Senators’ Expected Production for 2022-23 – Forwards

With Tim Stützle’s eight-year extension in the books, the Ottawa Senators’ core is locked up long-term and ready to start winning games. While there are still questions surrounding the team’s defence and whether general manager Pierre Dorion will be able to acquire another top-four blueliner before the beginning of the season, there’s no debate that the Senators’ forward corps is one of the best young groups in the NHL. But how much did they improve this year?

Using last season’s production and available information on line pairings, this article will attempt to provide a realistic projection for where each forward should finish in terms of points. Defence and goaltending will be handled in a subsequent article.

Forwards

Ottawa currently has 14 forwards listed on their roster heading into training camp, and while a few more could join them later, it’s expected that the team’s lineup will shake out similarly to last season, with space made for the two new high-profile acquisitions. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for rookies to grab a spot or a lot of roster battles, despite several talented youngsters anxious to join the team, but the stability will be welcomed after several years of constant change.

Expected Lineup

Brady TkachukJosh NorrisDrake Batherson
Alex DeBrincatTim StützleClaude Giroux
Alex FormentonShane PintoMathieu Joseph
Parker KellyDylan GambrellAustin Watson
Extra forwards: Scott Sabourin, Mark Kastelic

Top Line

Last season, the trio of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson was the Senators’ best unit. When on the ice together in even-strength situations, in which they were 25 percent of the time, they scored 28 times, over 12 percent of the team’s total goals. On the powerplay along with Stützle, they added another 21 goals. Altogether, they nearly scored over a fifth of Ottawa’s goals in 2021-22. Add in that both Batherson and Norris missed significant time due to injury, and this line is primed for a breakout in 2022-23.

Batherson is the most likely candidate to lead the team’s offence. In 2021-22, he was on pace to hit 78 points over a full season before getting hip-checked by Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Aaron Dell. Given the unexpected nature of the play that left him out of the lineup for 36 games last season, he should be ready to play a full campaign and thus there’s no reason why he couldn’t return to his previous pace. He’s demonstrated great chemistry with his linemates, especially Norris, and the pair were virtually unstoppable in the minors. He’s the team’s best setup man, and if the team gets rolling, he could hit 30 goals and 50 assists.

Drake Batherson Ottawa Senators
Drake Batherson, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Most of Batherson’s passes will be headed to Norris, who will be expected to be the team’s top goalscorer. Despite sitting third in team scoring, Norris’ 55-points wasn’t all that impressive; he didn’t even rank within the top 100 scorers in the NHL. However, his 35 goals sat 27th league-wide, which vaulted him into the conversation as one of its best young snipers. Had he played in the 16 games he missed, he could have easily hit 40 goals, a feat which only 17 other players accomplished in 2021-22. However, it’s also important to note that he was scoring on over 20 percent of his shots; only one other player who scored at least 30 goals had a higher shooting percentage. That likely will come down somewhat, so while 50 goals are likely out of the question, 40 or 45 goals should be expected.

With four professional seasons under his belt, Tkachuk is the elder statesman of the group despite being the youngest. Last season, he hit a new career high with 30 goals and 67 points, and 70 points are likely within reach for the Senators’ young captain. However, he hasn’t been relied on for his scoring as much as his tenacity and leadership. That’s not to say that he couldn’t hit Matthew Tkachuk’s 104 points, which he recorded after five seasons of good but not great point production, but so far, he hasn’t demonstrated as dominant an offensive side to his game. Instead, look for Brady to stick in the 60-70 point range while providing opportunities for his linemates to excel.

Second Line

The first line is all but guaranteed to be dominant thanks to the trio’s history together, but the second line is much more of a mystery. Veterans Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux are expected to join the 20-year-old Stützle, who is coming off a very solid sophomore campaign in which he scored 22 goals and 58 points. Even more impressive is who he was surrounded by last season; the third overall pick from 2020 primarily played left wing alongside Alex Formenton and Adam Gaudette, with Connor Brown replacing Gaudette later in the season. In 2022-23, he’ll likely be moved back to center and get a massive upgrade on his wings, which should see him flirt with 70 points.

Tim Stützle Ottawa Senators
Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, a lot of Stützle’s production will depend on how he meshes with DeBrincat. The 24-year-old former Chicago Blackhawk was unquestionably one of the NHL’s best goalscorers last season, putting up 41 goals in 82 games. It didn’t hurt that he played alongside Patrick Kane, though, and questions have been raised as to whether he’ll keep up his scoring pace without one of the best American-born players of all time putting the puck on his stick. Over his career, Kane assisted DeBrincat on 45 percent of his goals, and over last season, Debrincat was without Kane just 36 percent of the time. The pair had undeniable chemistry, and it has yet to be seen whether Stützle will be able to replace that. If he can, DeBrincat should return to the 40-goal plateau while taking a bit of a dip in assists.

Related: 3 Senators Who Could Be X-Factors in 2022-23

Then there’s Giroux. At one time, he was one of the best players in the NHL, scoring over a point per game with the Philadelphia Flyers four different times. The last time he hit that milestone was in 2018-19, and he’s certainly in the back half of his career, but that doesn’t mean he’s done quite yet. Last season, he was still significantly productive, scoring 65 points in 75 games, including 23 points in 18 games with the Florida Panthers to finish 2021-22. However, much of that was not with Aleksander Barkov or Jonathan Huberdeau, as they contributed just five goals when either of them was on a line with him at regular strength. In Ottawa, look for Giroux to become more of a leader and a puck carrier than a big-time producer, likely putting up around 50-60 points.

