Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-2018, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers are insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around till the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-2018 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on the Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-2018 Ottawa Senators
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-2018 Ottawa Senators
The 2016-2017 Ottawa Senators season was one of typical lows, and a rather unusual high: a trip to the Eastern Conference Final. Along the way the Senators racked up 98 points, good for second in the Atlantic division, by way of a 44-28-10 record. All in all a great start to the tenure of first year head coach Guy Boucher. In the post-season the Senators saw off the Boston Bruins in six, narrowly edged the New York Rangers in the same number, and ultimately fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in double-overtime of game seven.
Leading the way for the Senators, unsurprisingly, was the captain Erik Karlsson. The swift-skating Swede led the team with 17 goals, and 54 assists for 71 points. Trailing him were Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris; between them a combined 53 goals.
In the crease Craig Anderson was his usual self, posting a .926sv% and a 25-11-4 record in 40 appearances. Unfortunately Anderson’s wife Nicholle found herself in a bout with brain cancer. Anderson, with the support of the team, spent much of the season on a personal leave to be with her. Mike Condon took his place, and the 26-year-old netminder posted a respectable .914sv% and guided the team to a 19-14-6 record.
The 2017 NHL draft was not an exciting affair for fans of the Ottawa Senators. With just four picks in the draft, the team selected Shane Bowers of the Waterloo BlackHawks (USHL) at 28th. Though Bowers may not develop to be a true number one centre, he seems a good bet to play in the middle six. The Sens also picked up Alex Formenton of the London Knights (OHL) in the second round. The 47th overall pick has high upside, but his game still needs refining. Read more about Bowers and Alex.
The Senators were active in free agency. Whether or not they had a positive impact on the team is up for debate. First the Senators acquired forward Nate Thompson on the first day of free agency. Thompson spent time with Boucher during his time with the Lightning, and quickly agreed to a two-year $3.3 million deal with the Senators. The former Duck had 2 points in 30 games last season, but suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon. While Boucher believes Thompson can be an effective role player, at 32-years-old and coming off an injury, it’s reasonable to wonder whether Viktor Stalberg would have been a better choice.
On the backend the Senators brought in Johnny Oduya to replace Mark Methot who they lost in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Oduya signed a 1-year 1$ million deal. At 35 years old there are some concerns about age, and health – Oduya played just 52 games last season – the stay-at-home Swede is a comparable player to Methot, on a much more team-friendly contract.
The 2017-2018 Line Combinations
Mark Stone– Kyle Turris – Mike Hoffman
Alex Burrows – Jean Gabriel Pageau– Ryan Dzingel
Tom Pyatt – Nate Thompson – Chris Vandevelde
Colin White (Injured)
The season has yet to begin and already the Senators are feeling the effects of injuries. Colin White blocked a shot in the first pre-season game of the year, and broke his wrist. He isn’t expected back for 6-8 weeks. Clarke MacArthur, an invaluable member of the team on and off the ice, failed his medical; the result of his many concussions. What the Sens are left with is a decent top six and a fourth line lacking any offensive potential.
One upside to the Senators forward core is the versatility of the players. Smith, Pyatt, and Dzingel have all spent time at centre, and this could make for a fluid bottom six.
Outside of Colin White there are not many young offensive threats who look capable of cracking the Senators lineup.
Thomas Chabot – Erik Karlsson
Johnny Oduya – Cody Ceci
Injuries will undoubtedly play a factor in the composition of the Senators defence to start the season. Erik Karlsson is currently recovering from off-season surgery, and is expected back sometime prior to December, though an official date has not been set.
Cody Ceci and Johnny Oduya will likely see the bulk of the icetime in his absence, and rookie Thomas Chabot will likely see himself beside Dion Phaneuf. The interesting question becomes what happens to the bottom pairing, and how will players cycle through? Assuming Chabot makes the team there are 9 NHL defenders on this list. Some have earned that title through merit (Claesson, Wideman), while others will simply be given the icetime (Ceci, Borowiecki). The addition of Jaros, who according to the team, and by all appearances in the pre-season is an NHL ready defender means some of these players will not play this season.
