declining, gritty veteran that no one else wants. What I think this means is they’ve realized they have to move or buy out Nikita Zaitsev and I suspect that’s truly who Hamonic is replacing. In that sense, he is both cheaper and an improvement, but whether Melnyk’s successor will eat the former’s salary remains to be seen. I think the Pierre’s are also realizing Jacob Bernard-Docker won’t be ready next year and that Lassi Thomson (if he’s ready) will have to be protected stepping in.
—What does re-signing Anton Forsberg mean (and three years)? Either that they are giving up on Matt Murray (a very expensive idea, but sensible), or more likely Filip Gustavsson. Gus, who has slipped back to his expected erratic performance, I think has been put on the funeral pyre for the more reliable Mads Sogaard and the team will simply wait out Murray‘s contract for him.

To move beyond the trade deadline, the continued inability to assess talent remains front and center. Let’s note that Victor Mete hasn’t performed as advertised and Michael Del Zotto is a problem they seem unable to figure out. Adding marginal players like Gaudette and Gambrel, scrambling to get rid of Colin White (someone I predicted would cause them issues years ago), being unable to move Chris Tierney–it’s the flailing of a man in Pierre Dorion who thinks he knows what he’s doing, but spends most of his time trying to put out the fires he started. Who could have guessed these moves wouldn’t turn out? As it happens, virtually everyone. Speaking of Dorion….

Let’s quickly review his asset management post-2021 draft. We’ll start with draft pick management:
Picks-in:
2022 3rd Vancouver (Dadonov trade, subsequently moved back to Vancouver in the Hamonic trade)
2022 5th Boston (Josh Brown trade)
2022 5th Winnipeg (Zack Sanford trade)
2024 4th Tampa (Nick Paul trade)
Picks-out:
2022 3rd Vancouver (Hamonic trade)
2022 4th Ottawa (Logan Brown trade)
2022 7th San Jose (Gambrell trade)

The net result is the Sens gave up higher assets than they received (3rd, 4th, and a 7th vs a future 4th and two 5ths).

Bodies in/out:
In:
Nick Holden (Vegas)
Zack Sanford (St. Louis–subsequently traded to Winnipeg)
Adam Gaudette (Chicago–waivers)
Dylan Gambrell (San Jose)
Travis Hamonic (Vancouver)
Mathieu Joseph (Tampa)
Out:
Evgeni Dadonov (Vegas)
Logan Brown (St. Louis)
Kole Sherwood (Nashville)
Nick Paul (Tampa)
Josh Brown (Boston)
Zack Sanford (Winnipeg)

The Sanford rental is a failure and the Sens ultimately turned Logan Brown into a 5th-round pick (not good asset management for your former first-rounder). Josh Brown and Kole Sherwood were problems they imposed on themselves, although collectively getting a 5th for them is probably the best one could do. What really stands out is how marginal all the assets involved here are–with the exception of the outgoing Dadonov, these are all bottom-nine forwards and depth defensemen (although admittedly the Pierre’s likely believe Hamonic is a top-four).

There’s nothing in terms of players or picks that are going to solve Ottawa’s problems going forward, meaning an entire season’s worth of work hasn’t changed the Sens dependence on the draft. Instead, all of these moves are fires Dorion is trying to put out–Dadonov’s salary, Logan Brown wants out, Sherwood didn’t pan out, Paul can’t be resigned, Josh Brown didn’t pan out, and Sanford won’t resign. There’s nothing here that’s a straight hockey trade to improve the team. None of this is a surprise to those of us who have followed Dorion over the years, but maybe (just maybe) the fanbase has finally caught on.

I have thoughts on how Belleville has performed as well as the various prospects in the system, but I’d rather get this out now and wait for the AHL season to end before doing that. Any thoughts, corrections, and comments are welcome.

This article was written by Peter Levi

Sens News & Notes

What Is The Defense In Hockey?

Despite my lack of posts I have been working on various things (some of which I’ll fold into digests like this)–I want to update my article on hockey’s popularity from three years ago and when I finish that it will be its own thing. I still intend to give a (very belated) preview for Belleville, but I’m unsure when that will appear. That out of the way, I wanted to catch-up on a few things, some of which are from the distant past at this point:
-In terms of player performances, most of what we’ve seen this season is as expected–Stutzle will eventually score, so his goalless streak doesn’t concern me; Ennis‘ initial hot streak has cooled down, but he’s been a useful addition thus far; Paul and Formenton have deflated hype and performed as expected; Sanford has been underwhelming and I’m not sure what his issue is
-I think the Sens slightly overpaid Tkachuk, but getting that deal done is ultimately a good thing and as long as he doesn’t unexpectedly crash and burn in the next 3 years it’s worth it even with a decline at the end of the contract
-I thought sending Brannstrom to the minors to start the season dynamited D. J. Smith’s declaration that the best players play; I’m glad he’s back, although expectations need to be kept in check
-I’m not sure why, other than for financial reasons, Gustavsson was returned to Belleville–why not play him until he regresses to the mean (if he does)? While the BSens need help between the pipes, surely the Sens need it more [Turns out it’s a roster-limit issue]
-Playing at a .318 pace through eleven games reveals just how silly it was for Pierre Dorion to declare that the rebuild over; I always thought that was for marketing reasons, but by creating the expectation we’re now seeing the awkward conversations about how realistic it is to have said that. I expect the team to have a better record by the end of the year, but the result isn’t a huge surprise to me
-Travis Yost has a short piece praising Zub (nothing new to Sens fans I think, but some numbers to back-up what they see)
-Nichols goes over the horror of the Sens D and poses the question (without answering) if coaching is part of the problem–given how weak that D-core is, I’m willing to give Smith a pass to some extent (I think the order from on-high, ie Melnyk, that one-way contracts play, has added a caveat to ‘the best players play’ moto)
-I’ve enjoyed Shawn Simpson making fun of the Del Zotto signing–I suspect he knows who is responsible (McGuire?) and, given that he’s not wrong, it has to rankle the Sens’ brass
-Remember four years ago when the Sens had Pius Suter at their rookie/main camp? He’s having a solid sophomore season in Detroit and you have to wonder why the Sens didn’t take the plunge at the time and invest in him
-A story I missed was Anders Nilsson alleging the Sens hid a concussion he suffered; there’s been no follow-up to this so it’s difficult to say much more about it (if true it’s obviously terrible)

Secondary Jersey Logo - Belleville Senators

What’s been the story of the 4-6-0 BSens? Lack of scoring, struggling D-corps, goaltending inconsistency, and injuries. While the org made an inspired pick-up to land current leading scorer Jake Lucchini from the Leafs, they’ve seen a parade of ECHL filler accomplishing nothing while veteran signings have been underwhelming (Agozzino has underproduced and Aberg‘s production is buffed by some meaningless second assists on empty net goals). In my earlier preview I was concerned by the limp veteran signings and thus far that’s largely been borne out (albeit Clark Bishop has been injured and Logan Shaw is in Ottawa). It’s worth emphasizing that injuries have meant a lot of roster juggling and I think the team is better than their current record.

