Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators.
2019-2020 Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators had a very long 2018-19 season that saw lots of downs but also a few ups. Just before the season started, the Sens traded team captain Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks. This was expected by most fans but hurt nonetheless. However, with lots of young talent on the lineup, fans were excited. The newly picked Brady Tkachuk was coming, along with other potential youngsters as well. A full season of Thomas Chabot and also the hope of keeping Matt Duchene and Mark Stone were still awaiting.
They started the season 4-2-1, showing some promise and lots of resilience. However, after a four-game losing streak, they’d find themselves under .500. Somewhere they would remain the rest of the season. There were still things to look up about. Maxime Lajoie found an early hot-streak, Chabot was killing it, Colin White and Tkachuk looked great along Stone’s wing. As well, Ryan Dzingel really seemed to find his game playing with Duchene.
The goaltending for Ottawa needed an upgrade badly. Craig Anderson wasn’t playing great but he also received zero help from the team’s defence. Mike Condon was battling injuries and GM Pierre Dorion knew he needed to do something. So, on January 2nd, halfway through the year, the Sens acquired Anders Nilsson and Josh Archibald for Mike McKenna and Tom Pyatt.
This trade ended up working out very well for the Sens. Nilsson almost immediately gave Anderson competition for the starters role and by the end of the month appeared to be the starter for the Sens. He played well enough they decided to re-sign him over the offseason. Nilsson didn’t help their record, however, he did give them some sustainability in the net. The Sens let in fewer goals than before and lots of that had to do with Nilsson.
Then came the trade deadline. Sens fans had held out hope all year that guys like Dzingel, Duchene, and most importantly Stone, would find new deals with Ottawa. However, it was not to be. Both Dzingel and Duchene were traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in separate deals. Then, on deadline day, Stone was sent to the Vegas Golden Knights. In return for Stone, the Senators received dazzling prospect Erik Brannstrom.
The Sens went into the trade deadline 22-35-5 and went 7-17-1 post-deadline for a record of 29-47-6. This placed them dead last in the NHL with no first-round draft pick. It was a tough finish for Sens fans but once again there were some underlying upsides. Newly acquired Anthony Duclair played well enough to earn himself a new deal. As well, Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Belleville Senators, made a massive playoff push that was driven by young guys like Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Brannstrom, Filip Chlapik, Christian Wolanin, and Marcus Hogberg. The future still looked bright in Ottawa despite such a disappointing end to the NHL season.
The 2019-20 Ottawa Senators will look a lot different than last year. Not only was there turnover at the deadline, but the Sens kept busy all offseason too. Easily the biggest move was sending Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown, among other pieces. This move easily saved them short-term as Ceci was asking big money the Sens should not have paid him. However, Zaitsev has a longer contract that could end up hurting them in the future. Brown should be a welcomed addition as he is a hard-working, grinder who can help lead the young team.
The Sens also sent away longtime player Zack Smith. He was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks for Artem Anisimov. Another seemingly smart move for the offseason. The move may not make a huge impact but Anisimov certainly has more upside at this point. The Sens also signed unrestricted free agents Ron Hainsey and Tyler Ennis in free agency.
They also singed Colin White to a six-year extension. The deal carries a $4.75 million cap hit. This was one of the biggest contracts the Sens handed out since the Bobby Ryan deal. Many fans hope this is a sign of things to come with more of the upcoming RFA’s the team needs to re-sign.
Brady Tkachuk – Colin White – Anthony Duclair
Tyler Ennis – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Connor Brown
Drake Batherson – Logan Brown – Bobby Ryan
The first line will need to play strong if the team wants to stay in most games. Tkachuk and White played very well together last year. However, that was assisted by the fact that they had Mark Stone playing on their wing. Playing with someone like Duclair means that all three of them will need to step up and make a difference. This has the potential to be one of the most talented lines through-and-through. Tkachuk can crash the net while White and Duclair can use some more finesse to finish off scoring plays.
There are lots of possible combinations the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators forward groups will see. However, it is possible the second line starts out like this at the beginning. New head coach DJ Smith knows both Ennis and Brown and would likely have trust in both of them. Pageau is the defacto 2C until Logan Brown takes his spot. It seems fair enough a few games will be needed for Brown to prove he is ready for a bigger NHL role. This combo of players would also provide some skill, although not as much as the top line. Brown can get in the dirty areas and create for his teammates, while Ennis and Pageau can try and help finish off scoring plays. All three of these guys work hard and can also finish off plays at times. It seems like a good fit to start the season.
The bottom six of the Senators could be an interesting mix this season. We have the line of Batherson, Brown, Ryan starting off as a third line. However, a few good games and that line could easily be promoted. Batherson and Brown torched the AHL last season and showed they have a ton of skill. While Ryan is not what he used to be, he does show flashes of skill here and there. Maybe playing with two skilled younger players will be what he needs to kickstart his game once again.
