Christmas has seemingly come early for the Ottawa Senators, who have been hot of late. They’ve won four of their last five games, doubling their win total in the process.
In the spirit of optimism, I’ve compiled a Senators Christmas wish list. There are a lot of good things to look forward to this year, and if only a few of these wishes come true, it will be a productive season for the organization as a whole.
Return of Pinto or White
The Senators have lacked center depth all year long, and it has been a problem area for the club for years, dating back to the Matt Duchene trade. This wasn’t supposed to be an issue this season, as the roster could have been filled out by Josh Norris, Shane Pinto, Colin White, Chris Tierney, and Tim Stützle if necessary.
Well, we’ve gotten to the point where Stützle at center is necessary. Even though he has been good, this is not the situation the organization wanted to force on him at his age, especially in the top-six, with tough matchups all night. Here’s to hoping for the return of Pinto or White. If the Senators get them back, it gives them more options at wing or some trade bait for the upcoming deadline.
Chabot to Heat Up
With six assists in his last four games, Thomas Chabot is starting to heat up after a cool start to the season. He hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn’t been electric, as his year-over-year development has seemingly plateaued.
Interestingly enough, in his two-assist outing against the defending champion Lightning, he logged a season-low 20:23 time-on-ice. Although unlikely to develop into a trend, it was nice to see the minutes spread out a little more evenly, which might end up giving Chabot more energy to push play on the offensive end of the ice, meaning less might be more.
The return of Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson has brought some energy to the team, so hopefully, he can pile up some points for the rest of the year.
Tkachuk/Norris/Batherson to Become Elite Line
Speaking of Batherson and Tkachuk, their line, along with Josh Norris, has been productive for the past couple of weeks, driving the Senators’ offense. This has been welcomed by the team and fans alike, but perhaps we could be a little greedier.
With the emergence of Batherson this season, the Senators’ top line could be a dominant force and rival some of the best trios in hockey. Tkachuk can do anything and everything, Norris’ elite 200-foot game solidifies the line all over the ice, and Batherson is one of those players that makes the right play seemingly every time he touches the puck.
The Senators should wish for this trio to become elite this season, similar to the Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrňák “Perfection Line” in Boston. They are closer than a lot of people might think.
Prospects to Star at World Juniors
The World Junior Championship (World Juniors) is an exhilarating tournament played every year for prospects aged 19 and under. As I wrote earlier this month, the Senators have a few potential stars at the tournament, and it will be intriguing to watch their progress.
Firstly and most obviously, Jake Sanderson has the potential to dominate the World Juniors and win tournament MVP. He has been outstanding this season, leading North Dakota with 19 points in 15 games from the back-end. If he continues to play with confidence, Team USA will go as far as he takes them.
Other Senators’ prospects, including Ridly Greig (Canada), Tyler Kleven (USA), Roby Järventie (Finland), and Leevi Meriläinen (Finland), could also end up making impacts for their respective teams, although it’s harder to predict their output.
That’s part of the beauty of the World Juniors, unexpected stars usually establish themselves throughout the tournament. I’m curious to see if Meriläinen ends up snagging the starting role for Finland.
Formenton to Take Next Step
Fresh off a promotion to the second line, Alex Formenton showed the flashes of speed and brilliance that fans are accustomed to. The next step would be to bring some consistency and finish around the net more often.
With his wheels, Formenton is arguably the fastest player in the NHL (beating Connor McDavid’s fastest skater time in the AHL) and regularly gets himself quality scoring chances off the rush. The challenge this poses is that it’s much harder to score at speed, especially if you’re trying to deke.
I think he should use his shot more at top speed, similar to Phil Kessel. Kessel made a career out of flying down the wing and firing a snapshot. If he can master that technique, he could be a lethal weapon for years to come.
Thomson or Bernard-Docker Become Mainstays in the Lineup
Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker bring different things to the Senators. Thomson brings some offensive flash, possibly developing into a power-play quarterback in the future, while Bernard-Docker brings responsible two-way play.
It will be interesting to see which of these two can establish themselves in the lineup long-term. If Thomson can shore up his game on the defensive side of things, he seems like an obvious candidate to stay with the big club for the rest of the season. He has already featured on the second power-play unit and has not looked out of place.
On the other hand, Bernard-Docker has been solid, if not unspectacular, but might be just what the Senators need to clamp down their porous defensive play this year. Regardless of who’s playing, the bottom pairing simply hasn’t been good enough.
If one of these two can get a solid grip on a bottom-pairing role, there would be hope for them to become a top-four defenseman next season. The only problem would be to open up some space on a right side that already features Nikita Zaitsev and Artyom Zub (which could be alleviated with a trade).
Yegor Sokolov Call-Up
Yegor Sokolov, standing 6-foot-4, is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Senators’ system. With the size and scoring touch, he can do many things that the Senators lack on offense. With Brady Tkachuk as their main physical presence up front, and Zach Sanford failing to bring much offense this year, Sokolov could be their next best power forward.
He has been productive in Belleville this season, with 14 points in 18 games, good for second in team scoring. If he continues this pace and possibly reaches a point-per-game, he could be a useful late-season call-up. Furthermore, he could find some second power-play unit time as a net-front presence.
Matt Murray Situation Resolved
The proverbial elephant in the room, Matt Murray simply can’t stay in the minors with his $6.25 million yearly salary for the next three years. The Senators have to make a move, preferably one that doesn’t handcuff them with another contract buyout, with Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf still on the books.
There are two possible positive scenarios: either Murray miraculously regains his form and joins the big club again, or they find a way to move his contract to another team, potentially sweetening the deal with a roster player or a pick.
The former seems highly unlikely, but we’ve seen it before with goalies like Devan Dubnyk and Anton Khudobin, who have each enjoyed a renaissance late in their careers. The more likely scenario is the latter, as teams regularly take on dead cap space, similarly to the Marian Hossa or David Clarkson trades of the past. The Murray situation is slightly different from these two, though, as he is still a useful player, just not as any team’s starting goalie.
Speaking of moving pieces, the Senators have several veteran players who could land them some assets at the deadline. Some are more valuable than others, and some might be kept rather than shipped off.
Tyler Ennis provided some secondary scoring this year and could land them a mid-round pick or a prospect. Chris Tierney, although he hasn’t had the most productive season, is still a solid middle-six or depth center and could be traded for similar value to Ennis. On the back-end, Nikita Zaitsev or Nick Holden could end up moving out of town.
Whatever the Senators choose to do, they should still be targeting young assets, whether that be picks, prospects, or roster players. They would be wise to combine assets to land more promising prospects or higher draft picks.
Mads Søgaard to Lead Belleville to Playoffs
As it stands now, the Belleville Senators sit in sixth place in the North Division with an 11-11-0 record. Although that isn’t the prettiest record, due to the new AHL playoff format, they should be able to squeeze into the postseason. In fact, they currently hold the same point total as the Toronto Marlies, who sit third in the division.
If Belleville qualifies for the playoffs, look for 6-foot-7 Mads Søgaard to lead them there. For the sake of his development, he should play at least 60 percent of their games, perhaps more, regardless of Matt Murray’s presence on the team. If he can lead them to the playoffs and possibly make some noise while there, he will be better prepared for the big leagues.
If even half of these wishes come true, the Senators will be happy this holiday season. Otherwise, they could be stuck with coal again, but at least it might lead to Shane Wright next year.
Writer and hockey addict from the GTA, covering the Ottawa Senators. Leafs fan from birth, moved to BC to explore the mountains and find the strength to keep cheering. Love talking prospects, potential, and coaching strategies.