Third Line

While there is some mystery around how the second line will gel, there’s no debate as to who will be part of the Senators’ top six. The same cannot be said for the rest of the lineup, however. At this time, Mathieu Joseph has the best shot to lock down the third-line left wing spot after finishing 2021-22 with 12 points in 11 games, which earned him a four-year extension valued at $2.95 million per season. But don’t expect him to produce at a point-per-game clip from the third line. When he arrived in Ottawa, the team was wracked with injuries and he ended up filling in on the first and second units alongside Norris and Tkachuk. With less ice time and more defensive responsibilities, he will produce closer to what Nick Paul did when he was with the team, likely around the 20-30 point mark.

Mathieu Joseph Ottawa Senators
Mathieu Joseph, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

However, Joseph’s production could get a significant boost if Shane Pinto smoothly transitions into the NHL. There’s a lot of hope for the 2019 second-round pick, especially after being named a finalist for the NCAA’s Hobey Baker Award in 2020-21 and scoring seven points in his first 12 NHL games. He could easily emerge as a solid second-line, two-way presence, but he’ll be eased into the lineup after missing most of 2021-22 with a shoulder injury. He’s drawn some stylistic comparisons to Ryan Hartman, who put up 19 goals and 31 points in his first full season, which is a fair expectation for Pinto as well, who also has two partial seasons under his belt while still technically a rookie.

Formenton is projected to be the third member of the line, but as he remains unsigned, that has raised some questions as to where he will end up. It’s not uncommon for young forwards to hold out to ensure they get the contract they think they deserve – Tkachuk waited until the last minute to sign his seven-year, $8.2 million deal in 2021-22 – but Formenton may not have the option of following in their footsteps. His rookie season was good and showed he could produce with limited ice time, but didn’t convince the Senators to move him up the lineup. Thankfully, talks have been positive, according to Sportsnets’ Luke Fox, and should be done within the month. The sooner the deal is signed, the more likely he can get on the ice and work at hitting 40 points this season.

Fourth Line

The Senators’ defence remains unchanged from 2021-22, although that wasn’t from a lack of trying. Still, that means that defensive pressure will once again be a weakness in Ottawa and the team will need its fourth line to step up consistently to shut down opponents. That’s not a problem for Austin Watson, who was a wrecking ball last season. In 67 games, he threw 213 hits, blocked 63 shots, and had 15 takeaways. No forward played more games than him and started more often in the defensive end, yet he still finished the season with just a minus-3 and a 92.6 on-ice save percentage (oiSV%), which measures how many shots the Senators faced while he was on the ice that didn’t result in a goal. If he remains healthy for the full season, he should also contribute around 20 points, making him a very valuable depth piece.

Austin Watson Ottawa Senators
Austin Watson, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The only player who was arguably more effective than Watson on the fourth line was Dylan Gambrell. He started on defence over 80 percent of the time, yet still managed a 93.8 oiSV%. He’s not nearly as physical, throwing less than half the number of hits as Watson and blocking just 39 shots, but he relies on other skills to make sure the other team doesn’t score. He also needs to remain healthy, as he played just 63 games last season, but he should be good for around 10-15 points while playing around 12 minutes a night.

The last projected spot goes to youngster Parker Kelly. A free-agent signing back in 2017, he’s always been celebrated for his hard work, and it was very obvious last season. In 41 contests, he scored seven goals and 12 points, mainly paired with Watson and Gambrell, yet averaged just over 10 minutes a game. If he’s able to secure a place in the lineup in training camp and remain in the NHL for the entire season, he could hit 30 points, a significant sum for someone playing bottom-tier minutes.

Wild Cards

A few other players will be trying to grab a roster spot at training camp, especially on the third and fourth lines. Mark Kastelic has the best shot, as he’s currently listed as a spare forward and has 16 NHL games under his belt. He’s another big, physical presence, recording 51 hits in his stint last season while averaging just over nine minutes a game. But he’s also a reliable defensive player; among forwards with at least 10 games played, only he and Gambrell recorded an oiSV% above 93 percent. His offence is much lower than Kelly or Watson, though, which may prevent him from unseating them.

Mark Kastelic Ottawa Senators
Mark Kastelic has been great defensively in his brief appearances with the Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, if the Senators want physicality, then they may want to go with Scott Sabourin, who returned to the team last season after a brief stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He threw an average of two hits per game last season and blocked four shots, despite dressing for just seven contests and playing an average of 7:30 per outing. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bring much else to the table, which puts him at a disadvantage for getting in much more than that this season.

Free agents Jayce Hawryluk and Rourke Chartier have the potential to claim a roster spot out of training camp too. Hawryluk, a former second-round pick, has piled up 98 career NHL games since 2018-19 and played some of his best hockey while with the Senators in 2019-20, scoring seven points in 11 games. Injuries and a bout with COVID-19 have kept him from earning a permanent NHL role, but he plays with an edge to his game, something the Senators are very fond of.

Chartier has also had a rough go in his professional career, dealing with concussions that forced him to sit out for the entire 2019-20 season. He joined the Belleville Senators last season and scored 25 points in 33 games, which earned him his current two-way contract. When healthy, he’s another strong defensive forward with limited offensive skills who could compete for a depth NHL spot or fill in for injuries.

Overall Expectations

The Senators have been one of the most improved teams over the offseason, adding several impact players to an already incredibly-skilled core. While it’s still up in the air whether they could steal a playoff spot, they’re undoubtedly ready to compete in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. The team is likely to see its first 80-point player since 2015-16 and its first 40-goal scorer since 2007-08. Post-season success is still probably a couple of seasons away, but 2022-23 will be a season for the record books and a return to strong, competitive hockey in Ottawa.

Stats from hockey-reference.com and Dobber’s Line Combinations


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