The Hockey Writer’s Ryan Shuvera took a stab at grading the 13 newest Ottawa Senators for the 2020-21 season a few weeks ago, and I will now pick up where he left off. Among the 13 newest Senators were forwards, defencemen and goaltenders with varying levels of success. This article will be focused on the remaining nine forwards that have yet to receive grades for the season.
The Senators should be proud of the season they had. Of course, where they finished in the standings isn’t something to be proud of, but they developed as a team in every aspect you would like them to. The leadership core took another step forward, prospects in the system found their way, and the rookies exploded onto the scene. Here are my grades for the remaining group of forwards.
It was a very disappointing season for Artem Anisimov. In fact, the only bright spot might have been when he dressed as the emergency backup goaltender during a game in April where Anton Forsberg was injured during warm-up, and Matt Murray left with a lower-body injury in the second period. Other than that, Anisimov only played 19 games this season and recorded nine points.
Even though he produced when he was in the lineup, most of his playing time this season was a result of regular roster players getting injured. The injection of youth into the Senators’ lineup and how well they played all season didn’t help Anisimov either. There’s really not much else to say about him, and the organization will be happy about his $4.55 million cap hit disappearing (hopefully) as they look to leverage that money into other aspects of the team.
Drake Batherson was drafted back in 2017 but didn’t get full-time playing status until this season. In his previous 46 games with Ottawa, which took place from 2018-2020, he recorded only 19 points. He showed some bright spots during that time period, but he spent most of his time in the American Hockey League, where he excelled. In Belleville, he played 103 games and recorded 116 points. This season, it finally translated.
He smashed his previous NHL point totals by racking up 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 56 games and made an early case for some Calder Trophy nominations. In late February, Batherson began a goal-scoring streak that carried into the beginning of March, where he had tied the franchise record for longest goal-scoring streaks. He was able to get up to six games – that put him beside some of the biggest stars in franchise history.
Over the course of the season, it became apparent that the Senators most likely found themselves a top-six winger for many years to come. He spent most of the season playing alongside Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris, so that could attribute to most of his success, but it’s a two-way street.
Not only was Batherson able to progress in many different areas of his own game, but he lifted up his linemates as well. They had great chemistry all season, and it will be exciting to watch going forward, providing they can come to terms with a contract that suits both the player and the organization for 2021-22 and on. Batherson is a restricted free agent.
Connor Brown led the Senators this season in goals, shorthanded goals, shorthanded points and was tied in top shooting percentage with Norris. If you told people that Brown would lead the team in those categories before the season started, no one would have believed you. The organization got the most out of him this season, having come off a fresh new contract he signed back in October for three years at a $3.6 million average annual value.
There aren’t many players kicking around the league anymore that give you confidence in knowing exactly what you’re going to get on a nightly basis. Even before Brown came over to Ottawa, you could see his work ethic in Toronto. Ottawa was getting a solid piece, and he once again proved it this year. While Brown may have reached a new peak in his career, his leadership and veteran presence will hopefully elevate his game and his teammates’ further next season to new highs.
Chris Tierney had somewhat of a bland season. He didn’t do anything terrible, but he didn’t do anything great either. Much like Brown, he was among the handful of RFAs the Senators had on the roster that needed to be signed for them to have proper roster flexibility. I mean that Tierney was expected to play a bigger role on the team in case of injury or if younger players wouldn’t be able to crack full-time roster positions. Unfortunately, that role was ultimately reduced due to the success of other players.
We can’t forget how good things were shaping out for Tierney at the beginning of the season, though. He had scored three goals on his first three shots but only ended up scoring another three over the course of the next 51 games. That red hot start was a wash, much like the rest of his season.
All of the younger players that Tierney was hoping to fill the gap on ended up producing at a much higher rate, and that’s what sent his season on a downward trend. He lost time on the power play, got paired on the bottom-six, and even became hard for the Senators to trade him at the deadline. With one more year left on his two-year, $7 million deal he signed back in October, next season is looking like his last in the nation’s capital.
