Predicting which prospects may be able to make the Ottawa Senators’ 23 man active roster this fall is a mug’s game – especially in the middle of summer. Even so, I’m going to take a crack at it, although I won’t be wagering any money on my predictions.
Related: Senators’ 5 Untouchable Prospects
What makes it risky, of course, is that a lot can happen from now until October 14th, when the Senators meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in their first game of the season. Big summertime trades can send pundits scurrying to revise their depth charts.
What’s more, training camps matter. More than one long-shot prospect has shocked the naysayers with a stellar camp that earned them a spot on the roster.
Here are my bets:
Shane Pinto – Centre
While the big 20-year old centreman came directly to the Senators from the University of North Dakota (UND) last year and saw action in only 12 NHL games, many pundits feel Shane Pinto has a valid claim to at least a shot at a spot in the faceoff circle.
That’s because it’s down the middle where the Sens could use help. They lack a true top centreman and while Josh Norris and Colin White are locks at centre ice this year, questions surround the future of Chris Tierney (from “Garrioch: If the Ottawa Senators want a centre, the market through trade or free agency is limited”, The Ottawa Sun, 25/05/2021). Not only that, but Logan Brown seems unable to put together what it takes to become an NHLer. All of this gives Pinto a chance to earn a roster spot.
Injuries could also cement a spot for Pinto on the roster. Yet they could just as easily result in others being called up from the Belleville Senators farm team for a look. First on the list would be 6-foot-1, 200-pound Clark Bishop with 38 NHL games to his credit, including 13 with the Senators last year.
I am well aware that all of this speculation would go out the window if Senators’ general manager (GM) Pierre Dorion engineers a trade this summer for a centreman. I have no doubt that’s high on his to-do list.
Parker Kelly – Left Wing
Parker Kelly faces long odds of making the roster even as a bottom-six forward. And yes, I know that he’s listed as a centreman – but he also slots as a winger.
With the Senators’ left side boasting Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Nick Paul and Alex Formenton, it’s hard to see how the youngster could win a full-time job in Ottawa except in the case of an injury or perhaps contract extension talks with Paul going south.
In the event of either, Kelly would be a strong contender for regular ice-time. The 22-year old was undrafted but has two years under his belt in the American Hockey League (AHL) and notched 10 goals in 33 games last season. The 6-foot, 190-pound Alberta boy scored his first NHL goal this spring in a game against the Leafs on his first and only shot of the game.
Egor Sokolov – Right Wing
The 21-year old has an opportunity to carve out a spot for himself in the bottom six because of how depleted the team has become on the right-hand side. With Connor Brown and Drake Batherson the only locks at right wing and Evgenii Dadonov shipped to Sin City to play for the Vegas Golden Knights, Egor Sokolov has a reasonable chance to make the roster. That assumes he isn’t eclipsed in a trade.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Russian established his bona fides in Belleville last year, racking up 25 points in 35 games. He did what the Senators drafted him to do – score goals. Still, many argue bringing him up to the big club this year is too much, too soon, and he should be given another year in the AHL.
He’ll battle Pontus Aberg and Austin Watson for a roster spot. Both have appeared in 132 and 32 NHL games, respectively.
Eric Brannstrom – Left Defense
With Thomas Chabot, Nick Holden and Michael Del Zotto anchoring the left side of the blue line, the 21-year old would need to knock off Victor Mete to earn a regular roster spot. Still, even if he were edged out by Mete, injuries could propel him into the defence corps as a regular.
To earn a spot, he’ll have to prove his mettle. When he came into the organization as part of the Mark Stone trade, hopes were high he would become a star defenseman. In the two seasons since the trade, he has been underwhelming, with Dorion questioning his defensive game and sending him down to Belleville for lengthy stints.
He showed flashes of his potential late last season when his playing time increased substantially. However, it’s hard to know whether the increase was because injuries gave Dorion no choice but to play him or because the GM has started to believe in the young D-man.
This year is the young Swede’s chance to show where he belongs and vindicate the faith management placed in him last year. He’ll need a big training camp.
Jacob Bernard-Docker – Right Defense
The Senators seem set at right defense with Nikita Zaitsev, Artem Zub and Josh Brown. However, injuries may open up a chance for Bernard-Docker, who this year is expected to be in Belleville after concluding his college career with UND.
In 95 games with UND, he scored an impressive 60-points. He is noted for his smooth skating and ability to join the rush and sometimes lead it. In the defensive zone, he is a formidable one-on-one defender rarely missing or losing coverage. Scouting reports see him on special teams and being extremely effective on the penalty kill.
If the Senators are going to look in Belleville for support on the right side of the blue line, they’ll surely consider Lassi Thomson and possibly Maxence Guenette, who is expected to take a spot in Belleville this year after graduating from the Val d’Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Many feel going directly to the NHL from the NCAA is a bridge too far for the youngster. That may be true, and while he is no sure thing for a spot on the roster this year, a good training camp could put him there.
If I had to bet, I’d say Pinto has the best odds of any prospect of earning a spot on the big club’s roster.
There will be more trades this summer, and that could push most prospects out of contention for regular ice-time. Nevertheless, fate is a fickle mistress. Injuries and stellar performances at training camp have changed the fate of many young players.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney