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Season Preview 2019-20: Ottawa Senators

The long-term rebuild has begun and there's nowhere to go but up. That doesn't mean the Senators will anywhere but the basement, however.

Can the Senators’ best players go from kids to stars?
Ottawa made itto double overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final in 2017 but, amazingly, just three players remain who appeared in that game: Bobby Ryan, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Craig Anderson. Trading Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone last season removed the franchise’s two foundational pillars. Who are the load-bearing pieces now? Look for Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk to develop into bankable stars. Chabot arguably did so last season, racking up an outstanding 55 points in 70 games. Tkachuk, the NHL’s fifth-youngest forward last season, managed 22 goals in 71 games and tied for 37th in goals per 60 minutes among the 365 forwards who played 500-plus minutes at 5-on-5. He has the smarts, scoring touch and strength to be a 30-goal threat immediately.

Does Ottawa have a ‘goalie of the near future’?
Anderson, 38, likely retains the starting job by default, especially because he’s in his UFA walk year, as Ottawa will want to play him enough to showcase him for a trade. The door is open for towering Anders Nilsson, whom the Sens re-signed for two seasons, but it would be nice if Ottawa had a blue-chipper nipping at the heels. Filip Gustavsson posted an .887 save percentage in the AHL, so it doesn’t feel like he’s ready to pull a Jordan Binnington yet. Ottawa drafted a big-time goalie prospect in Mads Sogaard, but he’s years away.

Is there nowhere to go but up?
The past two seasons in Ottawa have brought endless scandal, farewells to top players and all-around embarrassment, culminating in a last-place finish in 2018-19, seven points out of 30th place. The Sens, however, have quietly hoarded exciting prospects in recent seasons. Dynamic blueliner Erik Brannstrom, the centerpiece of the Stone trade, doesn’t have much competition to earn an NHL job right away and has a ceiling as high as Chabot’s. Drake Batherson scored so much in the AHL in 2018-19 that it seemed downright easy for him. He has nothing left to prove there. Prospects Alex Formenton and Logan Brown could enrich the forward corps, too. The Sens remain a mess, but they could be an exciting mess that steals games.

Stanley Cup Odds: 100/1

Rookie Watch
Half a dozen rookies could make an impact in Ottawa this season. The purest talent among that group is Erik Brannstrom. He is a sublime skater and puck-mover and has a perfect teammate to learn from in Chabot, who has similar offensive skills but a stronger two-way game.

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