As for the most exciting prospects, the young blueliners have been a mixed bag thus far–you expect more from both Brannstrom and Bernard-Docker (Thomson, in limited action, has been on-point), although in fairness to them you have to have someone to pass the puck too. On the forward side Sokolov had a slow start (pointless in 5 games) before heating up; Jarventie also started slowly (1 point in 4 games) before performing as expected–as a rookie, the latter adjustment is completely understandable. All these players should continue to get better, so it’s the core around them that’s could be the stumbling block. As for the goaltenders, both Sogaard and Mandolese have been erratic, but as young ‘tenders this is not unexpected–given the team in front of them, they have to be excellent or else things fall apart.

Blackhawks scandal: Cheveldayoff apologizes to Kyle Beach | CTV News

I followed the Blackhawks/Brad Aldrich scandal and Chicago’s actions (or, largely, inaction) does not surprise me (I still vividly remember the Penn State sex abuse scandal from ten years ago). I do think this is a tipping point for the NHL and that we’re unlikely to see something similar occur again–that doesn’t mean scandals from the past won’t come to light, however. Whether Kevin Cheveldayoff should have resigned or not seems to be the one lingering issue. With so little to go on, there’s blame to lay on Cheveldayoff for not after the fact pursuing the matter (when it became clear that the Hawks’ promise to look into it was false), but I think it’s clear the actions (or in-actions) taken by the org cannot be laid at his doorstep. What the proper move is considering that, I’m not sure, although it seems like on his own Cheveldayoff would not have acted like Stan Bowman et al, so the NHL not punishing him is something I can live with.

NHL 22 - This is Breakthrough Hockey - EA SPORTS

I haven’t written about an EA NHL game in a long time (2018?). I’ve never played them consistently and, for me, what’s most enjoyable is Franchise Mode (formerly called GM Mode). I decided to jump back into the pond this year and I do have some thoughts. Keep in mind I’m playing on a PS4 and that the experience, particularly on PC, is likely different.

The gameplay itself seems slightly better. NHL 20, which I’d experimented with recently (I did not play it when it came out–I got a free copy of it awhile ago), doesn’t feel that different from its prior iterations. NHL 22 seems to have made a small step to feel more like how hockey is played. One specific change I appreciate is that you aren’t locked against the boards as easily as in the past, allowing you to skirt them more effectively.

The drafts continue to be unrealistic, although investing in better scouts does seem to lead to better results (albeit the process of gathering good scouts is tedious since quality scouts get released on the market in a slow dribble). There’s really no other way to get accurate scouting beforehand and allowing the game to sim the scouting for you is less reliable than controlling it yourself (which makes sense in a way, but is a laborious process). While scouting will tell you a player’s attributes at the time, it has an indirect relation to their future potential, such that the potential itself is the only factor that really matters (so it’s the only thing to bother looking into).

Other issues that have carried over: the number of prospects for the draft magically shrinks as soon as the IRL players are gone, emptying some regions completely (the Allsvenskan and the Rest of the World). There’s also a very weird situation where a player drafted will be immediately released to become a free agent by AI teams–I have no idea why this is the case since unsigned players don’t count against the limit. The special trade deadline feature seems pointless, as AI teams continue to offer horrendous trades while rejecting perfectly valid ones. I also have no idea why there’s no option to stop the AI from adjusting your trade parameters.

A broader issue are the limitations in searching for players. Let’s say I want to sign a free agent and I’m looking for a depth player who is both physical and can skate–you can’t search for both–it’s one category with very minimal filters. For most gamers this is fine as they chase a Stanley Cup and are looking for established players (who cares about the AHL team or future?), but for me it’s a constant irritation until my rebuild (how I always start) truly gets going.

The player editor remains a joke, with the only meaningful option being beard or no beard. I have no idea why this is the case–presumably it’s a technical issue, but if so, I’d rather it was completely removed or at least renamed (call it a Facial Hair Editor).

An improvement is that when you see what a player wants for a contract he actually seems to mean it, whereas previously you’d offer that amount and have it rejected (which was pointlessly irritating).

This is a rambling set of observations, I realize, rather than a review. At the end of the day I don’t think the game has changed much–if you enjoyed prior iterations, this will please you, but if you didn’t EA hasn’t done enough to change your mind. Hockey is probably too small a market to ever get proper investment, so that all we’ll see are tweaks and few (if any) of those will impact the narrow way I like to play the game. EA’s focus is most certainly on microtransactions and other forms of monetization, so the sorts of changes I’d love to see aren’t likely.

This article is written by Peter Levi

Player Profile: Scott Sabourin

View image on Twitter

I can’t remember the last time I did a player profile, but apparently no one else has one on the guy (with apologies to Colin Cudmore)–at minimum Chirp is excited about him (someone has to be, right?).

Scott Sabourin (DOB 92, RW, 6’3, FA LA 13)
2016-17 AHL 54-8-7-15 0.27 13th in scoring 9 fights
2017-18 AHL 44-4-3-7 0.16 25th in scoring 6 fights
2018-19 AHL 43-4-4-8 0.18 19th in scoring 7 fights

Another local boy who was such a beast of a prospect that there are no scouting reports on him (2010 was his year, btb, which meant digging through physical archives). He made his way from tier-2 locally to Oshawa in the OHL (where he played for D. J. Smith), then on to the AHL as a fighter (you can see his fights here). Dean Lombardi (LAK) signed him to an ELC in 2013 and after he bombed out there he was involved in a three-way trade that included Ottawa (the Sens acquired Finnish flameout Michael Keranen), getting dumped on Minnesota (2016). Anaheim (Bob Murray) signed him the following season (along with pugilist Mike Liambas), where coach Dallas Eakins used him as a part-time forward. When he was dropped from that org he then turned a PTO with Stockton into a contract, but coach Cail MacLean also kept him on a short leash, restricting him to about half a season.

