The team iced by the Ottawa Senators over the next week is going to be different than what fans can expect to see once the NHL Trade Deadline is over. Some of the veteran players who have been healthy scratches for much of the season have been getting some ice time recently, while young stars like defenceman Erik Brannstrom have been on the outside looking in. No, this does not mean that Brannstrom is not playing well, or that the team has a better chance of winning with some of their veteran stars in the lineup instead of the young Swedish star.
In a nutshell, the Senators have to showcase some of their veterans who are not expected to be back this year.
Braydon Coburn played eight games in the first three weeks of the season, but then saw the ice only twice over the next month. He got back in the lineup on March 25 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and has been in the lineup for every game so far in April. He had 17:44 in ice time in Ottawa’s 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, April 3.
The Senators see Coburn as an asset that can be moved at the trade deadline, and they want scouts to see him play. They also want him in game shape, which will help them move the veteran defenceman to a team looking to shore up its depth on the blue line and bring in a big, physical player with experience and leadership.
The strong play of Mike Reilly has given the Senators something to think about. Over a 5-game stretch that ended in Montreal on April 3, Reilly averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game. He also has five assists in those five games.
Reilly owned the worst plus/minus rating in the NHL while the Senators were in their early-season skid, winning just two of their first 15 games. Heading into their Monday, April 5 game on the road against the Winnipeg Jets, Reilly had improved his plus/minus rating to minus-1. Although he had not yet scored a goal this season, his 16 assists — 13 of them have been at even strength — have been impressive.
When the Senators paired Reilly with Artem Zub, the Minnesota-native saw his game improve. He has always been known for his ability to move the puck and contribute on the power play, but his complete game has been better in the last six weeks. With the trade deadline approaching, the Senators have to weigh what they can get in return for him at the deadline against the option of signing him to a contract extension.
Meanwhile, Erik Gudbranson is another big, veteran defenceman who could bring a return. He did not make the trip to Winnipeg for the April 5 game because his wife was about to give birth to their first child. He was replaced in the lineup by Josh Brown, another veteran who could be moved.
Brown played eight games in January, but dressed for only one game in February. Against Montreal on April 1, Brown had 16:44 of ice time, his second highest total of the season. He and Gudbranson are both 6-foot-5 and physical, and both could be moved to clear room for Brannstrom and the recently signed Jacob Bernard-Docker.
The Arty Party Heats Up
Centre Artem Anisimov has played in 15 games this season. Through the first 14 games, he had four points. On April 3 against the Canadiens, he had three despite playing fourth-line minutes.
Anisimov played well centering a line with Evgenii Dadonov and Alex Formenton. He commented to the media on a post-game Zoom call that Formenton may be the fastest player he has ever played with. If the line continues to produce and is kept together for the next week, Anisimov’s value in a deadline deal might rise.
In goal, Anton Forsberg has been a pleasant surprise for the Senators. After his first two starts, he carried a 1-0-1 record after a win against the Canadiens and an overtime loss to the Maple Leafs. In the two games, he made a combined total of 73 saves and had a .924 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average.
Forsberg was picked up on waivers from the Jets by the Senators after injuries sidelined Matt Murray, Marcus Hogberg and Joey Daccord. With a couple of strong outings, Forsberg could be a tantalizing prospect to a playoff-bound team needing to add goaltending depth.
As newcomers Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto clear quarantine after leaving the University of North Dakota to join the Senators, there should be room for them in the lineup after the trade deadline. One thing that is becoming clear is that while the January Senators belonged to short-term veterans, the April-May Senators will belong to the organization’s youth.