In the past few seasons, the Ottawa Senators have stockpiled significant talent. The days of Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Derick Brassard, Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, have given way to talented youngsters. One of those players is Drake Batherson.
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In just a few days’ time, 24 NHL clubs will resume the 2019-20 season. Eight teams will battle for seeding, while the other 16 will be competing in a best-of-five play-in series. The Senators, however, have their sights set on next season. As general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith tweak their roster, Batherson’s name should be pencilled in amongst the team’s forward group. Here’s why.
Success in the AHL
Since he was drafted by the Senators in the fourth round, 121st overall in 2017, Batherson has spent most of the last two seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) with Ottawa’s affiliate. Between 2018-19 and 2019-20 with the Belleville Senators, the big winger has put up impressive numbers tallying 38 goals and 78 assists in 103 games to go along with 63 penalty minutes and a plus-29 rating. This translates to a little over a point-per-game pace.
Batherson’s skating has also improved tremendously. He’s become quicker and more agile while playing at a very high pace. In Belleville, he also worked hard to become a better all-around player. Attention to detail is paramount in the NHL, which is something that Batherson took a lot of pride in honing over the past few years. He has shown consistency, elite skill, and a knack for the game at the AHL level, which bodes as he hopes to make the transition to a full-time role in Ottawa.
Troy Mann, the head coach in Belleville, has been raving about Batherson’s game, stating that the 22-year-old winger has “nothing left to prove” in the AHL. Mann also went so far as to say that Batherson is capable of leading the league in scoring should he return for another season. Batherson’s (and Mann’s) goal is to suit up in the NHL next season with nothing left to accomplish in the AHL. When you factor in his development, he is trending in that direction.
Size and Strength
One of Batherson’s best assets is his size. At 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, he has the build (and makings) of an NHL player. He’s also learning how to use it effectively and more consistently in the NHL. After cracking the Sens’ opening night roster out of camp in 2018-19, he was sent back to Belleville after two games. Although disappointing, the Senators, who had an extended break in their schedule, felt it would be best for him to play in as many games as possible.
He spent the 2019-20 campaign being bounced between Belleville and Ottawa. Although, in Ottawa, he dished out 51 hits, as opposed to only 17 the year before. A massive jump to say the least.
Batherson is also feisty on the forecheck and along the boards making life difficult for the opposition. He even engaged in a fight this season with Jansen Harkins of the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 20. We all know that fellow Senators forward Brady Tkachuk loves to throw his weight around, but if Batherson can continue his physical style of play as he morphs into an everyday NHLer, that will be a huge plus for the Sens forward core. Imagine a 1-2-3 punch of Tkachuk, Nick Paul, and Batherson? All three are big, physical, and can put the puck in the net. Now, that’s a trio the fanbase can get behind.
Protecting the puck down low and shielding it from the opposition has also been a strength in Batherson’s game. Why have size if you don’t use it effectively? Whether he plays his natural position (center) or makes the transition to the wing, his ability to be “hard on pucks” and a menace to play against should place him in good stead at the NHL level. This is just the type of progression the Ottawa coaching staff (and fans) want to see from one of their promising youngsters.
Increased Comfort Level in Ottawa
Batherson is starting to get a sense of life in the NHL. Not only is he getting acclimated to the coaching system, but he’s also becoming more comfortable with his teammates, having played with Max Lajoie, Erik Brannstrom, and Alex Formenton in Belleville. This season in Ottawa, he tallied 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in 23 games, good for a 0.43 point-per-game pace. Quantify these numbers over a full 82-game season, and we’re looking at a 35-40-point campaign. Not too shabby.
Batherson’s ice time has also increased this season logging 15:34 per game as opposed to 13:25 the season before. In total, Batherson has played in 43 games at the NHL level over the span of two seasons. After bouncing back and forth to work on his two-way game, he should be able to secure a place on the Sens’ roster as early as next year. If he can continue his strong play, he should eclipse the 17-18 minute mark next season, spelling more good news for the Sens.
He has also adopted a more direct, north-south approach. He’s shooting more and creating offense more consistently which was lacking in the past. The added ice time, propensity for offense and the trust from the coaching staff will go a long way in Batherson’s development as an everyday NHL player.
When you look at his body of work and talent level, there’s a lot to like about Batherson. His time in the “A” worked wonders and all indications point towards a transition to a full-time role in Ottawa next season. He has “paid his dues”, worked hard to improve his game, and can look towards locking down a roster spot in the NHL.
Batherson would be an excellent fit for the young Senators. Not only does he have the confidence to succeed but he also has an impressive tool kit. When he’s in the lineup, Batherson adds speed, versatility, smarts, energy, goalscoring prowess, and flexibility to the Ottawa forward core as one of the organization’s most exciting up-and-comers. If my vote counts for anything, I’d say this kid is ready, folks!
My name is Domenic Lunardo, and I cover all things Blue Jackets here at The Hockey Writers. I am an avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in Toronto, with an unmatched passion for the beautiful sport of hockey.