The fourth line is a line that could see some responsibility defensively. All three are older players that don’t boast a ton of offensive prowess. Anisimov will look to revive his career back in Ottawa, but he may need to become a different player to do it. The real question mark will be what happens with Boedker.
He was a healthy scratch at the end of last season and will need to bounce back if he wishes to stay in the lineup all year. There are lots of potential replacements looking to find a full-time spot. Most of them are younger guys like Paul, Veronneau, or even someone like Rudolfs Balcers or Alex Formenton. Boedeker needs to step his game up in training camp just to make this team.
Thomas Chabot – Ron Hainsey
Christian Wolanin – Dylan DeMelo
Mark Borowiecki – Nikita Zaitsev
Extra: Christian Jaros
The top pairing seems very obvious for the Sens this season. We know Chabot will be the number one defenceman. However, who his partner is might be a little different. It seems reasonable that Hainsey could be in the role that he was in Toronto. An older vet that is supposed to stay at home to help the younger, offensively-minded defenceman out. DJ Smith played Hainsey like this in Toronto and with such a young team, it feels quite possible that the season starts out like this.
As for the second pair, Wolanin has deserved a shot for a long time now. It seems hard to see Borowiecki coming out of the lineup completely or this could be Brannstrom’s spot too. However, if we assume ‘Boro’ is in there to start, then the logical thing would be to give the older guy the spot. Wolanin is skilled and therefore makes more sense on a second pair. Let ‘Boro’ be more of a third pair guy and have Brannstrom develop in the AHL before making a post-deadline appearance, much like last season. DeMelo may switch with Hainsey at times during the year as he and Chabot played well together. Given DeMelo’s solid 5v5 play it seems like a natural fit for him to be on the second pair to start the season.
The bottom pair could see a bit of a rotation happen. Guys like Jaros and even Lajoie will no doubt be looking to find their ways back on the roster. However, given the right side being pretty set in stone, it may be tough to crack. ‘Boro’ seems like a logical person to swap in and out on given nights and not play all 82 games.
However, Zaitsev will likely be a big use on the penalty kill for the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators and it feels unlikely he’ll be swapped out. He may even play higher in the lineup but if he is given a bulk of the PK time it seems fair that DeMelo may get more 5v5 time. There are lots of possibilities for this defence group.
Extra: Marcus Hogberg
For the first time in a while, Anderson will likely not be the starter for the Senators. Unfortunately, he just isn’t what he used to be and it has shown. He was OK at times last year but clearly couldn’t take the workload of a starter. The Sens are hoping that Nilsson can fill that role while some of their younger guys develop.
Hogberg played great down the stretch last year in the AHL and the Sens will want to see him again this season. However, it is likely that he gets the call post-deadline when they have more roster space. Much like last year. This is an OK thing as it means that Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson can split time in the AHL again next season.
Players To Watch
White may be one of the most intriguing players of this Senators season. With his new contract, the Sens are certainly taking a bet on him taking another step forward. This will be a year to prove he can hang. He will be in a very tough spot being the team’s top-line centre but even gradual improvement would be good to see.
If he can mold into the type of guy that can clearly take on the opponent’s top two lines in any fashion it will be a successful season for Colin White. There doesn’t need to be a crazy point number at the end of the season but rather solid possession numbers and a good fit of where he can be. Becoming the guy to help control play while he is on the ice will be key for White going forward. This season is a step to see if he can become that player.
Another obvious one, but how can he not be on the list? Chabot is easily the most entertaining Sen on the roster this season. However, what to watch from him is if he can take that extra step forward. Lot’s of people and models have him as a first pairing defenceman, now it is time to see if he can jump up to the elite range of defenceman in the league.
Once again, high point totals aren’t what it’s all about. While you want to see his production stay the same, seeing Chabot’s 200-foot game rounded out is key. He did have lots of defensive lapses last year. That is totally OK for a young player, however, now you want to see them phased out a little more. Becoming a solid all-round player while staying dangerous in the offensive zone is what can turn Chabot into one of the leagues elite defenseman. He has all the tools to do it, now it is time to watch and see if he will put it all together.
Prediction For 2019-20 Season
The 2019-20 Ottawa Senators season will be all about growth. Both in the NHL and AHL, growth will be the focal point. This team doesn’t quite have the firepower up front to compete with lots of the teams in its division. They will definitely struggle to keep up at times. The blueline has some question marks around it aswell. If they wish to succeed there a few players will have to take a big role.
In net, it seems unlikely the tandem they have will be able to save them. However, this is all OK for Ottawa. At the end of the day, this season should be about building for the future. Put the young players in the best position to develop. If you can find some development in them, a high draft pick could be on its way to finally get this team out of the basement. Patience will be needed from fans this year.