While he may not have quite the same skill set as Erik Karlsson or Bobby Ryan or even garner the same fanfare as Mika Zibanejad or Andrew Hammond, Hoffman has proven that he has all the makings to be a viable force for an upstart Ottawa Senators club.
Drafted in the fifth round (130th overall) by the Sens in 2009, it is convenient to have thought that the Kitchener, Ont. native wouldn’t have much of a shot at cracking an NHL roster – at least not immediately.
Hoffman, however, has paved himself a road to the big leagues that included stops in the OHL and QMJHL, earning First Team All-Star selections twice in the latter league. Also while in the Q, Hoffman was awarded the Michel Briere Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2009-10 in his lone season with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Following that year, Hoffman graduated to the AHL where he suited up in 74 games for Binghamton and the majority of the next four seasons where he accumulated 71 goals and 169 points in 216 games. There, Hoffman also garnered First Team All-Star honours, accomplishing the feat in 2013-14. During that year, Hoffman appeared in 25 games for the NHL Senators scoring three times and adding three assists to go in hand with a -2. While those aren’t numbers that jump off the page, it was nonetheless a decent start to his NHL career.
Then came this season.
Entering the 2014-15 campaign, the Ottawa Senators were believed to be a team which, while they would be formidable in the near future, still had to endure their share of growing pains.
Nevertheless, they started the year with a 5-2-1 mark but said growing pains turned prevalent quickly as, starting on Nov. 15, the Sens would win just two of their next 11 outings, costing head coach Paul MacLean his job.
Slowly but surely, the Sens found their way and while the likes of the aforementioned Karlsson, Ryan and Zibanejad proved instrumental in their team’s turnaround, the rookie Hoffman was chipping in just as frequently, albeit under everyone’s radar.
As the calendar turned to 2015, the 25-year-old center was among the league leaders in plus-minus and while said category has been scoffed at by some, it has proven to be just as vital a stat as a goal or an assist. If you don’t believe this writer, just ask Bobby Orr, who holds the league record with a +124 rating in one season, or Larry Robinson who holds the career lead in plus-minus with +730.
To compare Hoffman to either Hall-of-Famer is, in fairness and with all due respect to the youngster, ludicrous. With that said, it still bears emphasis to just how important – and appreciated – the plus-minus rating is.
At season’s end, Hoffman finished in the NHL’s Top 50 in the plus-minus category, finishing with a +16, which was good enough for third on his team behind Mark Stone and Marc Methot, finishing with +21 and +22, respectively.
Hoffman, though, did lead the Sens this past season with 27 goals, which proves that while the Sens do score when he’s on the ice, many of those tallies are courtesy of Ottawa’s No. 68 himself – done in an aggressive, blue-collar style more often than not. Those numbers coupled with a hot streak that saw the Sens earn points in 24 of their final 27 games (winning 21 of those) en route to jettisoning into the playoffs shows just how invaluable Hoffman is in Ottawa. Not bad for a player few even heard of when the season began.
Skeptics will not have any reservations in predicting that the Senators will revert in 2015-16. After all, to go on such a torrid streak like they did to close the regular season rarely happens. Of course, the Senators themselves did it and while it may not be likely for them to duplicate such invincibility next season, their promising young team with a great mind behind the bench in Dave Cameron shows that if all goes well, the Sens will not need to string together a myriad of victories so late in order to succeed.
From Kyle Turris to David Legwand to all of the aforementioned players, the Ottawa Senators have all the makings to contend in a competitive Northeast Division that is led by the Montreal Canadiens and the recent Stanley Cup finalists Tampa Bay Lightning. Moving forward, though, so much of Ottawa’s pending success will be put largely on the shoulders of the soon-to-be-sophomore Hoffman, who will likely be seeing his average ice time of 14:33 increase.
Having been blessed with a nose for the net, a quick release and some speed, Hoffman, who may not be appreciated on the national scene, is very much admired by fans in Canada’s capital. He may not be the prettiest player to look at in terms of style, but Hoffman gets the job done – and that is something GM Bryan Murray and the Ottawa Senators are grateful for, just like they were six years ago on the draft floor in Montreal when they called his name.
Ryan Cowley is an accredited hockey writer who has been active for six seasons, writing for a number of publications, primarily about the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. He has attended events such as the Stanley Cup Final and the NHL Stadium Series.
He is a graduate of the Comedy Writing & Performance program at Toronto’s Humber College.