Senators’ Prospect Report: Ostapchuk, Boucher, Kastelic & More

The Ottawa Senators have been a tricky team to pin down so far. They started the season with two losses, then handed the Boston Bruins their only loss so far in a 7-5 barn burner. That win kicked off a four-game win streak that saw rookie Shane Pinto score in each of those games. But since then, they’ve lost four games to give them an underwhelming 4-6-0 record, placing them once again at the bottom of the NHL’s standings.

Ottawa Senators, Belleville Senators and Allen Americans Prospect Report

It’s easy to forget that after their impressive offseason the Senators are still in their rebuild, albeit very close to the end. There will be plenty of bumps in the road this season, and while I believe this is a playoff team, it won’t be an easy journey for them to get there. That should get easier as the years go on, as there are still several top prospects fighting to earn a spot in the lineup. So, with most leagues just over a month into the 2022-23 season, let’s see which players in the Senators’ system are off to some hot starts.

Kastelic Signs a Well-Earned Extension

All eyes have been on Pinto and Jake Sanderson this season and for good reason. The pair have been some of the league’s most impressive rookies, with Pinto leading all rookies with six goals and Sanderson leading in plus/minus while looking incredibly mature in the process. But the Senators have had another rookie breakthrough this season, that being Mark Kastelic. In nine games, he has two goals, which puts him sixth among all rookies, which is great, but that’s not the reason he made Ottawa’s roster out of camp and has stuck with the team ever since. Rather, he’s proven to be a player that can just about do it all.

On top of his two goals, Kastelic leads the Senators in faceoff win percentage at 62.2% and is second among forwards with eight blocked shots despite playing an average of just over eight minutes a night. He’s been a rock on Ottawa’s fourth line, showing an incredible work ethic and defensive awareness not seen among many rookies. For that reason, the Senators saw fit to offer him a two-year contract extension, which he signed on Oct. 27, 2022.

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After the signing, general manager Pierre Dorion was glowing in his praise, saying, “He’s reliable, competitive, takes exceptional pride in his conditioning and routinely showcases a willingness to take on any challenge. He’s set a very good example for the young players and prospects throughout the organization.” While competition at the center position has been tough, Kastelic has shown that he can rise above the rest and be an important member of a team that’s starting to push for the playoffs.

Ostapchuk Makes A Big Impact

Zack Ostapchuk continues to establish himself as one of Ottawa’s top prospects. Since returning from the Senators’ development camp, the 2021 second-round pick has gone just two games without registering a single point, put up three multi-point performances, and so far has 13 points in 11 games. One of his most impressive outings was on Oct. 22 against the Victoria Royals, where he put up two assists before scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.

Despite sitting six games back from most of his teammates, Ostapchuk sits with the second-highest point-per-game average and is on pace to crush his 2021-22 total of 26 goals and 43 points. Should he keep scoring like this, he’ll easily surpass the 70-point threshold and could get close to 30 goals, which will put him within the top 30 scorers in the league. He also has become a big-game player, sitting tied for 10th in game-winning goals, as well as a faceoff specialist, winning under 50 percent of his draws in only four of his 11 games this season.

After his surprise addition to Team Canada’s 2022 World Junior roster, where he excelled on the third line alongside fellow Senators’ prospect Ridly Greig, Ostapchuk’s potential has been steadily on the rise. It’s starting to look like he might be the best player from Ottawa’s 2021 Draft class, and he just keeps getting better.

Boucher Looks Like a First-Round Pick

Speaking of the 2021 Draft class, no one was going to be under more scrutiny – at least, among Senators’ prospects – than Tyler Boucher. He was an unpopular selection among fans after he was taken 10th overall in 2021, then he struggled mightily in 2021-22, transferring from Boston University to the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Ottawa 67’s, putting up just seven goals and 14 points in 24 OHL games. But there was plenty of optimism heading into 2022-23, especially from Boucher himself. When asked about what the perfect season would be for him, he responded, “The ideal season? Just dominate” (from “Senators notebook: Victor Lodin’s injury, Angus Crookshank’s redemption and more,” The Athletic – 19/09/22).

Well, nine games into the season, Boucher has certainly been a force to be reckoned with in the OHL. Despite playing fewer games than the rest of the team’s top players, he already leads the 67’s with seven goals, two of which have been game-winners, and at 10 points, he’s one of four players so far this season with more than a point per game. That’s pretty close to dominance if I do say so myself.

