When the Ottawa Senators entered training camp back in December, they understood that this season was going to be about growth and adjustment. Playing in an all-Canadian division due to the pandemic wasn’t ideal, knowing they would have to play some of the best teams in the league for five months, but so far, with a few bumps in the road, the Senators have held their own.
They currently sit at the bottom of the division with a record of 7-14-1, but you can see them getting better every day. It was going to be an exciting season no matter what because we were going to get to see a lot of the young prospects in the system get tons of playing time. Of course, Tim Stützle was going to be the center of attention, but no one thought that the other rookie, Josh Norris, would be riding shotgun.
Fitting in Nice
The Senators are currently on a three-game winning streak. They defeated the Montreal Canadiens twice – once in overtime on Sunday and in a shootout on Tuesday – and then had an impressive 6-1 win against the Calgary Flames last night. Norris, who has spent most of his time playing on the team’s top line since the season began, continued his breakout rookie season with another two points in the two-game set against the Habs and added an impressive shootout goal on Carey Price.
The Senators have won five of their last seven games, and Norris has recorded a goal and three helpers during that stretch. That’s good enough to put him second overall for rookie scoring in the NHL with 12 points. He’s just three behind Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov for the lead, and behind Norris with 11 points is Chicago Blackhawks forward Pius Suter and his fellow teammate and roommate, Stützle.
Not only are Norris, Stützle and Brady Tkachuk living and rooming together this season, but they are also quickly becoming standouts on this team. Tkachuk, who became the youngest player in Senators history to score 50 in his career (21 years, 160 days), breaking the record previously held by Alexei Yashin (21 years, 168 days) against the Canadiens on Tuesday, is becoming the clear favourite for team captain in the future.
Stützle has come as advertised, and we’ve seen many flashes of what the future holds in regards to his game and leadership on this team, but I think most have been surprised by Norris. Selected by the San Jose Sharks at 19th overall in the 2017 draft and then traded to the Senators as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Erik Karlsson to the Bay Area in 2018, Norris instantly became a high-end prospect in the organization and is now fully cemented into the everyday lineup.
Making the Case
He only played three games in the 2019-20 season and was held pointless with a plus-2 rating while averaging 17:55 minutes of ice time. Surely, things had to change going into the next season. After impressing head coach D.J. Smith throughout camp, Norris won a spot on the opening night roster and hasn’t looked back. Playing with Drake Batherson and Tkachuk (for the majority of the year) has given him the opportunity to maximize his potential, and he’s been arguably the most consistent player for the Senators through the first 22 games of the year.
And it hasn’t stopped there. Norris has been getting better and better each game and is turning into a dynamic first-line centerman in the NHL. He hasn’t lost his defensive game, but his improvements offensively have made it easy to overlook his two-way game. He has won 53% of his face-offs which is good for second overall on the team, trailing Nick Paul by just 1.57%.
Not only is he second in overall rookie scoring, but he’s also leading all rookies in power play points with five and is fourth in shots. What stood out to me is the fact he’s ranked 20th in overall rookie ice-time and is still second in scoring. This would indicate when he’s on the ice, he’s making the most of it.
On the analytical side, Norris has been great as well. He has a Corsi For% at even strength (CF%) of 52.8, which is good for 9th on the Senators, and holds a Fenwick For % at even strength (FF%) of 54.1, which is good for sixth. He also ranks 2nd on the Senators with an Expected Goals For (xGF%) of 65.93, which indicates that the Senators are expected to score at that rate over the opposing team. Moreover, there’s a better-expected chance that they score than give up a goal when Norris is on the ice.
At just 21-years-old, the kind of numbers he’s putting up on a team that is at the bottom of the standings would indicate a bright future once this team becomes more well-rounded. In the meantime, if he continues this pace, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he received a handful of Calder nominations based on everything aforementioned.