Colin White is probably the most polarizing player on the team. With Derek Stepan coming off the books, he now carries the second largest cap-hit among forwards and fourth largest on the entire roster at the moment. It’s safe to say when you’re among the highest of cap percentages on the team, expectations are high. He started off the season as a healthy scratch in four of the first six games, and I had even written how the plans for White were already going south.
He signed a six-year, $28.5 million deal back in August of 2019 after coming off of a career year and has never shown signs he can replicate that again since. He might not ever live up to that dollar figure for the remainder of the deal, and it was even discussed that he could be made available for the Seattle Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft. However, White managed to turn his play around and became a solid middle-six centre for the Sens as the year went on.
Contract aside, White still managed to put up 10 goals and 18 points in 45 games, so his season wasn’t a complete failure. It’s tough to find a fair assessment for him since his season was a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but a strong and consistent finish since being scratched gave me a reason to find a middle ground.
Before the 2020-21 season got underway, most people would have pegged Thomas Chabot to be named the next captain of the Ottawa Senators. No one was named, and as the season went on, it wasn’t so much the play of Chabot – but more of the way Tkachuk played and elevated his game, on and off the ice, to now become the favourite to dawn the ‘C.’ At just 21-years-old, Tkachuk has taken his leadership skills to new heights every season. In 198 career NHL games, he has 60 goals, 65 assists, can play both sides of the puck, and if it wasn’t for a shortened season, he most likely would have reached new career highs.
Tkachuk was living with rookies Tim Stützle and Norris this year, and it’d be hard to imagine he didn’t have some sort of impact on both of their development. Early on, social media was all over the clips of Tkachuk joking around with the younger guys and giving them nicknames to the media, and it’s just something you love to see if you’re a Sens fan. It makes it more obvious he is the leader of this team.
There’s really not much else to say about him. He led the team in points, penalty minutes and shots, and that is something you’re probably going to see for the rest of his career. Assuming we’re all reading the tea leaves correctly, Tkachuk should have the captaincy going into the 2021-22 season.
Another player who stepped up his game and found a great fit on the team is Nick Paul. Much like Tierney, Paul got off to a fantastic start, except he remained consistent in comparison. Matching his career-high in points this season, Paul found himself playing in more roles and was crucial to the Senators’ penalty kill, where he recorded four shorthanded points in the process. Before the season began, there were a lot of question marks surrounding his game and if he could remain on the roster. They signed him to a two-year, $2.7 million deal in October, and it looks like a bargain at this rate.
He is one of the hardest workers on this team, and while his game improved as a whole this season, it was in the details where it mattered most. Paul is one of those guys that fits perfectly on a bottom-six role, and as long as the Senators keep growing in their rebuild, he will become a very important piece for them. He exceeded expectations, and the hope is he can keep this momentum into next season.
Norris surprisingly flew under the radar this season if you weren’t following the team closely. Last season, he had appeared in only three games and was pretty much a non-factor. Fast forward to 2020-21, and he was among the best rookies in the entire league. There were some pretty decent expectations for Norris to step in and make an impact right away, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming. He tore up the AHL in 2019-20, leading the league in goals and points, and much like his linemate Batherson, it translated to the big leagues.
He led the Sens in shooting percentage and was tied for second in team scoring this season, and easily looks like he could be their number one centre moving forward for years to come. A sophomore regression is expected as the book is now out on him, but just like every other player who wants to be great in this league, you have to adapt. There’s no indication that he can’t adjust, and Sens fans should be very excited about seeing him, Batherson and Tkachuk as their top line of the future.
For a player who made his appearance relatively later into the season, Alex Formenton was great to watch. In 20 games this season, he recorded four goals, six points and finished fifth among overall shooting percentage. If he played a full season, there’s no telling where exactly his statistics could’ve ended up, but this short sample size was a great indication of where he could be headed.
As it currently stands, the left side is relatively full, but this poses a great deal of value to have him placed on one of the bottom-six pairings where scoring could be needed. Much like his teammates in Batherson and Norris, Formenton also tore up the AHL last year, so hopefully, he can piggyback off of those two and find himself a roster spot permanently in 2021-22.