Of course, when speaking about Boucher, you also have to mention the physicality, which was one of the biggest draws for the Senators when they selected him. In nine games, he leads the team with 17 penalty minutes and is one of just a handful of players to have over a point per game and sit in the top 50 in penalties. However, he still needs to figure out how to not cross the line into dangerous plays; on Oct. 30 against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he laid a massive hit against Luc Brzustowski, who hit the ice hard and caused him to have a seizure. Thankfully, the Greyhounds’ defender is doing well, but Boucher was handed a six-game suspension.

Halliday May Be a Late-Round Gem

If there’s one thing that the Senators have become known for at the draft, it’s that they’ll always target an overage prospect in the middle rounds. In 2022, that was Stephen Halliday, a 20-year-old 6-foot-3 center who was committed to joining Ohio State University for 2022-23 after spending three seasons with the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Dubuque Fighting Saints. He had a big year in 2021-22, putting up 35 goals and 95 points in 62 games, but there were concerns that he relied too much on his above-average playmaking abilities to compensate for weaker skating and physicality, especially for his size.

Stephen Halliday Dubuque Fighting Saints
Stephen Halliday, Dubuque Fighting Saints (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

However, those weaknesses don’t seem to be holding him back as an NCAA freshman. Halliday got off to an incredibly strong start, scoring a goal and three assists in the team’s home opening series against the University of Wisconsin and earning him the Big 10’s second star of the week on Oct. 11. Now 10 games in, he sits tied for first on the team and 26th league-wide with 10 points.

Yet Halliday knows that, despite the strong start, he can’t sit back and coast. “I think it’s a good start,” he said to The Lantern, “but there’s still a lot of stuff I need to work on, especially away from the puck and kind of just holding on to pucks more.” Thankfully, the team doesn’t see too much of an issue and he’ll be allowed to focus on what he’s good at, which is moving the puck and playing a slow, cerebral game that will translate to more points throughout the season.

Is Tychonick Back?

The Senators’ 2018 Draft class is not remembered for much beyond Brady Tkachuk and Jacob Bernard-Docker nowadays, but back on draft day, they made headlines when they selected Bernard-Docker’s Okotoks Oilers’ teammate, Jonny Tychonick, in the second round. A promising offensive-minded defenceman, it seemed to be good fortune that the pair, who had played together since they were 10 years old, would remain together with the same NHL franchise.

Jonny Tychonick Ottawa Senators
Jonny Tychonick, Ottawa Senators 2019 development camp (Courtesy Ottawa Senators)

The pair started together at the University of North Dakota in 2018-19, but Tychonick struggled to find his place on the team and eventually transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In 2020-21, while Bernard-Docker was establishing himself as the Conference’s best defensive defender, Tychonick put up just eight points in 23 games. He started to stagnate in his second year with the program, putting up the same number of points while playing one more game.

Virtually all hope was lost that Tychonick would emerge as a top powerplay quarterback in his final year of eligibility and would likely leave college without an NHL deal. But that was before the 2022-23 season started. After just nine games, the blueliner has two goals, matching his 2021-22 totals, and his five points lead all defencemen on his team in scoring. While it’s still not what was expected of him when he was drafted, it’s much better than fans have seen in years. The Senators have been patient with one of their lesser-known prospects, and it seems to be paying off right now.

5 Prospects to Watch

  • Tyler Kleven has continued to be a beast on the blue line for the University of North Dakota this season, leading the team with 21 penalty minutes. However, like Boucher, he too needs to figure out where the line is, as he was ejected for a hit to the head earlier this season, his second ejection in two seasons for a dangerous play.
  • Tomas Hamara has adjusted well to the OHL, putting up six points in his first 10 games with the Kitchener Rangers. He currently sits second among defencemen on the team in points and could eclipse 40 points this season if he manages to keep up the pace.
  • Carson Latimer has quietly had himself a nice start to November, putting up seven points in the last four games. Before the streak, he had just five points on the season, but he seems to have rediscovered his rhythm with the Prince Albert Raiders from last season after coming over from the Edmonton Oil Kings.
  • After spending a season with the Kingston Frontenacs, goalie Leevi Merilainen returned to his home in Finland, where he has been on fire, posting three shutouts, the fifth-best save percentage in the Liiga, and a goals-against average under 1.86. If he can keep it up, the Senators may have a goaltending issue on their hands next season.
  • 2022 third-round pick Oskar Pettersson has been on a tear in Sweden’s U20 league, scoring 12 goals and 21 points in 17 games, which prompted Rögle BK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) to bring him up to the main squad. Although he has yet to score a point over four games, it’s still impressive that he’s playing with the team at 18 years old.

That does it for this month’s Senators Prospect Report. Stay tuned for the next edition where we’ll check back in on Boucher, Ostapchuk, and Halliday, as well as highlight any other impressive performances throughout Ottawa’s farm system.

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