On Sunday, against his childhood favourite team in the Detroit Red Wings, Josh Norris capped an impressive 5-2 Ottawa Senators’ win with a hat trick — the first of his young NHL career. He noted he couldn’t remember the last time he had one, and guessed that, “it was probably peewee or something,” and that he, “literally never had one in junior or college,” (from, ‘Josh Norris caps off an emotional day with hat-trick against Detroit’, Ottawa Sun, 4/3/22)
On that note, I took a look at his career numbers and I was surprised to see that Norris has never been a huge goal scorer. When he was young, and through junior hockey, he typically contributed more assists than goals and never eclipsed the 30-goal mark. His lone 30-plus goal season was two seasons ago in Belleville, so it’s safe to say that from a goal scoring perspective, he’s a bit of a late bloomer.
That season he put up 31 goals and 61 points in 56 games, leading to his first major accolade as the American Hockey League’s (AHL) best player, known as the Red Garrett Memorial Award. He followed that campaign up with a solid first full season in Ottawa, and earned NHL All-Rookie Team honours.
Now, he’s reached the 30-goal mark in the NHL, and is only one of two NHLers aged 22 or younger to reach that mark this season, sharing the achievement with Dallas Stars’ Jason Robertson. But goal scoring isn’t the only calling card for Norris, and every game he plays he becomes a more complete player.
Norris’ Scoring This Season
Though he’s had some ups and downs this season, Norris has been hot of late. Since his return from a shoulder injury, he has scored 12 goals in 16 games. Through the season so far, he’s potted 0.58 goals per game (G/G) good for a tie for ninth in the league with the likes of superstars Connor McDavid and Kirill Kaprizov. Over an 82-game season, 0.58 G/G equates to 48 goals.
If you look at the all-time numbers, they’re even more startling. 0.58 G/G over his career would put Norris ninth all-time beside Brett Hull, just slightly below Wayne Gretzky’s 0.60 G/G. Though goal scoring statistics are fun and all, maybe we should tread lightly on projecting his entire career, for now. His 22.4 shooting percentage might signal a return back down to earth in the future.
Another stat to consider if we want to project his career would be his assist totals. As stated before, he’s never had issues distributing the puck, but this season his 13 assists haven’t been very impressive. This could be due to the loss of one of his most productive linemates, Drake Batherson, for part of the season. It could also be a byproduct of his affinity for scoring lately. Either way, his goal scoring and assists could end up balancing out in the future.
Norris’ 200-Foot Game
While Norris’ scoring has been impressive, top centremen in the league aren’t just point producers. The best players are able to do their job at both ends of the ice, and also in transition. They are able to take on the opposing team’s top centremen and come out on top most nights.
This is perhaps the biggest development in Norris’ game to this point. On the Eve of his 100th game against the Seattle Kraken in March, head coach D.J. Smith raved about his development at centre. In 2020-21, Norris was put in a tough spot with an injury to one of the team’s top centre’s in Derek Stepan. Norris, “was forced right in,” and learned to “defend on the fly,” and, “play against the best players.”
That’s where Norris seemingly learned and developed the most, and gained tons of confidence. D.J. ended his quote with, “for 100 games, it’s hard to believe that it could go this well.”
Norris’ Career Projection
On the note that it could go that well, let’s take a look at some realistic projections for the rest of his career. If he continues to play on the top line with Drake Batherson and Brady Tkachuk, there’s no reason he couldn’t become a superstar in the league.
When looking at projections, I always consider comparables. Two of the best comparables for Norris are Mark Scheifele and Logan Couture.
Scheifele scored 29 goals and 61 points at 22 years old, and followed that up with 32 goals and 82 points the next year. This is an admittedly lofty expectation for Norris next season, especially points-wise, but the reason I like this comparison is due to their mental similarity.
Scheifele is notoriously reliant on the film room, he’s a student of the game, and he plays with smarts and stellar body positioning. He always finds openings on the ice, and reads the game exceptionally on the defensive side as well.
While Norris might not be as big of a film nerd as Scheifele, he plays the game like he is. According to ex-teammate Nick Paul, Norris is, “super fast, smart, makes plays, he’s below the puck, and being a centre that’s huge, [he’s] always there for the D for support, he does everything.”
Another slightly less lofty comparison is Couture, who scored 31 goals and 65 points at 22 years old, but only scored 30 goals once in 10 seasons after that. Again, the comparison here is better when considering their style of play. Although Couture hasn’t been consistently productive throughout his career, he plays a 200-foot game and has always given consistent effort night in and night out.
With these two comparisons in mind, it would be safe to assume that Norris might end up somewhere between the two in terms of production, with Scheifele’s point-per-game totals as an upper threshold. There’s no reason to think that he will falter to the lower end like Couture, so I look for him to produce 40 goals and 70 points per season if he can stay healthy throughout his career. If his linemates can reach point-per-game totals consistently, then look for Norris to follow suit.
While the Senators haven’t had the most successful season, with the addition of Jake Sanderson, and the emergence of Norris’ 200-foot game and goal scoring prowess, the Senators could end up competing for a playoff spot next season.
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Writer and hockey addict from the GTA, covering the Ottawa Senators. Leafs fan from birth, moved to BC to explore the mountains and find the strength to keep cheering. Love talking prospects, potential, and coaching strategies.