The Ottawa Senators head towards the 2020-21 campaign as one of the most fascinating teams in the National Hockey League for a variety of different reasons. For one, all eyes will be glued to the team leading up to and during the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, as the club is slated to select third, fifth, and 28th overall. Second, the Senators are also one year further along with their rebuild with a real, bright future in front of them.
Leading the rebuild are a plethora of talented prospects, which include the likes of Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Josh Norris, Shane Pinto, and Lassi Thomson, among others. The current crop of Senators also have some promising names such as Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk, with some set for breakout campaigns as early as next season. Who are they and why are breakout seasons certainly in the realm of possibility for each?
Colin White, C
Colin White starts us off as one of Ottawa’s most intriguing players. After an impressive rookie season that saw him tally 41 points in 71 games, he had a disappointing 2019-20 campaign scoring just seven goals and 23 points in 61 games. As they say, the past is the past and what better time for a bounce-back season?
Heading into the 2020-21 campaign, White should slot in as the club’s number one center between the likes of Tkachuk and Bobby Ryan, which bodes well for the team and for White himself. At 23 years of age, he’s a talented and intelligent forward who plays the game “the right way.” He’s a strong skater and can change the outcome of a game with his five-on-five-play and on special teams. As a rookie, he ranked in the top-10 in goals, assists, and points. In a league that’s top-heavy with flourishing, young superstars, that’s certainly saying something.
I’m a big fan of White as a player because he’s a threat to score goals, make plays at top speed, and because he thinks the game at an elite level. For a player who’s only 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, he’s rarely knocked off the puck and has the offensive skillset and wherewithal that’s certainly unique for a player of his stature. For these reasons and more, I think he’s poised to eclipse the 20-goal, 50-point mark as early as next season.
Nick Paul, C/LW
Mississauga, Ontario-native Nick Paul is next up on our list, standing at a towering 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Although his numbers at the NHL level certainly don’t jump from the page, this is a player that’s right on the cusp of a breakout season. This 2019-20 (pandemic-shortened) campaign saw Paul solidify his spot on the Senators primarily centering the team’s third line.
From a statistical standpoint, he scored nine goals and 20 points, the single-best season of his career, and finished the year with an even plus/minus rating, which is impressive given how the Senators were the second-worst team points-wise (with 62) in the NHL. Paul also won 51.2% of his faceoffs, threw 122 hits, and blocked 39 shots in 14:27 worth of ice time.
As a junior player with the Brampton (and later North Bay) Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Paul was known as a dominant power-forward who was an absolute force on every shift. At the NHL level, attention to detail is paramount, which is something that he worked on by improving his skating and taking ownership of his two-way game. Last season provided glimpses (and hope) as to what he can be as an everyday NHLer. I think he’s becoming a more dynamic and well-rounded centerman who can eclipse the 40-point plateau by next season. He’s starting to “get it” at the game’s highest and most competitive level.
Mike Reilly, D
Mike Reilly is the lone defenseman on this list and a real good piece on an up-and-coming Senators team. After coming over last season in a midseason trade from the Montreal Canadiens, Reilly put together a solid 30 games in Canada’s capital city. On the scoresheet, he tallied one goal, 12 points, 33 blocked shots, 27 hits, and nine takeaways in just under 20 minutes of ice time.
Although the sample size of 30 games is short, Reilly carries an excellent value with a cap hit of only $1.5 million and in short order has fit in with the team. He’s a good skater, stable, reliable, and a “team-first” guy who’s adored by his mates. He’s done everything and everything asked of him and has all the tools to slot in as a top-four defenseman. I admire Reilly as both a player and person because he has a strong work ethic, and plays the game hard, which is just what the young Senators will need to scribe to in the coming years.
Logan Brown, C
On a team filled with a wide range of promising prospects, Logan Brown is often overlooked but makes this list as one of Ottawa’s most polarizing players. Listed at 6-foot-6, 227 pounds, he is a physical specimen and a tantalizing piece for the club moving forward. However, the issue has been his ability to consistently remain in the lineup. Despite battling the dreaded injury bug, this kid is poised for a strong breakout season.
Although he only posted eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 23 games in Ottawa during the 2019-20 campaign, Brown scored 28 points in 25 games with the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate club, the Belleville Senators. He’s big, talented, and one of those players who could do some damage if he can just stay on the ice and get “in a groove.” I think that Brown is set for a big season in 2020-21 and should compete for an everyday roster spot out of training camp. The sky really is the limit for someone as talented and raw as he is.
2020-21 Can’t Come Soon Enough
While hockey fans from far and wide wait for further direction and clarification regarding the start of training camp and the 2020-21 campaign, you can almost feel the excitement surrounding the Senators. This is a team that’s been building for a little while, and who have several key players chomping at the bit to get going. They’re young, eager, and ready to (hopefully) make some noise in an ever-changing Atlantic Division alongside their arch-rivals Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. White, Paul, Reilly, and Brown are just tipping the iceberg as to how good they can be, and are ready to steal the show next season. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
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.