Dom Lunardo | April 7th, 2020
It’s the old adage when it comes to professional sports franchises, in that you’re either “selling wins, or selling hope”. This leaves no room for interpretation or grey area, it’s simply one or the other.
Selling wins would imply a team winning on a consistent basis, and sending emails to season ticket holders to purchase playoffs seats. The latter (selling hope) would imply that a team is going through a rough patch, but that the management brass has a comprehensive plan in place with hopes of a brighter future. Enter the Ottawa Senators.
Changing of the Guard
Over the past two-and-a-half seasons, the Senators have been a team in transition. Gone are the likes of household names such as Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Their departures without question, signify the changing of the guard in Canada’s capital city. Their on-ice performances have been anything but promising and would have seen the team miss the playoffs for what would be a third consecutive season and fifth time in 7 years.
The 2019-20 edition of the Senators are “rebuilding” for the future, and are very much a work in progress with their hopes directly set on the future. The Senators have their man behind the bench, with innovative head coach in D.J. Smith, and general manager Pierre Dorion pulling the strings from the top, overseeing all hockey operations. In addition, the Senators have the luxury of a deep, deep prospect pool that bodes well for the team from Kanata, Ontario. Ottawa also owns the first-round pick of San Jose Sharks for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, along with their own. In theory, those two picks should both be in the top ten, and lottery picks. How would the consensus number one prospect, Alexis Lafreniere look in a Sens uniform? Let’s jump in and take a closer look at the Senators’ top-3 prospects, as the excitement continues to grow in Canada’s capital.
Number 3: Josh Norris, Center, Belleville Senators (AHL)/Ottawa Senators (NHL)
First up, and sitting at number three on our list is American-born centerman and University of Michigan product, Josh Norris. Standing at 6 ‘2 and weighing in at 192 pounds, Norris is an absolute force down the middle of the ice. His hockey smarts, puck skills, and patience are Anze Kopitar-esque and are just what the Senators need at the center ice position. In 56 games this season for Belleville of the American Hockey League, Norris put up an impressive 30 goals, 31 assists for 61 points in 56 games played. The 20-year old sensation can score, skate, and make plays with the best of them to go along with a crafty, two-way game. Drafted in the first round, 19th overall by the San Jose Sharks back in 2017, Norris was one of the key pieces in the deal that saw longtime Senators captain and two-time Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson head to sunny San Jose. An excellent piece of business to say the least from GM Pierre Dorion, who ensured that without Norris, the trade was off. At 21 years of age, next month, Norris should be a shoo-in for a spot on the Ottawa Senators next year as one of their most promising prospects.
Number 2: Erik Brannstrom, Defenseman, Belleville Senators (AHL)/Ottawa Senators (NHL)
Coming over from the Vegas Golden Knights as a key piece in the trade that saw Mark Stone head to the desert, is Erik Brannstrom at number two. Man, oh, man do the Senators have themselves a defenseman in the making with Brannstrom. Blessed with superior skating ability and edge work, Brannstrom’s game continues to evolve because of his ability to skate and move the puck. Listed at 5 ‘10, Brannstrom possesses an active stick and a real presence on the ice which helps him play a steady and sound defensive game, in addition to his strong offensive instincts. The Senators also love his maturity and his potential to quarterback a power-play on the Ottawa blue-line. This season, Brannstrom has skated in 31 NHL games, tallying 4 assists while splitting his time with the Belleville Senators. It’s a simple case of “a bit more seasoning on the grill” when it comes to Brannstrom, which is a non-issue in the eyes of the Senators organization. A future (and formidable) 1-2 tandem, along with the likes of all-star defenseman, Thomas Chabot, is music to the ears for Senators fans from all across Eastern Canada.
Number 1: Drake Batherson, Right-Wing, Belleville Senators (AHL)/Ottawa Senators (NHL)
Drake Batherson, the diminutive winger from Fort, Wayne, Indiana tops the list at number one. Spurred on by his incredible 7 goals in 7-games performance at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, New York, Drake Batherson is without question ready for prime-time at the National Hockey league level. Batherson rose through the ranks and made quite the name for himself in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), before playing the last two seasons, leapfrogging between both Belleville and Ottawa. In 43 combined games with the Sens, Batherson notched 6 goals and 13 assists, for 19 points and is on pace to become a full-time member of the Senators next year vying for a spot in their top-9. Batherson’s two-way play, passing ability, and a knack for goalscoring make him one of the single largest factors in Ottawa’s rebuild. Both D.J. Smith and Pierre Dorion have high expectations for Batherson because of such a large upside and ability to play both ends of the ice. It is these traits in Batherson that separate him from the rest of the deeply-routed prospect pack in Ottawa. Batherson can create offense, “drive a line”, and plays with a certain swagger that should place him in good stead throughout the course of his NHL career. He’s shifty, intelligent, and mature beyond his years, and will soon be able to call Kanata, Ontario, his home and permanent residence. The lights will be shining bright in Ottawa with top talent in the form of Josh Norris, Erik Brannstrom, and Drake Batherson.
Honorable Mentions: D Jacob Bernard-Docker, F Shane Pinto, F Alex Formenton
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images