With a brand new season just around the corner and Ottawa Senators general manager (GM) Pierre Dorion in the thick of strengthening his roster, it’s time to consider which Sens prospects are “untouchable.” That is to ask, who are the young guns who would never be considered as part of a trade package?
A Prospect Defined
Let me begin by saying that very few prospects are truly untouchable. If a team’s need were great enough, all but the most elite players, the likes of a Connor McDavid or a Sidney Crosby, could and would be moved in exchange for essential talent. To wax cynical, almost anything is for sale – at a price. That’s especially true in the cut-throat business of hockey.
Before the howls of outrage start over who I left off the list of untouchables, let’s define a prospect. For the purposes of this article, it’s a player who was drafted and/or signed by an NHL team and is assigned to a farm team – typically in the American Hockey League (AHL) or the ECHL. Besides these minor leagues, draft picks could continue playing for the team they were originally drafted from in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), the NCAA, the United States Hockey League (USHL) or various European Leagues.
Lastly, for our purposes, a prospect is further defined as a player who has played no more than 25 games with the NHL club with which they are signed. In my view, if they’ve played 25 or more games with the big club and haven’t earned a permanent spot on the roster, they simply aren’t untouchable.
While I don’t like to pick on any particular prospect in Ottawa’s stable, a case in point is Logan Brown, once considered a top prospect by many Senators’ fans but now rumoured to be heading out of the organization (from “Garrioch: It’s up to Logan Brown to determine where his career is headed” Ottawa Sun, 21/05/2021).
The fact is Brown was the team’s first-round pick in 2016, has played 30 games with the Sens yo-yo-ing back and forth between the baby Senators and the big club, yet still hasn’t earned a permanent spot on the roster. How ‘untouchable’ could he be?
Why “Untouchable” Prospect Lists Change
Fans of every NHL team have a list of prospects who they reckon are untouchable. They believe that every player on that list will one day become part of the very soul of the club. Woe be to any GM who dares trade them away.
Yet, the truth is that any team’s list of untouchable prospects can change for many reasons. Whether a team believes it has a shot at winning a Stanley Cup or that it must scrap what it has and rebuild will decide, at least in part, who remains on the list and who moves off. So too do the vagaries of the free agency market, the expiration of contracts with roster players, injuries, personality clashes and team chemistry.
Most important is the development of the prospects themselves. Why do so many top draft picks never match the lofty hopes once held out for them by management and fans? Such tales are the stuff of Shakespearian tragedies.
So here in the dog days of an Ottawa summer, we ask who really are, at least for now, the Senators’ untouchables? The team has plenty of prospects, but only a handful can be considered a potential foundation stone of a Stanley Cup champion.
What’s more, if the list is longer than five, then no real choices have been made about who truly is untouchable.
Here are the five:
Jake Sanderson – Defence, University of North Dakota (UND)
Taken by the Senators fifth overall in the 2020 entry draft, the left-handed blueliner is now widely regarded as being NHL-ready even though he is just entering his sophomore year at UND. (from “World Junior showcase: Jake Sanderson looks NHL ready; Aatu Raty gets buzz; plus USA’s projected roster”, The Athletic, 02/08/2021)
Many believe Jake Sanderson has the potential if developed properly, to become a true top-tier NHL D-man. The Senators seem to agree, passing on the draft’s top-ranked defenceman Jamie Drysdale to add the 6-foot-2, 185 pound 19-year old.
Sanderson is expected to bring speed and mobility to Ottawa’s blue line. He plays with a physical edge, has a high hockey IQ, possesses “good stick,” and has strong puck handling abilities. He transitions effortlessly from defensive to offensive play and is strong on the rush, often leading it. While not noted for being particularly creative in the offensive zone he has a hard shot and can be very deceptive with an ability to control the play.
The son of NHL forward Geoff Sanderson, the Whitefish Montana-born youngster brings an NHL bloodline to the Senators and with it, leadership skills. He captained several U-17 and U-18 US national teams under the US National Team Development Program. That he could be ready to crack the lineup in the next few years, if not sooner, could be important given the churn on the Sens’ back-end. Most of the team’s contracts with their blueliners expire over the next two years.
Few contenders for the Stanley Cup have ever been built without a strong defense. If the Senators are to vie for a championship, Sanderson could be an important part of their blue line.
Shane Pinto – Centre, Ottawa Senators
Drafted by the Senators in the second round in the 2019 entry draft, Shane Pinto made his debut with the team in early April, last season. In the 12 games he played with the team, the UND alumnus notched a goal and six assists.
At 6-foot-3 and over 190 pounds, he is a powerful presence in the faceoff circle. While with UND last year he registered a .620 faceoff win percentage and notched 32 goals in 28 games. He was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Trophy as the NCAA’s top player.
Strong around the net and a threat anywhere inside the hash marks, especially with his one-timer, he combines his size with speed. He has demonstrated a very high hockey IQ.
Jacob Bernard-Docker – Defense, Ottawa Senators
Yet another UND alumnus (my how the Senators love the NCAA!), the Canmore-born blueliner logged five games with the Sens in April last season. Ottawa’s first-round draft pick in 2018, the 21-year old will add some heft to the blue line with his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame.
Most observers expect to see Jacob Bernard-Docker assigned to Belleville in the upcoming season. The consensus seems to be that he’ll need time to develop. Nevertheless, Dorion had high praise for the youngster on his arrival in Ottawa in April saying, “Jacob represents another key component of our future” (from “Snapshots: Senators sign UND defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker and Centre Shane Pinto” The Ottawa Sun, 01/04/2021).
The GM’s optimism is well placed given Bernard-Docker’s college career. Playing 95 games with UND, he scored an impressive 60-points. He is noted for his stretch passes 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.
Ridly Greig – Centre, Brandon Wheat Kings/Belleville Senators
Another first-round pick taken by the Senators in the 2020 entry draft, the 19-year old has played the last three seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings but managed to play seven games with the Belleville Senators last year, registering a goal and two assists.
Ridley Greig is yet another Senators’ prospect with an NHL bloodline. His father, Mark Greig, played nine seasons in the league with four different franchises.
Ridley plays a fast and hard physical game. He is tenacious and battles along the boards and in front of the net. He is noted for the tenacity he brings to every shift. However, at only 5-foot-11 and 159 pounds, he will need to gain some muscle to bring that style of game to the NHL. Speed is one of his hallmarks, and he uses it effectively as a playmaker and on the forecheck. He has excellent puck sense and can move it quickly. His wrist shot is hard and accurate.
Roby Jarventie – Left Wing, Belleville Senators
Taken in the second round of the 2020 Draft, the 21-year old Finn is noted for his ability to use his six-foot-two frame to maintain possession of the puck and move into scoring position. This combined with his speed and great shot makes him a pure goal scorer.
Still, he has a reputation for being careless in his own zone. If he can clean up his defensive zone play, he has the potential to add some offensive firepower to the Sens’ bottom-six soon.
Here are just a few of the other prospects who many readers will argue should have been included on the list of untouchables:
Lassi Thomson – Defense, Belleville Senators
Maxence Guenette – Defense, Val-d’Or Foreurs
Jonny Tychonick – Defense, University of Nebraska
Passionate debates over the composition of a list of untouchable prospects for any franchise can be heard in bars and living rooms across the country. Most of the time, it is all but impossible to defend why some players did not deserve to be on the list.
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!”
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