During this time while the NHL’s season is suspended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, obviously there isn’t any on-ice news. Still, news continues to emerge from different teams and NHL organizations.
In this post, I want to keep up with what’s happening in the Ottawa Senators organization and the news and rumors that are emerging from that team.
Item One: When You Enter the Tkachuk House, Be Ready to Compete
Keith Thackuk, in his day, was the very definition of an NHL power forward. Tkachuk played 19 seasons in the NHL, beginning with the Winnipeg Jets, and then moving with the team to Phoenix as the new Coyotes, then to the St. Louis Blues, and then as a rental for the last part of the 2006-07 season with the Atlanta Thrashers (who were swept by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs), then re-signing with the Blues for three seasons. Along the way, he scored 50 goals twice – in his last season with the Jets and his first with the Coyotes.
Now his two sons are NHL players – Matthew with the Calgary Flames and Brady with the Senators. And they must have gotten the competitive gene from dad. With the season on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both brothers are home in St. Louis – where the Tkachuk family settled after father Keith’s nine seasons there – and are spending time beating on each other in every competitive way they can.
In his article in the Calgary Sun, reporter Wes Gilbertson cited Matthew as listing the ways the brothers were competitive. Specifically, according to Matthew,
“It’s been pretty even so far. I would say Brady has beaten me more times in basketball out in the driveway. I think I’m probably the king of the house at pickleball right now. Brady is better at video games downstairs. We’ve been playing a bit of Kan-Jam, with the frisbee, and I would say I’m better than him at that. And I think I have him in golf. We have been playing a ton of golf, and I’ve always had the edge in golf on him. He’s gotten a lot better and he can hit it a mile now, but I think I still have the edge. But we’re really, really close in everything, and we’re thankful to have each other that we can compete with each day and each competition that we have.” (from “Competitive juices still flowing for Flames’ Tkachuk during pause,” Wes Gilbertson, Calgary Sun, 18/04/20).
Item Two: Prospect Erik Brannstrom Has Improved His Defense in Belleville
Erik Brannstrom was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and came to the Senators at the 2019 trade deadline with center Oscar Lindberg and a second-round pick in 2020 for winger Mark Stone. At the time, Senators fans thought the young Swedish defenseman was exactly what the team needed – a solid acquisition who would take away the sting of not being able to sign the popular Stone, who has been just south of a point-a-game player for his entire career.
In fact, Brannstrom was supposed to one day replace defensive stalwart Erik Karlsson, who’s number will one day be retired in the nation’s capital. But, so far, Brannstrom hasn’t made it happen. This season, he had only 44 assists in 31 games with the Senators before he was sent to AHL Belleville, where (when he wasn’t injured) he had a strong-enough season scoring 3 goals and 20 assists in 27 AHL games.
In his time with the Senators this season, he just didn’t seem to be able to show the flash so many expected. The question remains: can Brannstrom can elevate his game and make the team’s roster in the 2020-21 season?
In an article this week in the Ottawa Citizen, Belleville head coach Troy Mann discussed Brannstrom’s progress. Mann specifically noted, “Brannstrom certainly improved his defensive game. People have to realize Brannstrom isn’t a very big player (5-foot-9), so he’s going to have to win his battles through stick positioning and closing and using his feet and his intelligence. At the end of the day, as much as we want to have him box out in front of the net and win those 50/50 battles, he’s not going to win all of those.”
Mann also discussed the coaching staff’s goal of working with Brannstrom on his stick detail and positional awareness. Again, Mann noted the young defenseman had improved in those areas. However, for two straight seasons, Brannstrom has suffered injuries that slowed his development. Unfortunately, Mann admitted, during “both seasons, just when you liked where his game was and where he was at mentally, he got hurt.”
Related: Ben Bishop Trade Revisited
However, his final assessment is that Brannstrom’s “a heck of a player, and he’s going to be a good one but he needs some consistent time without injuries.” (from “Not all is lost if the Belleville Senators don’t get a chance to finish the season,” Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Citizen, 22/04/20)
Item Three: Drake Batherson Has “Nothing Left to Prove” at the AHL Level
In that same Ottawa Citizen article, Coach Mann also weighed in on Drake Batherson. His assessment? Batherson has “nothing left to prove, at least in the regular season, at the (AHL) level.”
Mann elaborated, “From a skill perspective and elite hockey sense at this level, I don’t think he has anything else to prove. He can come back to Belleville next year and he’s still going to lead the league in scoring or be a top-five scorer, but to me, it’s not about that.”
The goal Mann suggested is that Batherson must “become that player in Ottawa that he’s been showing here. He’s worked on the things we’ve talked about to make him more prepared for October.”
In Ottawa, Batherson had a shakey training camp and a rough start to the season with only three goals and seven assists in 23 NHL games. However, at the AHL level, Batherson made great strides and scored 16 goals and 54 points in 44 AHL games. Batherson should be counted on to become a regular on the Senators NHL roster next season.
What’s Next for the Senators?
The NHL regular-season suspension has changed life for everyone, including those within each organization who work behind the scenes. That’s true for Shelley Kettles, a skating development consultant for the Senators.
What does a skating coach do at a time like this when players can’t skate? The answer is, not as much as she’d like and she’s bored. What she is doing is getting ready in case players might soon be able to resume skating. When they do, she’ll be needed because they’ll be rusty and need help to get back up to speed.
In an interesting article about her work in the Ottawa Citizen, Kettles noted that she was “revamping the summer schedule. We might be looking at a full four months off the ice, maybe. I’m trying to find the best way for players to get (where they want to go) a little quicker, with a condensed program.”
In the meantime, she’s encouraging players to rollerblade because it’s better than nothing and helps them keep their power and conditioning so they’re a bit closer to ready when they finally hit the ice. (from “When there’s no ice, what does a skating coach do? Ken Warren, Ottawa Citizen, 21/04/20)