What can we take away from his numbers and his history? His competitiveness is such that he can walk into multiple training camps and earn himself a job–that speaks to his hustle and enthusiasm. After getting signed, Sabourin drops down the lineup, plays irregularly and when he does play can only provide (AHL) fourth-line output. He can fight, but that’s not very important even at the AHL-level anymore (the fight leaders didn’t crack double digits last season and no one has had more than eleven since 2015-16). So he can fight, but can’t score–is he good defensively? The answer has to be no, because if he was a useful PKer he’d play more (current BSen Joseph LaBate is a good comparison there). His only full season in the AHL was his rookie year (also his most productive)–since then he’s been a frequent scratch and used purely as an energy player.

Is this a bad signing? Abstractly, yes–I don’t think that’s debatable–but is it for Ottawa? If you want to fail this season, and the Sens certainly do, then no. They should want Sabourin playing key minutes. What I don’t want to see is this guy in Belleville. The BSens have more than enough low-talent FA’s on the roster that the last thing they need is another one, especially a guy who is 27 and already peaked.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

Ranking the Sens Prospects

For the first time last year I put out my own prospect rankings. I think most lists, if not all of the ones I’ve seen, are flawed, lacking a proper framework for why player X is higher (or lower) than player Y; there’s difficulties in comparing across positions (is a starting goaltender better than a top forward?), and it’s rare that the players projected growth is used as part of the analysis (instead it tends to be who is better now). I prefer an apples-to-apples approach, so for my purposes I’ll be looking at players by position and potential.

To determine that potential I’m using the scouting consensus (when available) and performance (stats), tweaked by my own observations. I’ve removed players who have 50+ games of NHL experience–at that point there’s access to much better statistical breakdowns (and a flood of analysis); I’ve also cut out prospects with four or more pro seasons (ECHL/AHL), by which time I think they are no longer truly prospects. I’ve also excluded players on AHL-contracts. Despite these cuts we still have a very long list.

General comments about scouting: the prejudice against size is slowly eroding away (less so for Ottawa when drafting), with an overabundant affection for physical play that colours perception (the weaknesses of physical players aren’t seen as debilitating as a lack of physicality is in skilled players); defense is also given much more weight than offense, even though the former can be learned and the latter is based on talent. There’s an impression many scouts have that a player who hits people is providing something a player who scores is not. In addition, scouts struggle to project goaltenders and this means much of their material is difficult to parse (Ary talks about that here).

The scouting material included below focuses on potential and flaws (generally speaking we’re aware of what each player is supposed to be). Acronyms: HP: Hockey Prospects, FC: Future Considerations, ISS: International Scouting Service, RLR: Red Line Report, Pronman: Corey Pronman (via The Athletic). I’ve included changes in my ranking from last year in brackets. A final note: there’s less to say about players who have just been drafted–there’s no new information to discuss, so we’re completely dependent on scouting and their statistical output. Most of the players listed here were drafted under Trent Mann’s tenure (2017 and on), with Bob Lowes running the board in 2014-16 after the departure of Tim Murray; those acquired via trade are all courtesy of Pierre Dorion (who became the GM for the 2016-17 season). Mann’s tenure has been a disaster, as he’s flooded the org with bottom-feeding pluggers–most of the serious talent insertions have come from trades made by Dorion.

Goaltenders (5)

Potential Starter (3)

1 (+1). Marcus Hogberg (DOB 94, 3-78/13)
2017-18 AHL/ECHL .899 .327 6-12-0/.915 3.10 8-7-1
2018-19 AHL/NHL 2.32 .917 21-5-6/.884 4.08 0-2-1

Let’s revisit scouting expectations when he was drafted (he is the only prospect remaining who was picked by Tim Murray): RLR liked his size, but thought he lacked mobility and confidence; FC said he needed to improve his lateral quickness and confidence; McKeen’s profile is effusive, but they note excessive movement (something I noticed in his rookie season); he was not ranked by HP or ISS. In general he was seen as great raw material that needed work.

His rookie AHL season didn’t meet expectations, but as I argued at the time wasn’t as bad as the raw numbers made it appear and last season validated that assessment. The BSens were an awful team defensively in his rookie season, and while they weren’t that much better last year Hogberg was by far the best goaltender between the pipes. Among AHL goaltenders who played at least 20 games he was tied for 9th in the league in save percentage (on a terrible, terrible team), so at this level he’s certainly found his groove.

With that said, there’s nothing in Hogberg’s performance or pedigree to suggest he’ll ever be an elite starting goaltender. What he might be is a starter, although we need more than two seasons in the AHL to be sure of that.

2 (-1). Filip Gustavsson (DOB 98, 2-55/16 Pit)
2017-18 SHL/AHL .918 2.07 9-11-0/.912 3.01 2-4-0
2018-19 AHL .887 3.38 12-14-2

Draft: HP thought he was the best goaltender in a weak (2016) class, having good fundamentals, but they had concerns over his rebound control; FC saw his potential as an NHL-starter; ISS mostly echoed the above, but expressed concerns about his blocker play; RLR gave him the same potential, but added the caveat that this applied if he were on ‘an upper echelon team’ (ie, with good defensive support)–they also questioned his play with the puck; there was a general consensus that he played too much on his knees.

Gustavsson arrived on the team with a great deal of fanfare–you can still find fan articles proclaiming him the second-coming–but his rookie season was a disaster. The were signs during his short stint in the AHL in 2018 that he might struggle, but it was far worse than imagined. There are caveats to his performance–due to injuries he was forced to play far more than originally intended and the team in front of him was awful, but the blueline he has this year isn’t much better, so he’ll have to be better on his own this season.

One pro season, especially for a young goaltender, doesn’t mean all is lost. Gustavsson could easily rebound, but he’s never projected out as an elite start–like Hogberg, his threshold is as a starter.

3 (new). Mads Sogaard (DOB 00, 2-37/19)
2017-18 NAHL .909 2.64
2018-19 WHL .921 2.64

As a freshly drafted player we only have the scouts analysis to work from: he was picked ahead of most projections (HP said he’s a late first to early second-rounder, but that range is only found in their profile of him as they cut goaltenders from their basic rankings). HP’s profile is huge, but on their 3-9 scale he’s a 7 for hockey sense, 8 for compete, 7 for skill, and 7 for skating; McKeen’s thinks he has to work on his rebound control and five-hole coverage; FC thinks he struggles to track pucks through traffic and his ability to move the puck once he has it (they like his glove hand more than HP). To maintain his save percentage transitioning from a tier-two American junior league in the WHL is quite a feat, so there’s no questioning his talent. Just like his compatriots above, he’s not projected as an elite starter. He slots below the pair above largely because he doesn’t have a track record in pro circumstances yet.

