Senators Defence Needs Young Legs

When the Ottawa Senators lost top-pair defenceman Marc Methot over the summer, they knew they’d have to rely on younger players to replace him. So far, rookie defencemen like Thomas Chabot and Ben Harpur have been given a chance to contribute, and both players have shown some promise.

Chabot, a first-round pick in 2015, has shown flashes of offensive brilliance in his first 10 games with the Senators this season. He has been given pretty limited ice time due to his age and risky style of play, but has so much potential it’s worth the risk. Harpur is a different story both in terms of usage and style of play. The 6-foot-6 defender is not known for his puck skill, but Senators coach Guy Boucher says he likes the stability Harpur brings to the team.

While Chabot’s ice time seems to fluctuate based on how close the game is, Harpur’s ice time has been trending upwards, with him playing 20 minutes against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. Harpur spent most of that game paired with Erik Karlsson and played a solid game despite being deked out by Tyler Toffoli on the first Los Angeles goal.

After alternating the two young defenders in and out of the lineup, both Harpur and Chabot have found spots on the Senators defence for the time being. However, this has forced another effective defenceman out of the lineup.

Bring Back Claesson

Fredrik Claesson started the season in the Senators top four but saw his ice time steadily decrease since Erik Karlsson returned to the lineup. Since the two defencemen were productive together the previous season, it was expected that Karlsson and Claesson would be paired together once again. The two Swedes were eventually reunited on the team’s first pair during Ottawa’s trip to Stockholm, but it didn’t take long for Boucher to start experimenting with his defensive pairings.

fredrik claesson
Binghamton Senators Fredrik Claesson. (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)

When both Harpur and Chabot were called up from Belleville at the end of November, Claesson found himself in the press box for the first time this season in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Sens lost, allowing five goals and getting significantly out-chanced, so Claesson was back in the lineup the next night. For a while it looked like scratching Claesson was just going to be a one-time thing, but he has sat out the last three games of the Senators’ California road trip.

This decision has upset a lot of fans, since Claesson has developed a pretty faithful following in Ottawa. It’s easy to understand why, since the 25-year-old worked hard in the minors for four seasons before finally becoming a full-time NHLer. Claesson’s colourful personality has made him a fan favourite, but his play is what really stands out. Claesson defends his team’s net better than most Senators and has a booming slap shot that he puts to use when Karlsson passes him the puck.

Of course, the absence of Claesson isn’t the main reason the Senators are struggling, but having him in the lineup should be an easy decision for Guy Boucher. Claesson has definitely played well enough this season to deserve a permanent spot on the roster, but for now, the Senators seem to be prioritizing both Chabot and Harpur ahead of him. However, there’s a strong case to be made for having all three of them in the lineup.

Need Young Energy

When the Senators signed Johnny Oduya this past offseason, not many people thought it was more than just a depth move. Despite this, Oduya has consistently been given a spot in the team’s top-four, and it’s clear Boucher trusts him against the opposition’s best players. Oduya has been Karlsson’s most common defensive partner this year, but the veteran hasn’t been playing like a top-pair defenceman.

Johnny Oduya
Ottawa Senators defenceman Johnny Oduya (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

The 36-year-old has been a minus player in each of the last four games, getting three minor penalties in his last two. There are times where Oduya’s age is evident, and he is unable to muster up the speed to get back in position.

It isn’t a bad idea to have an experienced defenceman like Oduya on the team, but when considering his recent play and the way the whole team has fallen off a cliff in the past month, it’s worth giving younger players a shot at playing a bigger role. Many coaches have the same concern when trusting inexperienced defencemen, that they’ll nervously make bad plays because they aren’t used to playing against the best players in the world. But with the way the team’s veterans are playing, it’s hard to believe some inexperience would make matters worse.