Every team wants to end their season on a win. The Ottawa Senators are no different, and even though they will be missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, they still wanted to finish on a high note. However, it would be no easy task as they were set to take on their long-time rival and current first-place team in the North Division, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But it was the Senators who scored first, with defenseman Nikita Zaitsev blasting it past Frederik Andersen from the point. The Maple Leafs came back in the second, scoring two, but the Sens matched them, keeping ahead of them by one. Auston Matthews tied the game late in the third period, sending the game to overtime, but once again, Ottawa struck first, with Josh Norris scoring just nine seconds into extra time, winning the game 4-3.
Sure, it would have been nice to take that energy and momentum into the playoffs, but it would always be a long shot for the Senators to make the postseason in 2020-21 and ending on such a high note bodes well for the future. The team’s young stars were in full force – of the players who registered a point last night, three of them were rookies, and two others were 21 years old. Rookie Goaltender Filip Gustavsson also earned his fifth win of the season and boosted his save percentage to 0.933, the best on the team. So, while the team finished near the bottom of the league, they have nearly every piece in place to become a tenacious team in 2021-22.
Item One: Ottawa Kids Celebrate Stützle’s Hat Trick
The excitement of scoring a hat trick is infectious. Of course, the player who accomplishes the feat is the most excited, but so are the fans who able to witness the accomplishment, who get to participate in the special moment by tossing hats onto the ice. But what happens when fans can’t participate in that ritual due to pandemic restrictions?
Well, we found out on Monday. Outside of Tim Stutzle’s house, which he shares with Norris and Brady Tkachuk, several kids from around the neighborhood gathered together and tossed dozens of hats over the fence. The 19-year-old German was blown away at the gesture, saying, “It was unreal, and a great thing of them to do that, and I was very, very happy for that, so I can’t think them enough to for doing that.”
Organized by backyard neighbor Andrew Morrisey in collaboration with Tkachuk, he wanted to commemorate the moment properly. “These are strange times,” he said, “and we felt the need to celebrate because scoring a hat trick in the NHL is one thing but scoring it at 19 is another.” It was clear that the kids participating in the video are having a blast, and according to Morrisey and other parents, they haven’t seen their kids that happy in a year.
It also was recently announced that Stützle would be sticking with his roommates for at least another year. At the year-end press conference on Thursday, Tkachuk stated, “We signed a 1-year extension as roommates,” with the hope that they’ll be able to show Stützle around the community more that has accepted him with open arms.
Item Two: Brown and Kelly Make Season Debut
Two more rookies made their season debut last night, with Logan Brown and Parker Kelly getting the nod to dress on the season’s final game. The pair have had very different careers so far; the highly hyped Brown came to Ottawa in 2017-18 after being selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, but injuries and inconsistency have plagued his development. On the other hand, Kelly was signed as a free agent in 2016-17 after attending the team’s development camp the previous summer and established himself as one of the hardest workers on the Belleville Senators during his two seasons with the team.
The pair also had very different 2020-21 debuts. Kelly had a great first game, playing just under eight minutes but throwing four hits, winning a faceoff, and, to top it all off, scoring a goal on his only shot on net. He even earned some short-handed time, playing 1:38 with a man down. His success has some wondering if he’ll end up replacing Austin Watson on the fourth line, who has been on the injured reserve since Mar 24.
Logan Brown, however, made the debut that, sadly, most would have expected. The 6-foot-6 center was utilized more than Kelly, playing 9:40 plus 3:57 on the power play, and stepped into four faceoffs. But he finished the game with zero shots, two penalty minutes, a giveaway, and no faceoff wins. It was a disappointing showing for a player who had 29 NHL games already under his belt, plus three AHL seasons. When compared with Shane Pinto, another young center, it looks even worse – in his first game, coming right out of college, Pinto had an assist, a hit, and four faceoff wins, and after 12 games, he had seven points and played nearly 14 minutes last night.
Could this have been Brown’s last chance to make the team? That feels a little extreme – the big center is still just 23 years old and as a former 11th overall selection, there are plenty who still see his high potential, especially after he scored 28 points in 25 AHL games last season. But with the expansion draft coming up, it’s becoming less and less likely that the Senators spend a protection slot on him over another prospect. He could also be traded in order to dissuade the Seattle Kraken from taking someone else, like one of their young goalies. Whatever his future holds, it sure doesn’t seem like it’ll be in Ottawa.