Backups (2)

4 (+1). Joey Daccord (DOB 96, 7-199/15)
2017-18 NCAA .909 3.51
2018-19 NCAA .926 2.35

Draft: no one ranked him, but HP had a game report on him which was positive if pretty generic. His underlying metrics with Arizona were good and that paid off in his final NCAA season (Pronman worries about his positioning and decision-making). It’s a limited supply of information to work with, so what’s his threshold? What sticks out to me is that on a bad NCAA team he had bad numbers (despite the aforementioned metrics), while on a good team, he had good numbers. What this says to me is he can’t carry a team on his back. Nothing I’ve seen or read suggests he has more potential than as a backup, which is perfectly fine for a seventh round pick. As it stands he’ll be the third goaltender in Belleville, but if there are injuries (as undoubtedly there will be) or a trade, he’ll become the backup and get a chance to truly test himself.

5 (-2). Kevin Mandolese (DOB 00, 6-157/18)
2017-18 QMJHL .884 3.46
2018-19 QMJHL .895 2.87

Draft: RLR thought he had starter potential, but stayed too deep in his net; ISS was more effusive (offering the same potential); FC liked him, but said sometimes he over commits and can lose focus if he’s not facing a lot of shots; HP repeated that he stays too deep in his net and isn’t aggressive enough, but has pro potential. His numbers in the Q aren’t particularly impressive, but did improve last year (although that only put him 22nd in the league). In Pronman‘s recent review of the Sens system he sounded frustrated by him and to me there’s a very good chance he’s a bust. Best case scenario for him, barring a fantastic QMJHL season this year, is as a backup.

Overall Assessment: In terms of the depth of the pool it’s slightly better than last year, as they now have three players with starter potential, but there’s still no elite goaltender available (in the Sens draft history they’ve only ever picked one, Robin Lehner, way back in 2009). The org continues to pick tall prospects in later rounds and cross their fingers, but it’s difficult to find any rhyme or reason behind their methodology. While I like the Sogaard pick, it seems as random as the Hollett or Mandolese or Driedger and on and on–it comes across as throwing darts at a board and hoping.

Defense (8)

Top-Four (5)

1 (new). Erik Brannstrom (DOB 99, 1-15/17 VGK)
2017-18 SHL 44-2-13-15 0.34
2018-19 AHL 50-7-25-32 0.64

Draft: highly touted going into his draft, but concerns about his size pinned him to the middle of the first round. The question that is yet unanswered is what his offensive potential will be at the NHL-level. Pronman saw him as an all-around top-four blueliner, although there are scouts who have him pegged higher than that. I tend to aim more conservatively with my expectations, so top-four is where I’d project him until we see something more. Ary points out that he wasn’t given top minutes while in AHL Chicago, but when he was in his brief tenure with Belleville, we didn’t see an offensive explosion (granting that the blueline there wasn’t very good).

2 (+1). Christian Wolanin (DOB 95, 4-107/15)
2017-18 NCAA 40-12-23-35
2018-19 AHL/NHL 40-7-24-31/30-4-8-12 0.77/0.40

Draft: no one ranked him, but HP had one game report that’s positive if vague (McKeen’s profiled him, but it’s also vague, suggesting that he needed to improve his defensive play). Pronman didn’t think much of him at the time–believing his hands weren’t high end and that he’s not a great defender (this might give you an idea of why I’m very cautious in using Pronman’s analysis, particularly with skilled players). Brad Phillips thought he was a deep sleeper for fantasy hockey folks.

Wolanin had a fantastic rookie season–I was conservative with my projections and he blew them away. I think he would have been better served seeing him play a full season in Belleville, but you can’t complain about his production; his AHL season can be divided into three chunks between call-ups (26-5-13-18; 9-1-7-8; 5-1-4-5), the latter two segments being when coach Troy Mann had stopped fussing about with his usage (Mann likes his muckers and grinders, of which he has another plethora to play this season).

My projection for him hasn’t changed–he’s a top-four guy who can play on the powerplay and move the puck–and I’m not at all surprised he’s still in Ottawa.

3 (new). Lassi Thomson (DOB 00, 1-19/19)
2017-18 Liiga-Jr 49-12-15-27 0.55
2018-19 WHL 63-17-24-41 0.65

Another fresh face from the draft: he was picked early (Hockey Prospect had him highest at #28). There’s lot’s of scouting material on him, with HP scoring him this way on their 3-9 scale: a 6 for hockey sense and 7 for compete, skill, and skating. McKeen’s, much more briefly, echoes the above, saying the limiting factor is that he doesn’t have any particular high end skill that stands out; FC is concerned about his defensive play without the puck and believes he lacks urgency; Pronman thinks his only path forward is offensively, but that his offensive potential is high enough for that to work. This is mixed praise, despite his (relatively) high ranking among scouts.

He projects in the top-four, but it’s not clear what kind of 3-4 he is–his upcoming season playing with men in the Liiga should help give us a clearer picture of the kind of player he is, as scouts clearly have conflicting ideas.

4 (-3). Jonny Tychonick (DOB 00, 2-48/18)
2017-18 BCHL 48-9-38-47 0.98
2018-19 NCAA 28-0-4-4 0.14

Draft: RLR thinks he’s purely offensive (comparing him to Shayne Gostisbehere); ISS has him as a top-four blueliner with a need to get stronger; FC is effusive, but does reference defensive inconsistency; HP saw him as both offensively gifted and tenacious/aggressive, but agreed his defensive play is average.

His rookie numbers in college aren’t impressive, but he’s playing behind a lot of players and most coaches are reserved when it comes to offensive prospects. We can, however, drop RLR’s Gostisbehere comparison, as he had 22 points his rookie season in the NCAA. Until Tychonick has put in another season projections for him remain the same: a top-four blueliner who can log PP minutes.

5 (-1). Jacob Bernard-Docker (DOB 00, 1-26/18)
2017-18 AJHL 49-20-21-41 0.83
2018-19 NCAA 36-5-12-17 0.47

Draft: RLR saw him as a top-four blueliner; ISS as a top-pairing, two-way defender, questioning his consistency; FC/HP liked him, but questioned his creativity. The question for Bernard-Docker was how well he distributes and moves the puck (since we can presume he’s solid defensively already).

