This week’s signing of free agent forward Evgenii Dadonov was a turning point of sorts for the Ottawa Senators. On the surface, Dadonov is a high-end offensive player who will immediately make the Senators a better team.
The hope in Ottawa, however, is that Dadonov will help fix a problem that has plagued the Senators for years.
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“I can’t tell you who he will play with – that’s more of a (head coach) DJ Smith question – but we know he will be on the first power play,” said Senators GM Pierre Dorion on a video conference call Thursday.
Ottawa’s power play has been among the least effective in the NHL for the past five seasons. Even when the Senators went to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final, their power play ranked 23rd in the NHL. And that was when they had Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman on the blue line, and talented forwards like Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris upfront.
From there, it went downhill. Last year, the Senators’ power play bottomed out. For a stretch, they were giving up as many shorthanded goals as they were scoring on the power play. Thanks to Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Chris Tierney, the Senators were also scoring almost as many goals shorthanded as they were with a man advantage during that stretch. When their opponents took a minor penalty, fans would yell in jest for Ottawa to decline the penalty.
Fixing the power play is one of Smith’s top priorities.
With Dadonov’s arrival, Ottawa lands a player who can make an immediate impact on the power play. Last season, he had 11 power-play goals and 17 power-play points in 69 games. The year before, he also had 17 power-play points, but over 82 games.
Defenceman Thomas Chabot led the Sens with 11 power-play points last year. Tyler Ennis was the only other Senator who cracked double figures in power-play points, as he had 10.
Dorion said Thursday he was excited to have signed Dadonov.
Dadonov a Proven Scorer
“He’s definitely someone we targeted when free agency started,” Dorion said. “For us, he’s someone who brings a great offensive package to the table. He’s someone who scores legit goals. He can really shoot it. He’s smart offensively. For us, he’s someone who competes offensively to score goals.
“He’s got a proven track record on the power play, with his goal-scoring ability and his offensive production on the power play, and you know where our power play was last year. But he’s also a guy who can produce five-on-five. Our job is to give DJ and his coaching staff as many good pieces as possible and we feel we’ve added another good piece here.”
Not only will Smith and his staff have to figure out the x’s and o’s of their new power play with Dadonov as the centerpiece, but they will also have to decide on the personnel.
Chabot Power Play QB
Defenceman Thomas Chabot will no doubt quarterback the power play’s first unit. He moves the puck up the ice and distributes the puck well once in the offensive zone. Although Chabot led the team in power-play points, he was one of only five defencemen in the NHL with 100 minutes of power-play time and no goals to show for it. However, there is no question that he controlled the play when he was on the ice. Many of the goals scored by Ottawa forwards came on deflected shots by Chabot, or on rebounds on Chabot slapshots from the point.
Last season, Ennis, Anthony Duclair and Artem Anisimov all had five power-play goals to lead the Senators. Ennis and Duclair have moved on as free agents, but Anisimov is still there. He is the likely choice to be the first power-play unit’s centre.
Brady Tkachuk led the Senators with 41 points in 71 games last year, and he collected eight points on the man advantage. He only had two power-play goals, but Tkachuk is arguably Ottawa’s best player within six feet of the net. He is also a big body and very effective on screens. Adding Dadonov might kickstart Tkachuk’s effectiveness on the power play.
Batherson Ready for Impact
Another forward to watch on the power play is Drake Batherson, who looks ready to take on a top-six role as a winger with the Senators this season. Batherson only played in 23 games with the Senators in 2019-20, but he did register six power-play points. Batherson actually led all Ottawa forwards in power-play points per game.
Batherson stood out offensively last year in Belleville, particularly on the power play. In 44 AHL games, he had three goals and 16 assists on the power play. Those 19 points trailed only Josh Norris, who had 20. Norris played in 56 games for Belleville, 12 more than Batherson.
If Chabot is on the blue line, and if Dadonov, Tkachuk and Batherson are up front, the clubhouse leader to be the fifth man on the power play may come as a surprise to Sens fans.
Life of Reilly
Defenceman Mike Reilly, picked up from the Montreal Canadiens last season, was a good fit on the power play for Ottawa last season. With nine power-play points in 30 games, Reilly led all Senators in power-play points per game. He also had a shorthanded point, meaning he had only two points at even strength for the Senators.
Reilly’s nine points on the power play in Ottawa matched his career output through the first 174 games of his NHL career. While his production may appear as an anomaly to some, it would come as no surprise to those who followed his high school and college career.
Reilly was born in Chicago but grew up in Chanhassen, MN. He led Shattuck St. Mary’s to a national high school championship in 2011. He would become one of many players from that school to end up in the NHL. Other notable grads from that school include Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise.
Reilly went to college at the University of Minnesota. He won the Big 10’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015, earning NCAA West First Team All-America Honours both years. During the 2014-15 season, Reilly had six goals and 36 assists for 42 points in 39 games. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player.
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Looking at the Senators’ current roster, Reilly has every opportunity to fulfill the offensive expectations set out for him when he turned pro. He may also be an ingredient that finally gives Ottawa an above-median power play.
There is little argument that the Senators are stockpiled with talent in their pipeline. But turning this young team into a contender begins and ends with fixing what has been an anemic power play.
Jeff Morris has been a hockey writer for more than 30 years. He began his career working for small town newspapers in Eastern Ontario before becoming the editor of Canadian Sports Collector magazine in St. Catharines, ON. While there, he also freelanced as a Buffalo Sabres beat writer. Morris would move on to Dallas to become the NHL brand manager at Pinnacle Brands, Inc. From there, he worked in the sports trading card and collectibles division at Shop At Home TV in Nashville and Denver, and then moved to Seattle to be the VP of Marketing at Pacific Trading Cards, Inc. in Seattle. He had continued to cover the NHL as a freelance writer, and while in Seattle, he became a weekly hockey columnist for ESPN.com. During the 2005 NHL lockout, he returned to Ottawa and became a newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, and was also an NHL contributor for Fox Sports Radio. He also began covering the NHL for Hockeyology.com, and also covered the Ottawa Senators for his own publications. He went to Carleton University to study journalism, and graduated as the school’s all-time scoring leader in football and was a conference all-star three times. He had several pro tryouts and played semi-pro football for 10 years while pursuing his career as an NHL writer. He remains involved in football as a coach and referee, and is a Canadian Football League off-field official.