After a disappointing 33-42-7 season for the Ottawa Senators, they have spent the offseason turning themselves into a legitimate playoff contender. The additions of Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux, and Cam Talbot have given the fanbase hope that this season will be different. They’ve failed to make the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, and now have expectations of success hanging over their heads.
Their star players will be their star players. DeBrincat, Thomas Chabot, and Brady Tkachuk are going to have to play their best hockey to vault this team into contention. As a result, certain players are going to be flying under the radar. Here are three of their most underrated players going into the 2022-23 season.
Mathieu Joseph was acquired at the trade deadline alongside a fourth-round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Nick Paul. His career-high in points came during his rookie season when he scored 13 goals and 26 points in 70 games for the Lightning.
His role expanded after being moved, and Joseph enjoyed a mini-breakout campaign by scoring 12 points in 11 games. That small sample size earned him a new four-year, $11.8 million contract that carries an average annual value (AAV) of $2.95 million. The 25-year-old winger will be a valuable part of the Senators’ middle-six this season and has a real chance to be a play driver on what projects to be a good third-line.
The most important aspect of his game that he yet again proved last season, was the ability to play with anyone. According to MoneyPuck.com, the top-line combination of Tkachuk, Joseph, and Josh Norris had an outstanding 66.7 expected goals percentage in the 62 minutes they played together.
Joseph has the speed and instincts that are necessary for killing penalties, and the touch and vision that is essential for being an offensive force. He’s a true Swiss-Army knife and the coaching staff will be looking to use him as one this season.
Artem Zub is 26 years old and is entering the prime of his career. He has ascended into a legit, top-four option for the Senators and will be asked to shoulder big minutes yet again this season.
This is a contract year for the right-handed defenceman, who has one year remaining on his $2.5 million AAV deal. He will likely be asked to play with Chabot again this year which has proved to be an effective top-pairing in the past. According to MoneyPuck.com, Chabot and Zub held an expected goals percentage of 52.6 percent in 441 minutes last season. Chabot being the offensive-minded defenceman, with Zub being the stay-at-home lockdown defender, bodes extremely well for yet another season of success for the pairing.
Zub isn’t a flashy player but one of the team’s most effective defenders. If defence prospect Jake Sanderson takes the “NHL leap” this season, the Senators will have a playoff-level defence to go with their highly invested offence.
There has been plenty of chatter about the Senators’ top-six forwards this offseason, but one player who always seems to go unnoticed is Drake Batherson. Along with 20-year-old forward Tim Stützle, he is one of the players that the franchise is banking on to develop into a star, which would vault them into the long-term contender conversation.
Batherson finished with 44 points in 46 games last year and will look to retain the top-line role alongside Tkachuk and Norris. The trio spent all of last season establishing much-needed chemistry, and they are all under contract until at least the 2027-28 offseason. They are beginning the prime stages of their career and have the opportunity to cement themselves as one of the best scoring lines in the NHL if they continue to improve as a unit.
Batherson has five years remaining on his $4.95 million AAV contract. If he continues to ascend into the prime of his career, this contract has the chance to be a bargain and a huge asset for the Senators franchise. Getting a point-per-game, top-line winger at a discount is what gives contending teams the flexibility to acquire superstars.
These players may not get the media attention or credit for the Senators’ success, but they still hold crucial roles on the team. As such, they are going to be integral parts of their playoff chase and will fly under the radar to some of the bigger names throughout the lineup. When they open the season on Oct. 13 against the Buffalo Sabres, keep an eye out for these three, as they will have a bigger impact than advertised.
Connor Hrabchak is 20 years old, currently covering the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers, and is working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.