His rookie season was a pleasant surprise in terms of his numbers, although it’s unclear how much of that production was due to undrafted teammates Matt Kiersted and Colton Poolman. He wasn’t picked to put up points however, so in terms of his projections we have to see him as a safe, penalty killing top-four blueliner (Pronman continues to express concerns about his upside).

Bottom-Pair (1)

6 (new). Olle Alsing (DOB 96 FA 19)
2017-18 SHL 51-7-14-21 0.41
2018-19 SHL 49-4-11-15 0.30

Draft: undrafted, HP had a profile on him which can be boiled down to: decent puck skills, a good passer, solid defensively, but concerns about his board/body play. It’s notoriously difficult to project European production to North America, but nothing screams out at me to say he’s going to be particularly productive–his numbers are similar to Christian Jaros, but they are very different players so I’m not sure how far you can take that. He’s almost certainly going to be an effective AHL player, but I think his ceiling is pretty limited–he’d be a safe, depth defenseman, although there’s no harm in hoping for more (after being signed he was loaned back to Djurgardens).

Marginal NHLer (1)

7 (new). Maxence Guenette (DOB 01, 7-187/19)
2017-18 61-1-11-12 0.19
2018-19 68-8-24-32 0.47

Draft: while not ranked by McKeen’s (or making Bob McKenzie’s truncated list), he was picked after other projections (a fourth for HP and a fifth for FC). On HP’s 3-9 scale he’s a 6 across the board (hockey sense, compete, skill, and skating), which seems like the HP equivalent of ‘mediocre’ for a prospect. FC thinks his skating is just average, that he’s not fully engaged defensively, and struggles to get his shot through.

He projects as a safe, two-way defender, but one without enough talent to be an NHL-regular. At best he’s a seventh defenseman who can rotate in on the PK, but why do you need to draft a player like that? Trent Mann’s obsession with pluggers remains frustrating.

Bust (1)

8 (unchanged). Andreas Englund (DOB 96, 2-40/14)
2017-18 AHL 69-1-9-10 0.14
2018-19 AHL 68-3-11-14 0.20

Draft: RLR liked his mean, physical play and compared him to Alexei Emelin; ISS questioned his skills with the puck, but projected him as a top-four shutdown blueliner; FC saw him as a top-six shutdown blueliner and liked his outlet passing; HP questioned his hockey sense (as do I). Looking back over time, HP had the best assessment (followed by FC), which also suits which publications have the most accurate selections for who will be drafted.

Needless to say most of these estimations were overly optimistic, as Englund struggles to be an effective AHL defensemen, much less an NHL blueliner. The org still likes him, but that’s purely because of his physicality. His zone exists are either lobbing grenades up the ice or pounding the puck off the boards–in both cases forwards are forced to adjust to prevent turnovers because he simply can’t make a pass; his supposed defensive acumen is overblown, so other than his physical play he doesn’t excel at anything (including the PK).

His mild uptick in his numbers this past season doesn’t undercut the fact that he has hands of stone (down the stretch, when it mattered, he was 14-0-0-0, his worst stretch of the season). He’s shown no sign of improvement since turning pro and re-signing him was a dumb decision–he’ll be back in Sweden next year.

Overall Assessment: the blueline depth is largely unchanged from last year–the org still lacks bonafide elite talent at the position and they are quite short on organizational depth (three of these players will come off the list next year). The org has been desperate for blueliners who move the puck for years and there’s simply been no push to fill that need under Dorion’s regime.

Forwards (21)

Top-Six (3)

1 (+3). Drake Batherson (DOB 98 4-121/17)
2017-18 QMJHL 51-29-48-77 (1.51)
2018-19 AHL/NHL 59-22-40-62/20-3-6-9 (1.05/0.45)

Draft: HP praised him and called him a legit prospect, liking his hockey IQ and offensive instincts; FC/ISS/RLR didn’t rank him, as Batherson eluded most scouts because he’d sailed through one draft already and it was his strong second half that put him on the radar. I was quite conservative about what to expect from him last year and he blew away projections. Given his pathway to being drafted Tanner Pearson seemed like a good comparable, but he was a far better AHL player than Pearson was as a rookie, suggesting he’ll be a much better NHL-player as well. Pronman, who initially wasn’t much of a fan, has come around and (other than his speed) accepted that he’s a great player.

Of all the prospects who appear on this list, he’s the one who has the best chance of breaking through and becoming a top-line player–the odds aren’t high, but overachieving and defying expectations is what elite talent does. If there’s a parallel for him as a prospect it might be Mike Hoffman, but it’s too early to tell yet.

2 (-1). Logan Brown (DOB 98 1-11/16)
2017-18 OHL/NHL 32-22-26-48 (1.50)/4-0-1-1 (0.25)
2018-19 AHL 56-14-28-42 0.75

Draft: RLR had him as a second-line playmaker, wanting him to be more assertive; ISS/FC also saw him as a top-six player who needed to shoot more; HP put him in the top-six. Pronman questioned his conditioning and ability to keep up with the pro pace. While his speed remains a concern, many of the worries dropped away as the AHL-season went on and Troy Mann stopped jerking him around in the lineup.

While his rookie performance doesn’t blow you away (although his impact on his team does), it’s good enough that he remains on track for his potential, although I hope they let him develop most or all of this upcoming season rather than getting his head kicked in at the NHL-level (he’s still in Ottawa as I write this).

3 (new). Vitali Abramov (DOB 98 3-65/16 Clb)
2017-18 QMJHL 56-45-59-104 (1.85)
2018-19 AHL 70-16-13-29 (0.41)

Draft: highly touted in his draft year, with the emphasis on his offensive production. The concerns were the usual ones for offensive and smaller players: he needed to work on his defensive play and to bulk up. So what about the context of his rookie season? He played on the offensively challenged Cleveland Monsters (lead by former NHLer Nathan Gerbe), where he was eighth among forwards in scoring. The Monsters are a bad team that struggles offensively under coach John Madden (who hasn’t made the playoffs in three seasons). I doubt Abramov was receiving a ton of ice time, but with that said his numbers are simply average for a player of his pedigree as a rookie and that didn’t really change in his short time in Belleville.

I expect more from Abramov–he should produce more at the AHL-level, but some players are slow burners (Mike Hoffman comes to mind) so the rookie season doesn’t shipwreck projections yet.