Item Three: Jarventie Makes North America Debut
Another Senators’ prospect made their professional debut this week in Roby Jarventie, who played his first AHL game on May 11 against the Manitoba Moose. The Finnish star had a quiet debut, registering just two penalty minutes and zero shots, but he started the 2020-21 season with a bang, scoring seven goals and 14 points in 19 games in the Finnish Liiga. While his hot streak didn’t last, he still finished with 25 points in 48 games in Finland’s top league and caught the attention of many Senators’ fans.
Jarventie was joined by Ridly Greig, who returned to the lineup after playing most of the season for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Greig was one of the Canadian junior players who took advantage of the age exception made at the beginning of the season while the CHL leagues worked to get their seasons started, playing five games for Belleville before returning to the Brandon Wheat Kings in February. However, once the season concluded earlier this month, he was officially eligible to play in the AHL, as he had played in four WHL seasons. Two games into his return, he already has a goal. The 2020 first-round pick is a top pest with a great scoring touch, and the Senators are hoping he develops into a Brad Marchand-type player in the future.
Item Four: Mete Close to Signing an Extension
Victor Mete has been one of the biggest success stories for the Senators this season. Starting the season with the Montreal Canadiens, the defender was a frequent scratch, playing in just 14 games and scoring three assists. He was then placed on waivers, where the Senators managed to snap him up. Since coming to Ottawa, however, he’s looked like a new player, playing in all 14 games, scoring a goal and an assist, but most importantly, providing a steady defensive presence on the blueline. Since his arrival, the Senators lost just four games, with Mete being a significant part of the change.
Many wondered what would happen to Mete, as he was slated to become a restricted free agent this summer. However, it doesn’t look like the Senators are going to let that happen. Elliotte Friedman reported on Sportnet this week that the Senators are trying to get him and Artem Zub signed to extensions sooner rather than later, and the former Canadien couldn’t be happier. In his end-of-year press conference, Mete said, “It’s a new lease on life getting claimed by Ottawa. It’s been great here. I was able to go out and play my game, knowing if I made a mistake, I wasn’t going to be pulled.”
Item Five: Brown and Paul Are Headed to the World Championships
With the NHL regular season finished for most teams, many have turned their attention to the 2021 IIHF World Championships, taking place in Riga, Latvia, at the end of May. Only Team Canada and Team USA have unveiled their rosters, but two Senators have already been confirmed to be taking part, with Brown and Nick Paul both selected to represent Canada. Both had strong seasons this year, with Brown leading the NHL with five short-handed goals and Paul tying his career-high with 20 points.
However, many fans may be more interested in who’s not on those rosters, specifically Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, Tkachuk, and Norris. Of course, it’s different for each player, but one explanation could be that some players are just tired of playing in a bubble. It can be exhausting following the strict pandemic precautions and restrictions and many players seem to want to take some time and rest. Another possible reason is that a team may not want their stars playing overseas and potentially getting injured. The Senators have allegedly stopped players, namely Erik Karlsson, from participating previously, especially if they’re not playing for Canada. They may be doing that again to ensure that the future of their team is safe.
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However, there is still a chance that some other Senators could find their way over to Latvia. Gustavsson and Erik Brannstrom could join Sweden. Evgenii Dadonov could return to the Russian roster and Zub and Zaitsev, and Stutzle would have an excellent opportunity to star for the Germans. The tournament starts on May 21 and more rosters will be announced in the coming weeks.
Whats Next for the Senators?
With the 2020-21 season over, the Senators will take a well-earned break before returning their attention to the upcoming Seattle expansion draft, which is set for Jul 21, and the Entry Draft, scheduled for Jul 23-24. Protection lists need to be submitted a week before the event, and until then, it’s anyone’s guess as to who they protect. At the same time, the draft lottery will take place on Jun 2, giving scouts and fans alike a better idea of who the Senators should target with their pick. Currently sitting with the 10th pick, they have a 7.3% chance to pick top-two and just a 3.5% chance to pick first overall.
If you’re still itching for some hockey, Mads Sogaard has become one to watch in the AHL. In four starts, he is currently undefeated and owns a 2.45 goals-against-average plus a 0.921 save percentage. In his last game, he made the most saves of his AHL career, turning away 37 of 40 shots. The 6-foot-7 netminder was a second-round pick in 2019. There also will be the World Championships coming up, and while the rosters so far are thinner than usual, it will be interesting to see Owen Power and Matt Beniers, two top prospects for the 2021 draft, play against NHL talent.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.