As the Ottawa Senators rebuild is in full swing, most fans turn to look at the future of the organization. Teams’ prospects are scrutinized as much, if not more, than the players already in the NHL lineups. Introducing a prospect pyramid can further categorize a team’s prospects, placing them into tiers to evaluate what to expect from them in the future and how they might progress moving forward in their careers.
The Senators are at a point where the prospects are the most important part of the organization. They will directly impact whether or not the future Senators will be successful or not.
What is a Prospect Pyramid?
Sportsnet correspondent Steve Dangle first created the idea of a prospect pyramid for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and has since become the new standard of sorting prospects in an organization. Dangle says that rather than trying to sort prospects in a numbered list, ranking them into tiers makes more sense then trying to decide who’s 15th and who’s 16th. The tiers look at their potential and group them accordingly rather than ranking them subjectively.
To explain the six tiers, here’s a written out breakdown, courtesy of THW’s own Brandon Share-Cohen:
Tier 1 – Elite talent (Rasmus Dahlin, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid-level talent)
Tier 2 – Very, very good prospects with a real chance of being top-six forwards, top-two defenders or good starting goalies
Tier 3 – Good players who fall just short of tier 2, perhaps due to lower ceilings, but who are distinctly better than tier’s below them
Tier 4 – Distinct shot at making an NHL roster and being a contributor (top-nine forward, bottom-four defender, fringe starter or backup goaltenders
Tier 5 – Players who likely don’t project to be anything more than a role player in the NHL as their ceiling – these players chances of making the NHL aren’t very high compared to their comrades (sometimes due to being relatively unknown at this point)
Tier 6 – Players who have an uphill battle to make the NHL, or there isn’t enough information to make an informed decision
With that explained, here’s where the Senators prospects currently stack up:
Tier 1: Empty
Tier one is extremely hard to crack. In fact, most teams don’t have a tier one prospect. Usually, these players make the jump straight to the NHL, just like Dahlin, Matthews and McDavid all did. Looking at the younger players on the Senators, Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk would have come closest to this tier when they were prospects. Chabot would have a better shot here as he was a star in the QMJHL, succeeded with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships and didn’t waste much time in the AHL.
Even still, he would likely be a tier-two prospect, as it wasn’t a certainty for him to make the jump to the NHL. Similarly, Tkachuk has already proven that he’s a top-six forward, but he does have room to improve. This was known when he was drafted, and when he was coming in there were questions on whether or not he’d make the team, which would knock him down to tier two.
As mentioned, most teams don’t have players in this category as they are very hard to come by and don’t remain prospects for long. These players usually only come from high draft picks, which looking forward, the Senators don’t have for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Unless a trade can get them a lottery draft pick, this section will remain empty for the foreseeable future.
Tier 2: Batherson, Brown, Norris, Formenton, Bernard-Docker & Gustavsson
While tier one may be disappointing to some Senators fans, tier two has a lot to be excited about. The Senators have a number of players here who could even get the call-up before the current season is out and could become top-six forwards, top-four defensemen or start in net. Those players are Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Josh Norris, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Alex Formenton and Filip Gustavsson.
With the way Batherson has looked for the AHL’s Belleville Senators this season, he could almost be at the cusp of tier one. He’s not quite their yet, but there is a ton of promise in the young winger. Batherson is currently the top prospect in Senators system right now, which is a huge accomplishment considering he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He has been at or above a point-per-game in the QMJHL, with Team Canada (where he won a gold medal) and now in his rookie season with Belleville, earning him an All-Star nod, and All-Star MVP.
The rest of tier two is right behind Batherson. Brown has been having a huge bounce-back season after missing a month to an injury to start 2018-19. The 11th-overall pick in 2016 has two World Junior Championship bronze medals, a Memorial Cup and was over a point-per-game in the OHL. Now with Belleville, he’s been turning it on as of late, with 21 points in the 15 games played in 2019. His size (6-fo0t-6, 220 pounds) and his skill will make him a top-six forward for the team.
Norris, acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade from the San Jose Sharks, was having a breakout campaign before an injury at the World Junior Championships sidelined him for the season. The University of Michigan sophomore might still be a year or two away from the NHL, but he’s already looking like he has top-six potential.
In the 17 games prior to his injury, Norris had 19 points. He also played first-line centre for Team USA at the World Juniors, collecting six points in seven games. He now has a gold, silver and bronze from World Juniors. It also doesn’t hurt that he and Tkachuk are best friends.
The last forward in this section is Formenton. After being drafted 47th overall in 2017, the speedy winger has made the Senators’ opening lineup both seasons before being sent back to the OHL’s London Knights. He was a point-per-game last season with the Knights and was over that this season, on top of being a lock for Team Canada, before an injury took him out as well. Unlike Norris, Formenton should be back soon and be back on track to be an eventual top-six winger in the NHL.
The lone tier two defender is Bernard-Docker. Drafted 26th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Bernard-Docker has been having a solid freshman campaign at the University of North Dakota. He’s one of the team’s best players, and that was proven by his invite to this past year’s Team Canada tryouts. At just 18, there’s a lot of potential for this defender moving forward. He’s at least a couple of years away, but Bernard-Docker could end up being Chabot’s partner on the top pairing.
Finally, there’s the goaltender Gustavsson. Now, while he has seemed to struggle this season in Belleville, the team hasn’t been great in front of him most nights either. Despite this season, he is still on track to be the Senators’ next number one goaltender. The 20-year-old already has a World Championship gold medal and a World Junior Championship silver medal, where he won best goaltender and was named to the All-Star team. That was just last season. Gustavsson is still the goaltender of the future, although some of the other netminders in the system have been making pushes.
