When the Ottawa Senators traded Erik Karlsson in September 2018, there was a sentiment of doom and gloom over the franchise with their captain on his way out the door. The initial skepticism of the trade overshadowed the acquisition of Josh Norris, an excellent two-way centerman playing out of the University of Michigan. With the Senators in a full transition, Norris is just another promising piece of the puzzle to the Senators rebuild and march towards the future.
Norris is a decorated pivot from the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). In 2016-17, he helped the red, white and blue win the gold medal at the World Junior Under-18 Championships and scored 7 points in 7 games. In 2017-18, Norris won the bronze at the Under-20s and followed up with a silver medal in the 2018-19 Under-20s where he posted 6 points in 7 games. In two of those tournaments, Norris was also named an assistant captain.
Norris’ coming-out party was in 2018-19 playing at Michigan when he produced at a terrific pace with 17 points through 19 games. His season came to an abrupt end, however, when he sustained a season-ending injury following the Under-20 Championships.
Despite a shortened season last year, Norris has climbed his way up the prospect depth charts in the Nation’s Capital.
Norris is often described as an all-around talent, showcasing a multitude of abilities. While he produced at over a point per game pace at Michigan last season, Norris is not widely considered an outright scorer. Norris offers strong skating and edgework, natural instincts and a high hockey IQ as well as above-average playmaking. He contributes to all facets of the game well, but is not exceptional at one particular element.
Norris is best known for his two-way play and ability to elevate and rise to the occasion during a game. He is a versatile player that can play in all situations up and down the lineup, which gives his team a great advantage for line pairings and defensive matchups. What may separate Norris from his peers the most are his intangibles and sense to perform when the game is on the line. TSN Director of Scouting, Craig Button, describing Norris’s intangibles as his strongest suit.
When the games become really significant and the challenges become ever more demanding, Josh has been able to bring his game up to that level.
(from ‘Button: Josh Norris will be a very good pro’, TSN1200 radio, Craig Button, Jan. 10, 2019).
The Senators and general manager Pierre Dorion have made it a point of drafting players with a strong work ethic and character qualities to build a strong core and the acquisition of Norris is just another example of Dorion’s strategy in action. Though Norris may not be a flashy player that makes the highlight reels, his calm demeanour on the ice speaks to his composure and his ability to execute at crunch time demonstrates how his preparation and practice are at the core of his training.
Areas of Improvement
With Norris showing a steady skillset across the board, it is difficult to pinpoint one particular area of his game that he needs to develop. According to Dobber Prospects, Norris finished in the top-10 of seven drills at the NHL Combine in 2017, speaking to how well rounded an athlete he is, let alone as a potential top-six NHL center.
The one element that Norris could stand to improve on in his shot velocity. Norris has a good release and great accuracy in his wrist shot, but his wrister could stand to use some more power, especially moving into the pro ranks. He handles one-timers well enough, but a heavier shot would make Norris a more significant scoring threat from further out.
Projection and NHL Comparison
Norris stands at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, which is a great size for a center that plays with the pace and edgework that Norris possesses. Norris plays at both ends of the ice and while being defensively responsible, he has shown to be a capable offensive contributor and can capitalize on his opportunities. At this highest point, Norris projects as a second-line center in the mold of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews.
The sound all-around play of Toews and his clutch playoff performances in the past draw very close parallels to Norris’ style and knack for elevating his game.
Expected NHL Debut
Norris signed his entry-level contract with the Senators and will spend time playing for the AHL affiliate in Belleville for the 2019-20 season. With a strong contingent of US-born skaters in the Senators system, Norris is no stranger to some of the Senators players, especially best-friend Brady Tkachuk. His relationship with Tkachuk and the potential for the two friends to suit up as linemates should only help his chances at success when he reaches the big club.
Should Norris continue to produce at just under a point per game pace in the minors while maintaining his two-way play, he could be in the Senators’ lineup in short order.
NHL Ready: 2020-21