During the past few weeks, the Ottawa Senators compiled some positive results, winning five out of their last eight games. To continue their positive momentum from 2021, they will need their top line to keep their production up, Tim Stützle to continue flourishing in his new second-line centre role, and hopefully, some bounce-back performances from some of their slightly disappointing players. As the team sits in third-last in the NHL, there are a number of issues with the team, but here are some of the more obvious bounce-back candidates.
To say it’s been a disappointing tenure with the Senators for Murray, would be an understatement. The two-time Stanley Cup champion came to the Senators in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and immediately signed a four-year, $25 million deal with the team. He was supposed to be the undisputed No. 1 goalie, capable of supporting the young Senators through their rebuild.
Since the trade, Murray has posted a 10-18-1 record, with a sub .900 save percentage, and was promptly sent to the American Hockey League (AHL). Simply put, he wasn’t worth the trade, or the contract. Now the Senators are stuck with him for two more years, unless they buy him out.
On the flip side, if Murray can somehow regain his form with the Belleville Senators, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He was recently recalled from Belleville in response to Anton Forsberg’s entry into COVID-19 protocols, giving him a possible start or two for the big club, although he will likely be sent back down or banished to the taxi squad afterwards. The Senators will likely end up trading him, or if he proves himself effective, play him as part of a tandem with Filip Gustavsson. He has the rest of the season to show his worth, or it might be the end of his time with the Senators.
Victor Mete, on the other hand, wasn’t brought into the organization to backstop the young core. Rather he was a nice, young, complementary piece that could slot into the second or third pair. But he too was once considered a great prospect for a different organization.
Originally drafted in the fourth round as the 100th pick, he was known as, “one of the fastest defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League.” (from ‘On the Rise – Victor Mete,’ NHL.com, Dec. 9, 2016) He used his speed and smarts to earn an early NHL promotion, initially playing alongside Shea Weber on the Montreal Canadiens’ top pairing.
Four years later, he sits on the Senators’ third pairing, with five assists and a minus-10 plus/minus on the season. I don’t think anyone expects the world from him, but he could use his skating ability to create more chances and defend more effectively. If he’s pushed to jump into the play more often, he could be a perennial 25-30 point defenseman, as he’s still just 23 years old.
Now officially a Senator, Tyler Boucher, drafted 10th overall last year, hasn’t quite lived up to the hype yet. With a measly three points in 17 games at Boston University, he has yet to show why the Senators drafted him so high, while many scouts thought of him as a lower-ranked talent.
Due to his slow start at Boston University, he was left off the US national team for the 2022 World Junior Championship. It’s not often a player is drafted in the top 10 and subsequently left off their national team, but luckily, he’s eligible for next year’s tournament if COVID-19 doesn’t ruin that one as well.
The Senators have been monitoring his development in Boston, and after chats with him and his agent, the Senators have signed him to an entry-level contract. While it’s unusual to sign a player to their entry-level deal while they are struggling mightily, the move might feel like a vote of confidence and boost Boucher’s productivity.
The plan is to send the soon-to-be 19-year-old to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to play for the Ottawa 67’s, where he will likely earn a top-six role and significant playing time. With his size and physicality, he should have no trouble finding success for the 67’s. I’d look for him to use his strength to crash the net, and put up solid numbers in a league with a lot of younger players.
If Boucher has a good year, I’d look for the Senators to bring him up to the AHL next season, and let him continue his development there. There’s no rush to get him to the NHL, but I think he could benefit from playing against men, learning more about defensive responsibility, and adjusting to the speed of the professional game. Practicing with pro hockey players day-in and day-out, and all of the other things that come with an AHL job, should do wonders for his development.
While the Senators might not make the playoffs this season, there are plenty of positive storylines this season. Getting these three players back into form is a good idea for 2022 and beyond.
Writer and hockey addict from the GTA, covering the Ottawa Senators. Leafs fan from birth, moved to BC to explore the mountains and find the strength to keep cheering. Love talking prospects, potential, and coaching strategies.