Top-Nine (4)

4 (new). Rudolfs Balcers (DOB 97 5-142/15 SJ)
2017-18 AHL 67-23-25-48 (0.71)
2018-19 AHL/NHL 43-17-14-31/36-5-9-14 (0.72/0.39)

Draft: scouting reports praised his speed, shot, and elusiveness; suggesting his primary need is strength. HP echoed that, but worried about his competitiveness (a sentiment that’s about as relevant as peanut butter). Pronman’s would echo this, except caution that his footspeed was not great and seeing him as a top-nine forward (while admitting others saw him in the top-six).

I think he would have been better served spending all of last year in Belleville, but when he was there his production was unchanged from his rookie season in San Jose. It’s not clear to me if that’s his offensive cap or if the lengthy stay in the NHL impacted an expected increase. There remains a chance that the optimistic scouts will be right–that he’s more than a top-nine player who can score–but we didn’t see enough last year to push his ceiling to that point (this seems echoed by Ary in his assessment of him).

5 (-2). Filip Chlapik (DOB 97 2-48/15)
2017-18 AHL/NHL 52-11-21-32 (0.62)/20-1-3-4 (0.25)
2018-19 AHL 57-16-18-34 (0.60)

Draft: FC had his potential as a top-nine, two-way forward, liking his hockey sense, playmaking, and defensive ability; RLR saw him as a dynamic third-line forward whose only concern was his skating; ISS saw him as a third-liner who can do spot-duty on the second PP (their only issues were his physicality); HP was concerned with his skating. Pronman is concerned about his skating and his defensive play.

I’m a big fan of Chlapik’s, but he does have limitations and the projections for him are about right. What’s unclear is how much offense he brings to the table at the next-level, because I think he needs to chip in to be effective. He’s played hurt for significant stretches in both his prior seasons, so if he can stay healthy it’ll be interesting to see how he does.

6 (+1). Alex Formenton (DOB 99 2-47/17)
2017-18 OHL 48-29-19-48 (1.00)
2018-19 OHL 31-13-21-34 (1.10)

Draft: RLR didn’t think he could score, projecting him as a third-line checker; ISS saw him as a bottom-six energy forward with upside whose weakness was puck skills; FC saw him as a third-line winger with questions about his shot and creativity; HP had him within the third/second line category. Last year Pronman also slotted him as a third-line checker and that hasn’t changed as he continues to worry about his ability to produce at the top level.

Nothing Formenton did last season changed perceptions about him. He didn’t see a significant increase in performance in the OHL and that suggests concerns over his offensive limitations are legit. A third-line checking center seems to be where he tops out.

7 (new). Josh Norris (DOB 99 1-19/17 SJ)
2017-18 NCAA 37-8-15-23 (0.62)
2018-19 NCAA 17-10-9-19 (1.11)

Draft: The theme from scouts was he plays a hard, safe game. Norris has the sort of ‘truculence’ Brian Burke used to yammer about. This isn’t to say he’s a one-dimensional prospect, but concerns about his abilities remain–that he lacks talent and doesn’t have the puck skills to provide more than third-line output (when he was acquired I went over how similar his junior numbers were to uninspired prospect Johnny Gruden below).

His college numbers represent a nice improvement (small sample size, admittedly), and Pronman’s assessment this summer is more positive, but he still ranks him below Formenton, which puts him in top-nine territory. It’ll be interesting to see how much offense he brings to the table with Belleville.

Bottom-Six (4)

8 (new). Max Veronneau (DOB 95 NCAA FA 19)
2017-18 NCAA 36-17-38-55 (1.52)
2018-19 NCAA/NHL 31-13-24-37/12-2-2-4 (1.19/0.33)

Draft: a local boy (Dorion’s favourite) who spent his entire career playing with Ryan Kuffner (who was consistently slightly better, meaning we have to ask how much Veronneau benefited from his teammate). Unlike most college FA’s there are no scouting reports from when he was draft-eligible, so we only have the numbers to go by. The odds of him being a significant contributor are very small (given the history of NCAA free agents), so the optimistic appraisal is that he becomes a useful bottom-six forward (Pronman doubts his offensive talent will translate at the top level, which is ominous if true–he wasn’t signed to be a checker).

9 (new). Michael Carcone (DOB 96 CHL FA Van 16)
2017-18 AHL 68-15-12-27 0.39
2018-19 AHL 62-20-24-44 0.71

Draft: undrafted, but we do have a thorough scouting report from HP in 2016 that can be summarized this way: a good skater with great agility; a good, quick release on his shot and he can score from different locations; he’s not big and his size could be a problem at the next level, as he will need to add some strength; a bit of one-dimensional player, as he will need to score at the next level to achieve success. Vancouver signed him, eventually trading him to Toronto where he finally started to produce.

I’ve said many times before I like drafting (or acquiring) skill. It doesn’t always work, but the value added is much higher than any other asset. Carcone showed last season there’s a chance he could blossom into a genuine scorer–at least at the AHL-level. I think he tops out as a bottom-sixer who can skate and chip-in.

10 (new). Shane Pinto (DOB 00 2-32/19)
2018-19 USHL 56-28-31-59 (1.05)

Draft: picked ahead of projections. HP’s breakdown on their 3-9 scale gives him a 6 for hockey sense, compete, and skill, with a 7 for skating. FC says his skating is average, doesn’t like his faceoff ability or his hustle after it (the opposite of HP), and that defensively he’s a mixed bag (largely based on his positional play); McKeen’s two-sentence profile doesn’t add anything new. Pronman‘s opinion of him is very low–at best topping out in the bottom-six. Because he’s an early second-round pick I’m putting him above Sturtz below, but the tea leaves on him are not at all favourable, so we’ll have to hope the scouts are wrong.

11 (-3). Andrew Sturtz (DOB 94 NCAA FA 18)
2017-18 NCAA 37-14-26-40 (1.08)
2018-19 AHL 15-2-4-6 (0.40)

Draft: He was never ranked or discussed while draft-eligible (playing in the GOJHL and CCHL at the time). He attended Pittsburgh’s development camp in 2017 and there’s a profile of him as a free agent from Ben Kerr that describes him as aggressive and having discipline problems–otherwise there’s not much material on him. His rookie season with Belleville was injury-filled and his usage was incredibly bizarre (virtually no PP time, which is odd for a scorer). I’d basically ignore his rookie season, but it’s difficult to see him as ever being anything more than a bottom-six forward (given his NCAA production and the history of NCAA FA’s as pros), assuming he doesn’t simply bomb out entirely.

