As the Ottawa Senators forge ahead with their rebuild, many of their young stars of the future are products of the NCAA college hockey system. Defenceman Thomas Chabot was a junior hockey star, and there are many European players on the roster and in their system. But never before have the Senators relied on the college boys as much as they are now.
Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Colin White all turned pro after playing college hockey. Jacob Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto joined the team when their season at the University of North Dakota ended. First-round draft pick Jake Sanderson will be arriving soon to upgrade the defensive unit.
So, as we head into this new era, let’s take a look at the top 10 Senators’ all-time list of former college players.
10. Mike Condon
If Anton Forsberg was a brilliant pick-up this season, the acquisition of goalie Mike Condon was just as brilliant in the 2016-17 season. The Senators acquired Condon from the Pittsburgh Penguins after playing only one period there. The season before was his first in the NHL, and he started 55 games as a rookie for the Montreal Canadiens.
The interesting college hockey story is that Condon’s first NHL game was the 2015-16 Senators’ home opener. He was starting in goal for the Canadiens, who won 3-1, and he had played the previous four seasons with Princeton University.
Starting for Ottawa that night was Matt O’Connor, a highly-touted rookie out of Boston University. He signed with Ottawa after his junior year as a potential goalie of the future. He allowed three goals on 31 shots in the game, but it was the only NHL game he would ever play. Still only 29 years old, he spent most of the next five years in the ECHL. Last season, he played in Denmark.
When the Senators picked up Condon from the Penguins, O’Connor was bumped down Ottawa’s goalie food chain. Starting goalie Craig Anderson suffered an injury, and Condon went 19-14-6 in 40 games to help Ottawa make the playoffs. And once they were in, the Senators went on a run and took the Penguins to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Condon, who turned 31 on April 27, played two games with the Senators in 2018-19 before being sent to the Belleville Senators of the AHL, where he was later injured. After the season, they traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played for three different minor league teams in the 2019-20 season.
9. Bob Kudelski
A gifted goal scorer from Yale, Kudelski was picked up by the Senators in the second in-season trade ever made by the team after joining the NHL for the 1992-93 season.
On Dec. 19, 1992, the Senators picked up Kudelski and Shawn McCosh from the Los Angeles Kings for Marc Fortier and Jim Thomson. In what basically amounts to two half seasons with the Senators, Kudelski scored 21 goals in 48 games in 1992-93 and then notched 26 goals in 42 games in 1993-94 before being traded to the Florida Panthers. Kudelski’s goal scoring in Ottawa is even more impressive when you consider how bad those teams were. Ottawa had a 10-70-4-0 record in 1992-93. The following season, they weren’t much better, going 14-61-9.
8. Todd White
If there was ever a textbook late bloomer, it’s Todd White.
After scoring 51 goals and 87 assists for 138 points in 49 games with the Kanata Lasers of the Central Junior Hockey League, White attended Clarkson University. In his junior season, he scored 29 goals in 38 games. As a senior, he had 38 goals and 36 assists from 74 points in 37 games.
After three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers organizations, White joined his hometown Senators for the 2000-01 season. He had a pair of 20-goal seasons in Ottawa, netting 25 along with five more in the playoffs in 2001-02. After the 2004-05 NHL lockout, he moved on to the Minnesota Wild before finishing his career with the Atlanta Thrashers.
7. Andrew Hammond
He earned the nickname “The Hamburglar” during his four years of college hockey at Bowling Green State, and he became a legend during the 2014-15 Senators’ playoff run.
With Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner both injured, Hammond inherited the Ottawa net to finish out what had been a disappointing season. He won, then won again, and then kept winning. In 24 games, he posted an incredible 20-1-2 record and got the Senators into the playoffs. Although the team lost their first-round series to Montreal, the “Hamburglar Run,” as it is called in Ottawa, remains one of the most exciting two-month stretches in team history.
6. Brian Elliott
Like Todd White, Brian Elliott was a late bloomer. He was overlooked in the OHL Draft and ended up playing for the Ajax Axemen of the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League. The Senators selected Elliott 291st – the second-last pick overall – in the 2003 NHL Draft. The Wisconsin Badgers, meanwhile, lost a goalie prospect when Mike Brodeur, another future Senator, opted to play junior hockey in the WHL. The Senators suggested they pick up Elliott.