Will Guy Boucher ice an optimal lineup? It’s unlikely – based on Cody Ceci’s usage, and the way the team has leaned on Borowiecki in the past. In the most likely scenario Wideman, Claesson and Jaros will cycle through as a sixth, and seventh defenceman. There is also a slim possibility the team decides to wait one more year with Chabot. Still if the coach is ready to turn the Senators blueline on its head, their is a capable group of six defenders to be made.
Despite their even split last year, the Senators crease belongs to Craig Anderson, and rightly so. He is the franchise leader in most goalie categories and has proven to be a consistent stabilizing force in the paint. Mike Condon did enough to usurp Andrew Hammond, and earned himself a 3-year contract extension as the teams backup.
Players To Watch
The former Blackhawk, is not the defender he once was, but that doesn’t mean he’s terrible. Statistically Oduya and Methot are very similar, which at first sounds like a positive to Senators fans, until you look at Methot’s recent performances away from Karlsson. The numbers aren’t ideal. Luckily Oduya comes with a much cheaper contract, and he doesn’t have the same status among the fans and management as Methot. Should his play falter, it will be interesting to see if Boucher decides to go with a younger option like Claesson or Jaros.
Management originally suggested that Jaros would make the transition to the North American game from the SHL with the Belleville Senators this season, however he has impressed a number of fans, and coaches. It will be interesting to see if the Sens turn to him or to Mark Borowiecki as a resolute defensive option for the bottom pairing, or when injury troubles strike.
Players on the Rise
The number one prospect in the Senators system, and one of the NHL’s best up and coming blueliners, Chabot has quickly made a name for himself among the Senators brass. he even impressed captain Erik Karlsson, who quipped the young blueliner was better than he was at that age. Though Chabot made the team out of camp last year he only played in one game before returning to the QMJHL. There he racked up 45 points in 35 games with the St. John Seadogs in the regular season and 23 points in 18 games in the post-season. Chabot is the future of the Senators defence and paired alongside Karlsson the duo could become a dominant force in the league.
Jean Gabriel Pageau
Pageau had a down year in 2016-17, accumulating just 12g-22a-31p in 82 games with the Sens; a 10 point drop from the year before. In the post-season it was a different story, 10 points in 19 games, 8 of them goals. The 24-year-old has shown he is more than capable of putting the puck in the back of the net in the past and this season, paired with more capable offensive linemates, should be the year the pesky forward becomes a real offensive threat.
Players on the Decline
There is no denying that Thompson’s best days are behind him. In the past three season he has combined for just 26 points. He hasn’t scored more than 20 since 2011 when he had a career high 25 points with the Tampa Bay Lightning. At 32-years-old the centre is a puzzling addition to the team, and it’s not unfathomable that Thompson finishes the season in Belleville.
His days of being a 20-goal-scorer are long behind him. Burrows is 36-years-old and while still capable of providing some offence to the team – he had 5 points in 15 post-season games with the Senators – he isn’t the offensive threat he once was. If Burrows can hit 30 points Senators fans should consider it a successful season.
2017-2018 Ottawa Senators Season Prediction
The good news for the Ottawa Senators is they have the personnel to ice a better blueline and they have young offensive players like Colin White and sophmore Ryan Dzingel who can hopefully contribute to the offence. The bad news is this team still has many of the same issues: Cody Ceci is not a top pairing defenceman, the wings lack depth, and they’re an aging team. Although last seasons shot generation numbers were nothing to be impressed by, Boucher has said he will be focusing more on offensive systems this year – something that could improve their shot-attempt numbers. Bringing in established players like Johnny Oduya and Nate Thompson may improve the leadership in the locker room, but it’s unlikely to make a huge impact on the ice.
The result, is that the Senators are likely to be exactly what they have been in the past. A bubble team who can compete in the Atlantic division. It’s unlikely that the Senators will see the same post-season success as last year, but if the team can reach the 100 point mark once more they should see themselves in the contest once again. And as they’ve shown: once you’re there, anything can happen.
Embed from Getty Images