Marginal NHLer (6)

12 (+6). Angus Crookshank (DOB 99 5-126/18)
2017-18 BCHL 42-22-23-45 (1.07)
2018-19 NCAA 36-10-13-23 (0.64)

Draft: RLR called him a great skating energy winger; FC is effusive, but questions his strength and defensive play; ISS ranks him, but doesn’t offer a profile; HP didn’t rank him or profile him, but have a few game logs that simply echo similar sentiments. I’m somewhat surprised by the muted response by the scouts, as scoring is the hardest thing to do at any level and he finished tied for second on his team as a freshman last season. If he can keep that up then he has a legitimate shot to play.

13 (new). Jonathan Davidsson (DOB 97 6-170/17 Clb)
2017-18 SHL 52-10-21-31 (0.60)
2018-19 SHL 37-10-11-21 (0.57)

Draft: I only have one scouting report on Davidsson (from HP), who landed on their radar after a good rookie season in the SHL and participating in the U20 camp that year. They thought he was a pass-first, offensively focused player who makes good decisions, but who needed work on his defensive play, was weak in one-on-one battles, and whose production was a bit lower than expected for the kind of player he is. Davidsson was signed by Columbus, but loaned back to Djurgardens where he essentially mirrored his previous season (while playing more on a weaker team). There’s nothing currently that suggests Davidsson has outgrown the general scouting sentiment when he was picked and he’s a long shot to develop into a productive NHL-player. For him to pan out, he needs to be a safe, reliable player who can move the puck and chip in some offense.

14 (-3). Todd Burgess (DOB 96 4-103/16)
2017-18 NCAA 34-1-11-12 (0.35)
2018-19 NCAA 36-7-9-16 (0.44)

Draft: HP didn’t think his tier-two NAHL scoring would translate at the NHL-level, but that his playmaking could; they also thought his skating and defensive consistency needed work; RLR listed him as a sleeper; ISS/FC didn’t rank him. He missed an entire year due to injury and while his numbers may not seem remarkable, RPI doesn’t score very much so he was their fourth-leading scorer. His only path to the big leagues is production, so he needs to score a bunch this year to be signed and progress as a pro.

15 (-1). Jakov Novak (DOB 98 7-188/18)
2017-18 NAHL 56-32-41-73 (1.30)
2018-19 NCAA 37-7-8-15 (0.40)

Draft: No one ranked him, but HP does have a profile, calling him a power forward with good offensive tools who struggles with discipline. He is, in many ways, the mirror-image of Burgess above, simply having slightly worse numbers in tier-two. His college numbers seem good for a rookie, but it’s worth noting Bentley scored quite a bit such that he was just eighth on the team.

16 (-3). Parker Kelly (DOB 99 CHL FA 17)
2017-18 WHL/AHL 69-29-30-59 (0.85)/5-1-0-1 (0.20)
2018-19 WHL 64-35-32-67 1.04

Draft: HP liked his all-around game and while they weren’t sure his offensive skills would translate they thought he had enough intangibles to make him worth drafting; ISS/RLR/FC didn’t rank him. While his production modestly improved last season (fourth on his team), Pronman doesn’t think much of it and that’s the real problem for him–if he can’t score, he immediately slams into a low NHL-ceiling.

The hope for Kelly (and the org) is that he can fill an energy/PK-role while not being completely anemic offensively. The latter is the real problem, as we have yet to see enough to believe he can do that.

17 (-5). Markus Nurmi (DOB 98 6-163/16)
2017-18 Liiga 51-10-11-21 (0.41)
2018-19 Liiga 60-1-11-12 (0.20)

Draft: FC saw him as a top-nine, two-way player; HP thought he topped out as a checker; RLR didn’t like his skating; he wasn’t ranked high enough for ISS to profile him. While there were some positives to take away from his 17-18 season, everything crashed and burned for him last year and Pronman has written him off.

At this stage if Nurmi has any potential at all it’s as a fourth-line grinder. Unlike Burgess, who has the possibility of scoring his way into the league, Nurmi just doesn’t seem to have that in him and grinders are a dime a dozen.

Bust (4)

18 (-1). Johnny Gruden (DOB 00 4-95/18)
2017-18 USHL 61-28-32-60 (0.98)
2018-19 NCAA 38-3-12-15 (0.39)

Draft: ISS projected him as a third/fourth-liner with concerns over his defensive play; FC is effusive with their only concern being that he overhandles the puck sometimes; RLR called him an intelligent, complimentary player; HP’s concern is whether his game translates at the next level; Pronman said his skill level isn’t that high last year and this year questions whether there’s any role in the NHL that he can fill.

When he was drafted I seriously questioned why the org picked him and that opinion hasn’t changed. It’s hard not to read his jump from the NCAA to the OHL as a sign that he was struggling to at the college level and if that isn’t working what hope does he have as a pro? And worse, the team signed him to an ELC (!). Reading through reports scouts struggle to point out what exactly he does well and that’s the real problem as its clear to me his teammates have been producing the offense for him. There’s no niche for him to inhabit and without one he’s simply doomed as a prospect.

19 (new). Mark Kastelic (DOB 99 5-125/19)
2018-19 WHL 66-47-30-77 1.16

Draft: Only McKeen’s listed him in the draft, and for them he was a mid-seventh rounder. While McKeen’s doesn’t include a scouting report, HP does, talking about his lack of agility, high end senses, and hockey IQ (all things that seem like basic necessities for a pro player). Because he’s a tough guy he’ll linger with the org for awhile, but the odds of him becoming a regular pro are basically negligible. I could tell the hope from the org was that he’d be another Zack Smith, but the chances of that are so remote that it’s a waste of a fifth-round pick (when you compare their stats and scouting reports you can see the difference in talent between the two).

20 (+1). Luke Loheit (DOB 00 7-194/18)
2017-18 USHS 40-15-22-37 (0.92)
2018-19 BCHL 43-8-16-24 (0.56)

Draft: Only HP ranked him, calling him a two-way player, but one of the scouts they quote didn’t care for his hockey sense. There’s very little written about him and what I have seen bends over backwards to try to find anything that suggests pro potential. This summer Pronman basically waived the white flag that he just doesn’t have enough talent as a prospect–his BCHL numbers are atrocious.

21 (new). Viktor Lodin (DOB 99 4-94/19)
2018-19 SHL 41-1-4-5 (0.12)

He wasn’t ranked anywhere by anyone for the draft (not only this year, but in all his other draft-eligible years–not even by Central Scouting). It’s exceedingly rare (if not unprecedented in the modern era) for a region as well scouted as Sweden to miss a quality prospect and since Lodin doesn’t have puck skills I don’t know what the org expects him to do for them. My guess is they think he’s another plugger with intangibles, but there’s never a need to draft players like that.