The move paid off. Within three years, Elliott was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and backstopped Wisconsin to the 2005-06 NCAA championship. He stabilized the goaltending situation in Ottawa before they traded him to Colorado for Craig Anderson. The 36-year-old goalie is in his fourth year with the Philadelphia Flyers.
5. Brady Tkachuk
There is a good chance that before long, Tkachuk will be number one on this list. But he’s not there yet.
Tkachuk joined the Senators after one year at Boston University, where he had eight goals and 23 assists for 31 points in 40 games with the Terriers. He had 22 and 21 goals in his first two seasons with the Senators, and had 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points in 56 games in the shortened 2020-21 season. In addition to being one of Ottawa’s top offensive players, he has also become a team leader on and off the ice and is arguably the most popular Senator since Daniel Alfredsson.
4. Shawn McEachern
Like Tkachuk, McEachern is a product of the Boston University. He played three seasons with the Terriers, posting big offensive numbers and his fair share of penalty minutes. As a junior, he had his most productive season with 34 goals and 48 assists for 82 points in 41 games. In five seasons with the Senators, he broke the 30-goal mark twice and had 29 goals in another year. He had 304 points in 454 career games with the Senators. (from ‘Double Team: Shawn McEachern found success with the Penguins and Senators,’ Trib Live, 07/13/2020) In the 2002 offseason, they traded him to the Thrashers for Hector Pothier.
3. Mark Borowiecki
Like Todd White, Borowiecki played in the Central Canada Junior Hockey League and then headed to Clarkson University. He is cut from the same cloth as former Senator Chris Neil – a heart and soul warrior who defended his teammates and was always a fan favourite.
Being a physical, stay-at-home defender, Borowiecki did not put up any substantial numbers. However, in his last season in Ottawa, he scored seven goals, which was one less than his goal total over his first eight NHL seasons combined. He played 375 games with the Senators, collecting 51 points and totaling 647 penalty minutes.
2. Kyle Turris
After scoring 66 goals and 55 assists for 121 points in just 53 games with the Burnaby Express of the BC Junior Hockey League, Turris was a third overall draft pick of the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 2007.
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He spent the next season at the University of Wisconsin and had 35 points in 36 games in his only season with the Badgers. The Coyotes traded Turris to Ottawa during the 2011-12 season, and he immediately became one of the team’s elite offensive stars. Although the Senators did not reach their success of the 2000s, they did reach the playoffs in four of the next six seasons after acquiring Turris. Before the Senators traded him to Nashville early in his seventh season with the team, he did total 274 points in 408 games with the club. He also had 24 playoff points.
1. Dany Heatley
Like Turris, Heatley was a big-time scorer in Junior A hockey before heading to the University of Wisconsin. In 60 games with the Calgary Canucks of the 1998-99 Alberta Junior Hockey League season, he had 70 goals and 56 assists for 126 points. In his two seasons at Wisconsin, he scored 52 goals and had 61 assists for 113 points in 77 games.
Heatley spent four seasons with the Senators and became the first player in franchise history to score 50 goals. He accomplished the feat twice, scoring 50 in both 2005-06 and 2006-07. Playing on the famed “Pizza Line” with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, Heatley had career highs with 50 goals, 55 assists and 105 points in 2006-07. He added another 22 points in 20 playoff games as the Senators reached the Stanley Cup Final.
The Senators dealt Heatley to the San Jose Sharks after the 2008-09 season. Although he became somewhat vilified by the Senators’ fan base because he wanted out of Ottawa, he remains one of the greatest players in club history, as well as the best Senator to ever come out of college hockey.
It will be interesting to revisit this list in about five years to see which players from the new wave of collegiate stars in the Senators’ system can crack the top 10. Names like Norris, Bernard-Docker, Pinto and Sanderson have a chance to make the list. And with very little junior hockey taking place in 2020-21 due to COVID-19 and Ottawa owning yet another top 10 first-round draft pick, chances are the Senators will add yet one more college hockey star to their depth chart.
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.