If you’ve been following along, I first wrote about the young Ottawa Senators’ goalies. Next, it was their defensemen. Now, time for the forwards. Coming into the 2019-20 season, the Senators’ young forward prospects were looked at by many as a rather mediocre group. However, with big-time performances from a number of their players up front, there is now a growing excitement about their future forwards.
Just as the Senators have Thomas Chabot as their young stud blueliner leading the way on the backend, it’s Brady Tkachuk as their top forward leading the charge up front. Hopefully, some of these young forwards are able to help Tkachuk in the near future.
In the 2017 NHL Draft, the Senators selected 19-year-old Drake Batherson in the fourth round. He had gone undrafted the year before, and had also gone undrafted in his first eligible season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Draft in 2014. The biggest change for Batherson in those years was his size. He went from under 5-foot-5 in 2014, to now being listed at 6-foot-3.
With the added size to go along with his intelligence and work ethic, Batherson became an absolute force. Including the playoffs, he scored 110 points in 73 games in his final junior season. He also helped Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Tournament with a team-leading seven goals in seven games. Since then, he has continued to impress. He’s scored 116 points in 103 American Hockey League (AHL) games, and 19 points in 43 NHL games.
Batherson, a right-winger, trains in the offseason with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand and Nathan MacKinnon. His skating continues to progress, and he has the ability to get the most out of whoever he plays with. With his desire to succeed and his ability with the puck, Batherson should compete for a full-time spot in the NHL next season.
Josh Norris was the most recognized prospect in the return that sent Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks. That left many Sens fans disappointed. Norris, a former first-round pick, was coming off of an underwhelming first season at Michigan. He also went goalless in seven World Junior Championship (WJC) games that season.
While many were projecting him as a future third-line player, he went on to a much better second NCAA season. He scored 19 points in 17 games, and 6 points in 7 WJC games. While an injury cut his season short, he picked up right where he left off this season. He led the Belleville Senators with 31 goals and 61 points, and was recognized as the AHL Rookie of the Year.
All of a sudden, Senators fans are thrilled to have him in the system. A 6-foot-1 centre, Norris plays a strong two-way game. His effort level is never questioned. He showed a strong shooting ability this season and with a few NHL games under his belt, he is hoping to push for an NHL spot next season.
Selected 11th overall in 2016, Logan Brown was Pierre Dorion’s first ever draft pick as Senators’ general manager. At 6-foot-6, the playmaking centre was seen as a long-term project. Patience was going to be key with Brown.
Four seasons later, the fan base seems split — some have seen their patience wear out while others believe Brown is finally ready to contribute as a full-time NHLer. A big issue with him has been the injuries — he has missed time in each of the last four seasons. His style of play has some pros and cons as well. No one would use words like tenacious or high-energy to describe his game. Having said that, he is clearly a talented player when it comes to his vision, passing, and creativity with the puck.
He has managed 70 points in 81 AHL games, and has shown flashes of strong play at the NHL level. He is especially dangerous on the power play. The plan all along with Brown was to be patient. He needs to stay healthy, which has been a challenge, but Brown should have a chance to compete for an NHL spot next season.
As one of the youngest players selected in the 2017 NHL Draft, Alex Formenton’s untapped potential brought excitement to the fan base. He made his NHL debut the very next season, furthering the buzz within the organization. At the 2018 WJC, he played to his strengths on the wing and showed what he had to offer — incredible speed, work ethic, physicality, all the while being annoying to play against.
If there was a negative to his future in the NHL, it was his offensive upside. He scored 82 points in 79 games over his last two OHL seasons, not big-time production by any means at that level. Many thought he’d end up as a third-line energy player. This season, though, he managed to score 27 goals and 53 points in 61 games as an AHL rookie. Those numbers, paired with his speed and his ability to get under the skin of his opponents, has the organization thrilled about his potential moving forward. If he continues to progress, he should play at least some of next season at the NHL level.
With the first pick in the second round in the 2019 draft, many Senators fans were disappointed when Shane Pinto was named as the selection. With more recognizable players like Arthur Kaliyev still available, the selection of the lesser-known Pinto left fans scrambling to figure out who he was and what he projected to be.
After last season, though, Pinto’s stock has definitely been elevated. The 6-foot-2, two-way centre scored 16 goals and 28 points in 33 games for the University of North Dakota, earning him Rookie of the Year honours in his Conference. He also scored fours goals and seven points in five WJC games for the United States.
Pinto does not wow you with his skill level. He gets the job done with his strength, worth ethic, willingness to go to the dirty areas, and a strong finishing ability. While the Senators left more skilled players on the board in the 2019 draft, Pinto does play a pro-style game and has shown great progress over the last few seasons, as he only started to take hockey seriously recently. He’ll return to the University of North Dakota next season. He seems to be tracking in a similar way to Colin White, which would mean one more year of college hockey, a year spent mostly in the AHL, and then a chance to compete for an NHL job.
Picking a top five for the Senators’ forwards was much more difficult than their goalies or defense. Being left out is Rudolfs Balcers, a goal-scoring winger who’s tallied 33 goals and 67 points in 76 games with the Belleville Senators to go along with 17 points in 51 NHL games since coming over from the Sharks in the Karlsson deal.
Another recent trade acquisition was Vitaly Abramov. Coming over from the Blue Jackets in the Matt Duchene trade, the undersized Russian’s production was inconsistent this season, but he still put up 41 points in 51 AHL games and plays with a ton of energy.
As far as prospects without the wow factor but with NHL potential, Dorion drafted 20-year-old, 6-foot-3, physical centre Mark Kastellic in the fifth round in 2019 to potentially be the Senator’s future fourth-line centre. While his offensive upside is clearly limited, he does have a chance to be a bottom-line player.
Parker Kelly is similar. Undrafted out of the Western Hockey League (WHL), he finished his first pro season with just 16 points in 57 AHL games, but he plays an energetic, tenacious style of game. It also seems that if Filip Chlapik is to make it as an NHL regular, it will be in the bottom six. He did play 33 NHL games this season, scoring just 6 points.
Lesser known prospects include, Jonathan Gruden, who played well with the London Knights this season, scoring 30 goals and 66 points in 59 games. Angus Crookshank managed to lead the University of New Hampshire with 16 goals and 137 shots in 34 games this season. Lastly, when he came over in the Matt Duchene deal, Jonathan Davidsson had a decent amount of hype. Unfortunately, injuries have limited him over these last two seasons. He managed just 5 points in 18 AHL games last season, and 1 point in 6 NHL games.
As much as the likes of Batherson, Norris, Brown, Formenton and Pinto progressed this season, the Senators still lack true game-changing prospects up front. The depth of the prospect pool is solid, but you’ve seen how great the top forwards are on Stanley Cup contending teams. That’s where the 2020 NHL Draft comes into play for the Senators. With two picks in the top five, the Senators have a chance to add big-time, can’t-miss talents to this group. They also have 13 total picks, giving the organization a great opportunity to add to both the quality and quantity of this group.
I’m Danny, covering the Ottawa Senators as they attempt to rebuild their way back to contender status.