There comes a time in a hockey career when an NHLer will transition from being a young player to a veteran. Suddenly, these players will find themselves in a leadership role, relying on their own experiences to help and mentor rookies and younger teammates.
The Ottawa Senators have several younger veterans who will be embracing this leadership role for the first time in their hockey careers.
While the Senators’ future leadership group will undoubtedly include Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, the team will be relying on some of its more seasoned veterans to fill a leadership void. That void widened with the trading of Jean-Gabriel Pageau and the free-agent departures of defenseman Mark Borowiecki and goalie Craig Anderson.
Veterans Connor Brown and Chris Tierney, along with newly acquired free agent Evgenii Dadonov, are all embracing the opportunity to take on leadership roles for the first time in their respective careers. For the first time, the trio of Sens are among the “older guys” in the dressing room.
While Dadonov may have been the most highly-skilled forward available on the free-agent market, it was more than his scoring touch and his ability on the power play that attracted the Senators.
Dadonov Leads by Example
“He’s not a vocal guy, but he practices hard and leads by example,” said Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion of Dadonov on a media video conference call. “Not every one of your leaders will be someone who is vocal, but we like the leadership qualities in him. He might not be the loudest, but he is definitely someone who will lead by example with our group of players.”
The opportunity for Dadonov to be a veteran leader on a rapidly improving team was what lured him to Ottawa.
“They told me I would have a good role on the team,” Dadonov said in a video conference call. “There’s not a lot of veterans on the team. It’s a step up for me as well. I will be one of the most experienced guys on the team. I am ready for that.”
Dadonov played for parts of two seasons with the Florida Panthers before returning to Russia to spend five seasons in the KHL. After returning to the Panthers, he netted 28 goals in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, and 25 goals last season. Over those three seasons, Dadonov has 182 points in 225 games.
Dadonov says he thinks Tkachuk and Chabot “will be superstars in the league.” He is excited about the role he will play for the Senators.
“I want to help the team win,” Dadonov said. “I’ll try to help the young guys. I want us to be a playoff team. I hope I can bring a lot. I want to bring my attitude to the room – work hard, practice hard.”
“I’m really excited to play for this team. It wasn’t a decision made just because of the contract. I think it’s a perfect fit. I hope this team has some success, and I think we’re going to race for the Cup in the next few years.”
Brown Signs 3-Year Deal
While Dadonov is buying into the Senators’ rebuild, so is right-winger Connor Brown. The Senators signed him to a three-year, $10.8 million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing. Both sides were happy with the deal. Brown had 16 goals and career-high totals in assists (27) and points (43) last season. Dorion said in the media release announcing the contract he was impressed with Brown’s leadership and his work ethic in practice.
Brown, like Dadonov, has also bought into the Senators’ plan and the role he will be playing.
“I believe in what we’re doing in Ottawa,” Brown said. “I think there’s nice pieces. I think I’m a good fit there. I believe in the people. I believe in the coaching staff. We’ve got good guys in that room. We’ll be doing things the right way, and hopefully it turns around as quickly as possible.”
The 26-year-old Brown played in seven games as a rookie in 2015-16 and then spent the next four seasons as a full-time NHL player. He now finds himself as an elder statesman on the young and rebuilding Senators.
“Obviously, it’s a new role for me in the NHL,” Brown said, adding that he feels he just stepped into the league. “It’s a role that I’m going to have to embrace. I think that I’ve played with a lot of guys and been on a lot of teams that have had a good culture, and I understand the impact of culture and how it translates into wins. I’ll do my best to try to provide leadership for a bunch of guys who are coming into the league.”
Like Dadonov, Brown is excited about the young talent on the team, particularly Tkachuk and Chabot.
“They’ve become close buddies of mine,” Brown said. “I think last year they took steps forward. I know they’re young guys, but they were leaders on the team, and they’re both really good people. They’re both team-first guys. I think the team’s in good hands as far as character in the room.”
Leadership Role for Tierney
Chris Tierney, like Brown, is a 26-year-old who finds himself in a leadership role. The versatile center said he will take on whatever role Senators’ coach DJ Smith has planned for him.
“Obviously, we have a lot of young guys coming up and coming in, and they’re going to be good players,” Tierney said in a media video conference call. “I just want to try and be a leader for this team, and I want to contribute both defensively and offensively to this team. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of role (Coach) DJ (Smith) has for me.”
Tierney said he was looking forward to being one of the leaders on a young team.
“I think it gets to the point when you’re at a certain amount of games, or at a certain age, and especially with the team we have with a lot of young guys, that you need to transition to become more of a leader,” Tierney said. “You have to help some of the young guys out if they have any questions or maybe just leading by example on the ice in practice or during games. I’m kind of looking forward to developing that and adding that to my game.”
The San Jose Sharks traded Tierney to the Senators in the Erik Karlsson deal in 2018. In his first season in Ottawa, Tierney scored nine goals but had career highs in assists (39) and points (48). Before the league suspended play due to COVID-19, he had 11 goals and 26 assists for 37 points in 71 games.
Tierney’s value to the team went far beyond his offensive production. He was often in a shutdown role against the opposing team’s number one centre, and he was also one of the team’s top penalty killers. Playing in a defensive role is something he embraces.
“Getting towards the end of last year, we had some guys move on at the deadline, and I’ve felt since the deadline and before the break that I felt really good about my game,” Tierney said. “I was playing the role of going against some of the other team’s top lines and also a shutdown role. It’s something I enjoy and like to do and you’re competing against the best and that’s what you want to do. You want to be playing against the best every night, and that’s the only way you’re going to keep getting better. It’s something you take a lot of pride in. I’m feeling good about that part of my game.”
While the Senators are looking at Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot as the faces of the future, there are a lot of young guns who will be a big part of Ottawa’s future. First-round draft picks Tim Stutzle, Jake Sanderson, and Ridly Greig join an already loaded prospect system that includes players like Logan Brown, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Erik Brannstrom, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and more.
Dorion is counting on the leadership of Dadonov, Connor Brown, and Chris Tierney to have a big influence on the future of each of the Senators’ prized prospects.
Jeff Morris has been a hockey writer for more than 30 years. He began his career working for small town newspapers in Eastern Ontario before becoming the editor of Canadian Sports Collector magazine in St. Catharines, ON. While there, he also freelanced as a Buffalo Sabres beat writer. Morris would move on to Dallas to become the NHL brand manager at Pinnacle Brands, Inc. From there, he worked in the sports trading card and collectibles division at Shop At Home TV in Nashville and Denver, and then moved to Seattle to be the VP of Marketing at Pacific Trading Cards, Inc. in Seattle. He had continued to cover the NHL as a freelance writer, and while in Seattle, he became a weekly hockey columnist for ESPN.com. During the 2005 NHL lockout, he returned to Ottawa and became a newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, and was also an NHL contributor for Fox Sports Radio. He also began covering the NHL for Hockeyology.com, and also covered the Ottawa Senators for his own publications. He went to Carleton University to study journalism, and graduated as the school’s all-time scoring leader in football and was a conference all-star three times. He had several pro tryouts and played semi-pro football for 10 years while pursuing his career as an NHL writer. He remains involved in football as a coach and referee, and is a Canadian Football League off-field official.