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Continuing my season recap series, I wanted to talk about five positive developments regarding the Senators organization this season. Here are some reasons to be optimistic today:
1. Brady Tkachuk is incredibly good
I feel like Tkachuk is all I’ve been talking about for the past few weeks, but he is deserving of that praise. He’s also one of only a few legitimate top-six forwards on this team. His 45 points in 71 games put him on pace for 52 points in a full season, which is very impressive for a 19-year-old. As I mentioned in a previous post, his points per game was actually just barely higher than Matthew Tkachuk’s rookie season, so there is some hope that he will follow the same trajectory.
Matthew scored 77 points in 80 games this year, and I don’t see why Brady can’t be that productive in two years time. Brady finished the season fourth in the league in high-danger scoring chances per 60 (5.95), meaning he was consistently getting the best scoring opportunities while on the ice. He performed well even after the trio of UFAs left, as he had 15 points in 23 games, which is a slightly higher points per game than his season overall. Furthermore, it’s quite impressive considering his supporting cast (or lack thereof). Although his 52-point pace season is not elite, he looks to be trending in that direction, and I expect Tkachuk to be an impact first line winger in his prime.
2. Thomas Chabot is the new 1D
Replacing Erik Karlsson was going to be no easy task. He is a generational talent who left a massive hole on the backend in Ottawa. However, Chabot did his best job to be the new 1D. No, he is not as good as Karlsson, nor do I think he will ever be quite as good. Still though, he is easily one of the best 31 defensemen in the game, which is a development that was not necessarily expected at the beginning of the season.
I had always been hopeful for Chabot’s future, but he wasn’t elite last year like he was this year. He clearly became a lot more confident with the puck, and his team-leading 55 points in 71 games speaks to his amazing offensive ability. In Karlsson-like fashion, he needs to clean up his game defensively as he makes more mistakes than you would like, but he is still very valuable overall. It’s nice being able to count on him on the first pairing, because there are plenty of open spots elsewhere in the lineup that are unaccounted for.
3. Drake Batherson can easily be a first-liner RW
Batherson finished his AHL season with 62 points in 59 games. He was second in the league amongst U21 players in points and first in points per game, with Dillon Dube being the only other player to have over a point per game. For reference, the only other U21 players to have at least 1.05 points per game since 2011-12 are Dylan Strome, Jack Roslovic, William Nylander, Mikko Rantanen, David Pastrnak, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Strome, and Kyle Palmieri. Those players are all differing versions of good, but they are all at least 50 point players, if not much better.
Ottawa’s right wing depth chart is horrendous right now, and Batherson will have a chance to be in the top-six right away. In reality, he could begin the season on the top line. A line of Tkachuk-White-Batherson could be pretty successful, and I’m very excited to see how Batherson does in a full season in the NHL. He struggled mightily at points in the NHL this season, although he still ended up with nine points in 20 games. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him get at least 40-50 points next season while he continues to improve. After that, I have hope that he can turn into a 60-70 point player or even better.
4. The farm system is far from being replenished
Ottawa already has a decent amount of young players and prospects in their system right now, but it’s still lacking some high-upside players, especially at forward. The good news is that they have a ton of draft picks over the next three seasons. Yes, they don’t have their top pick in 2019, but they at least have Columbus’ first round pick, and two second round picks (but no sixth). Their 2020 class will be much better, as they will most likely have a top-five pick, San Jose’s first round pick, three second round picks, two third round picks, and three sixth round picks (but no fifth). Furthermore, if Matt Duchene re-signs in Columbus, that will add another first round pick.
Even in 2021, they will have two second round picks, plus potentially another second round pick if Erik Karlsson re-signs in San Jose. They will have between 27-29 picks over the next three drafts, giving them 6-8 more than normal. Obviously, even prospects drafted in 2019 will take some time to develop, so the Senators might not reap any of these rewards for a while. Still though, the young talent in their system should only get better over the next few seasons, especially considering 2020 is supposed to be an incredibly good draft class.
5. Options on defense
The weird thing about where Ottawa sits is that I’m more confident about their defense group moving forward than I am about their forwards. On the left side, they could easily be set for the foreseeable future, as Chabot will be on the first pairing, Erik Brannstrom could be a very good second pairing player, and Christian Wolanin has already proven that he is a solid NHL player. Plus they also have Max Lajoie, who could fill a role somewhere as well. The right side is a lot thinner, but Dylan DeMelo can fit in the lineup (ideally on the second or third pairing), plus Christian Jaros could work on the third pairing moving forward.
There is still a gaping hole on the top pairing, and hopefully Jacob Bernard-Docker can take that spot in 2020 or later. They also have veterans Cody Ceci, Mark Borowiecki, and Ben Harpur, although I don’t see any of them as good options on a contending team. Ceci might be in Ottawa for a long time though, so we might have to accept that. If Ceci doesn’t stay, you can easily envision a defense corps like this looking pretty good:
Perhaps not all of these prospects turn into what we thought they would be, but Ottawa is still in a decent position in terms of their defense in the future.
Of course, it’s hard to get too excited when Eugene Melnyk is the owner. Everything comes back to him, and it is incredibly annoying to include this caveat when talking about the future. But that’s the truth, and fans can only hope that the financial situation changes in a few years, whether that means a new owner or a minority owner. Despite this caveat, there were still some positives that came from 2018-19.