Overall Assessment: the org has added a potential top-six forward, lost all middle-six projections, and have one fewer top-nine forward. Some of these changes are due to me being a bit more discerning about prospects. With that said, Trent Mann keeps shoving terrible prospects into the pool and this is especially true at forward. The above list is filled with Vincent Dunn’s, Shane Eiserman’s, and Chris LeBlanc’s; it’s hard to see how this will improve as long as Mann is in charge.

On the Outside Looking In (Players Excluded)

Because of how I define my list we’re missing a few org players that fans are interested in. None of these quality as prospects as I see it, but I want to address those that I think there are questions about. Let’s start with the pro players, those with four seasons in the minors that might be thought of as having NHL-potential.

Nick Paul (4-101/13 Dal)
2017-18 AHL/NHL 54-14-13-27/11-1-0-1 0.50/0.09
2018-19 AHL/NHL 43-16-23-39/20-1-1-2 0.90/0.10

Last year I called Paul a marginal pro–someone perhaps worthy of a call-up, but who will never fill-in for regular NHL duty. During his ELC he was frustratingly inconsistent at the AHL level while showing nothing whatsoever with Ottawa (he’s played 56 NHL games to this point). Suddenly, Paul put up tremendous numbers in Belleville–is this his breakthrough, is this his Mike Hoffman moment? No, and I’ll explain why: those numbers are due to one thing and one thing only, Drake Batherson. I’ve mentioned in assessments of Paul in the past that he does not make players around him better–you can go through his history and it doesn’t happen–but Batherson does. That’s the only reason why we saw an uptick in his numbers.

Jack Rodewald (AHL FA 17)
2017-18 AHL/NHL 62-14-11-25/4-0-0-0 0.40/0.00
2018-19 AHL/NHL 59-23-24-47/6-0-0-0 0.79/0.00

My favourite redhead–okay, the only redhead, but I have to reference my fellow gingers. Rodewald was an undrafted CHLer originally picked up by Toronto on an AHL-contract. He has blazing speed–loves those corners–but is an immensely inconsistent performer who isn’t a good PKer (putting him in a very odd place in terms of his role). So, what about this past season with career highs? Did he break through? No, he got Batherson’d (well, actually Paul Carey’d, but you get the idea). Just like Paul above, Rodewald doesn’t make players around him better, but he can support a better player and that’s what happened here. More so than Paul, however, Rodewald simply can’t maintain a high pace all season and regressed to the mean (shoutout to Travis Yost) a lot harder at the end of the season. Like Paul he was cut from Ottawa and he is what he is–a maddeningly inconsistent player who should probably play on an energy line in the AHL–that’s it.

As for the prospect graduates (ie, those ELC players over the 50+ game threshold), I just posted my concerns about Brady Tkachuk, so won’t repeat them here (other than to say I have concerns); I’m a fan of Max Lajoie and happy to see him given more time to marinate in Belleville (last year’s assessment said potential top-four D and that hasn’t changed); I also like Christian Jaros, but think spending the year in Ottawa didn’t do him any favours (I’d previously said top-four potential, but Dom comparing him to Mark Borowiecki is a kick-in-the-balls and would match what Ary said about him a couple of years ago).

AHL-contracts
Specifically those of young players where there is hope for some evolution. The vast majority of players like this amount to nothing–the best case scenarios are the Rodewald‘s or Jordan Murray‘s of the world who become effective (if not elite) AHL-players. Here’s our list for this season:
Alex Dubeau (G) – one of many QMJHL/CIS grads the org has signed, he had exactly one good season at University to earn the contract–he’ll patrol the crease in Brampton
Jonathan Aspirot (D/LW) – unremarkable QMJHLer attended two development camps–he’s such a nonentity no one has a scouting report on him–what he offers is ‘truculence’
Miles Gendron (D; 3-70/14 Ott) – failed Sens pick inexplicably given a contract–unable to produce at any level, we can hope he vanishes into the Brampton ether
Francois Beauchemin (RW) – it’s difficult to express just how bad this QMJHL-grad was in Belleville last year, but the org loves him, so we’ll likely see him at that level for at least part of the year
Jean-Christophe Beaudin (C/RW; 3-71/15 Col) – acquiring him was the price to be paid to get rid of Max McCormick and his contract–he’s terrible, but it was the only way to move a bad asset
Christopher Clapperton (LW; 5-122/13 Flo) – I assessed him here; yet another CIS signing; a smaller, offensive player who will try his luck at carrying that production into the AHL (there should be no expectation of NHL-talent from him; his past is similar to the departed Boston Leier’s)

Summary

I didn’t highlight a single elite talent–this is a sentiment shared by Pronman and the majority of the scouting community. We could be wrong–it would be great for fans if we were–but the org lacks a game-breaker (they currently have one: Thomas Chabot). The overall talent pool is about the same as last year, but I’ve been more rigorous in how I assess projections. The one player who could overachieve is Batherson. What we have on our list is an overabundance of players with offensive limitations–Ottawa could supply most of the league with depth players, which is the least useful asset to have. The org desperately needs top end talent, but given their current draft philosophy that’s just not going to happen. I don’t like Pierre Dorion at all–he’s a terrible GM–but most of the higher end talent added has come from trades, not the draft. That’s faint praise however, as he’s traded away elite talent in return for simply good talent.

As I pointed out last time, on average (per NHL team) 1.5 players per draft play at least 200 games in the NHL. The above list comprises players from seven different drafts, but going through the individual drafts year-by-year I think the following players are most likely to achieve that requisite game number: possibly Hogberg (13), either Chlapik or Wolanin (15), Brown and possibly Lajoie (16), Batherson and possibly Formenton (17), either Bernard-Docker or Tychonick (18), and then Thomson and possibly Sogaard (19). The remaining players are statistically almost certain to finish as failed picks in some respect, although one exception among the other 22 prospects is likely.

The question most fans are going to have is: are there diamonds in the rough? Is there another Mark Stone lurking in the later rounds who will emerge for the Sens? The answer to that right now is simple: no. Trent Mann doesn’t want to draft talent in the later rounds and he’s a man of his word–each year he’s picked less and less talented players late in the draft (none after the second round most recently). This approach is going to asphyxiate the prospect pool and Dorion simply isn’t savvy enough to either address that problem or fix it with trades. Ottawa is becoming the Edmonton Oilers pre-Ken Holland, but without the superabundance of first overall picks.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)