Tier 3: Chlapik, Balcers, Tychonick & Daccord
Some players in this tier may even be able to jump to tier two, but we just haven’t seen enough to prove it yet, despite stellar performances this season. The tier three players are Filip Chlapik, Rudolfs Balcers, Jonny Tychonick and Joey Daccord. Similar to tier two, a couple players on this list could even get the call-up, or have already. Balcers has been called up this season and Chlapik already has some NHL experience under his belt.
Chlapik led Belleville last season in points, with 32 in 52 games. With as many call-ups as there have been this season, it’s surprising that Chlapik hasn’t been among them. He had 20 games in the NHL last season, collecting one goal and four assists. Over the last couple seasons, the 48th overall pick from 2015 has seemed to have been leaped by other prospects, like Tkachuk, Colin White, Formenton and Batherson, but he does still have potential for the top-nine, possibly higher if he continues to progress.
Coming the Senators organization with Norris in the Karlsson trade was Balcers. The Latvian player was taken in the same draft as Chlapik, but 142nd overall. He’s a two-time Norwegian champion, was an AHL All-Star last season and had 77 points in 66 games in his one season in the WHL. There’s lots to like about the 21-year-old and he could be a fringe tier-two player moving forward.
The Senators’ Tychonick and Bernard-Docker picks were actually both received by the Senators in the same trade, with the New York Rangers in exchange for the 22nd-overall pick (K’Andre Miller). They both play for the University of North Dakota as freshmen. Tychonick hasn’t caught on to the speed of college hockey like Bernard-Docker has, but there is still potential for the young defender.
Goaltender Daccord is a very interesting piece of this pyramid, who would not have been in tier three at the beginning of the season. In fact, he could end the season higher up the tiers. The 199th pick in 2015 has gone from seventh-round draft pick to elite NCAA goaltender this season. In 30 games with Arizona State University, Daccord has a 2.18 goals-against average and an impressive .931 save percentage, all while facing the most shots against in the nation.
Daccord has surged up the Senators and NHL’s prospect rankings this season, and he’s not done yet. Moving forward, he has the potential to push Gustavsson as the top goaltending prospect in the organization. It could be argued that he already is.
Tier 4: Crookshank, Gruden, Rodewald & Hogberg
The Senators currently have three players who could make the NHL roster, but in more of a role player position. These players include Angus Crookshank, Johnny Gruden, Jack Rodewald and Marcus Hogberg. Hogberg has been on the rise this season and could be considered a fringe tier-three prospect.
Hogberg was even called up by the Senators this season for four games, going 0-2-1 (he was pulled in one game). Gustavsson and Daccord are both ahead of him at this point, and he would need to battle his way back into the mix to climb the tiers. At this point, his best bet seems to be a backup, despite a great start in the minors this season.
Gruden and Crookshank were both drafted in 2018, 95th and 126th overall, respectfully. Gruden was coming off of an impressive 60-point performance with the U.S. National U18 team in 61 games. He hasn’t transferred his success into this season with Miami University where he currently has 11 points in 30 games. Crookshank, on the other hand, is on the rise and may jump into the third tier. Playing with the University of New Hampshire, the left winger has 22 points in 29 games. He’s been climbing the Senators prospects lists all season and doesn’t look like he’s done.
Rodewald has been having a solid season in Belleville, collecting 34 points in 38 games. He also has six games with the Senators this season, but was held without a point. His AHL season is already the best of his career, but his ceiling still remains relatively low. He could fit into the bottom-six moving forward.
Tier 5: Luchuk, Bergman, Kelly & Ahl
Aaron Luchuk, Julius Bergman, Parker Kelly and Filip Ahl fill out the fifth tier, all players who could make the NHL, but at this point it looks like a long-shot for them to become regulars with the Senators. Luchuk started out slowly in the ECHL’s Brampton Beast, but has since been called up to the Belleville Senators.
He hasn’t exactly excelled there either, with eight points in 19 games. The 21-year-old may come into his own though, as he had a stellar OHL career including a Memorial Cup win. Bergaman was brought to Ottawa in the Mike Hoffman trade. He was the 46th-overall pick in 2014 and has shown flashes of potential throughout his career, but through 33 games this season he has just six assists.
Kelly is an undrafted prospect, who may be a solid AHL player moving forward. He’s still in the WHL currently, and impressing with 52 points in 53 games. He will still probably just get to Belleville, but crazier things have happened. Ahl is currently playing in Sweden and like Parker, is likely looking at the AHL as his ceiling. Playing with Tingsryds AIF, the fifth-round pick currently has 17 points in 34 games.
Tier 6: Everyone Else
The sixth tier is for those who either really won’t have a shot at the NHL, or their isn’t enough information to make an informed decision. Goaltender Kevin Mandolese is one who there really isn’t enough information on yet, and it usually proves difficult to judge goalies this early in their career.
The rest of the sixth tier includes Luke Loheit, Markus Nurmel, Jakov Novak, Todd Burgess, Miles Gendron, Morgan Klimchuk, Andrew Sturtz, Adam Tambellini, Andreas Englund, Patrick Sieloff and goaltender Jordan Hollett. This isn’t to say that they won’t one day make the NHL, but it does look unlikely at this point in their careers that they’ll be contributing members on an NHL team. Their futures may become more clear next season, as well.
The Prospect Pyramid is Constantly Changing
As prospects continue their career, they can rise and fall through the tiers on this list. Daccord is a prime example of this, as he may have been a fourth- or fifth-tier prospect at the beginning of the season, but has risen to the third tier. That could change again before he truly gets a crack at the NHL. The point is, these groupings are not a fixed evaluation of these prospects, but a fluid guide that is constantly changing as moves are made in the organization, drafts occur and the general progression or regression of their play.
Statistics from EliteProspects.com as of Feb. 12. 2019.