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Prospect Pool Overview: Ottawa Senators

Between the trades this summer and the nice list of young players on the way, there's a lot to be excited about if you're an Ottawa Senators fan. Tony Ferrari takes a look at the team's future.
Shane Pinto

Pierre Dorion has had himself a hot girl summer.

The Ottawa Senators have taken some legitimate strides this summer as general manager Dorion has been a man on a mission. They traded the seventh and 39th overall pick in a deal that netted them Alex DeBrincat, one of hockey's best young goal scorers. That takes away from the team's prospect pool, but with a young roster needing some veteran supplementation, the addition of a 24-year-old stud makes a ton of sense.

Dorion wasn’t done there as he managed to sign Hearst, Ontario native Claude Giroux to supplement the Sens’ top six. He also extended top-line center Josh Norris to an eight-year deal. 

The prospect pool isn’t quite as strong as it was a couple of years ago, but it still much of the team's young core has already moved up to the NHL. Shane Pinto’s season last year was derailed by injury, but the short stints of NHL action we’ve seen from him have been promising, and he should slot into the third-line center spot to open the season. A smart two-way center who has a goal-scoring touch, Pinto isn’t the most dynamic but he could be a high-end third-line center on a good team with time. Ridley Greig could very well be his running mate this season if the Sens decide he’s ready for the NHL, too. He’s more likely a year away from taking on that role, but he will be in the AHL this upcoming season, pairing his non-stop motor, physicality, and willingness to get under the opposing team’s skin with a good shot and straight line crash and bang offensive game.

Roby Järventie and Yegor Sokolov are excellent shooters who could be interesting complementary players on the wing with playmaking centers who can drive play. Phillipe Daoust and Zack Ostapchuk are straight-line, projectable forwards who lack creativity but bring simple, chain-linking games that could project to the bottom six. Mark Kastelic is a bottom-six physical player with an engine that doesn’t quit. The biggest issue with this group is that skating isn’t a strength of any of them. If they can build up their base as skaters, there are some interesting bottom-six forwards throughout the Senators’ system.

On the blueline, Jake Sanderson is the Senators' top prospect. He expected to step into the lineup to start the season. The American defenseman is a good two-way blueliner who is a quality defender in transition and an excellent puck mover on the breakout. The base of his game is his skating and play-reading ability. Crisp on his feet, Sanderson uses his mobility in all three zones.

At some point, Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker are expected to play NHL games this year. Thomson is evolving from a flashy blueliner with a big shot in junior to a two-way defender who plays with less flair and risk-taking. He still has a ways to go but he’s starting to get the hang of being more conservative in his end. Bernard-Docker is a defense-first blueliner who is a bit of a throwback. He isn’t going to dazzle with an end-to-end rush or anything like that. Instead, he will angle his opponent off at the blueline, engage physically, and lay the body in his zone. In the offensive zone, his biggest strength is a booming shot from the blueline. While that’s becoming a less common tactic offensively, he is effective at getting his shot through and creating rebounds or opportunities to deflect the pick on net.

And then, there's Tyler Boucher. The 2021 10th overall pick had an up-and-down year last year. Starting the year with Boston University, Boucher struggled to settle in and left to go to the OHL after putting up three points across 17 games. He fared better in the OHL but was still far under expectations with 14 points in 24 games for the Ottawa 67s. Boucher brings the physicality like few other prospects of note across hockey. He will obliterate opponents at times. The problem is that most of his other tools and traits are fairly average. His game projects to the NHL but he likely doesn’t translate any higher than a complimentary role on a second line if everything goes right. The more realistic outcome is that Boucher is a bottom-six physical monster who punishes opponents and lets the skilled guys up the lineup do the damage on the scoreboard.

2022 NHL Draft Class

Round 2 (64 Overall) - Filip Nordberg, D, Sodertalje SK Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 3 (72 Overall) - Oskar Pettersson, R, Rogle BK Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 3 (87 Overall) - Tomas Hamara, D, Tappara (U20 SM-sarja)
Round 4 (104 Overall) - Stephen Halliday, C, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Round 5 (136 Overall) - Jorian Donovan, D, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Round 5 (143 Overall) - Cameron O'Neill, R, Mount St. Charles (USHS-RI)
Round 5 (151 Overall) - Kevin Reidler, G, AIK Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 6 (168 Overall) - Theo Wallberg, D, Skelleftea AIK Jr. (J20 Nationall)
Round 7 (206 Overall) - Tyson Dyck, C, Cranbrook Bucks (BCHL)

The Senators' 2022 NHL draft will be looked at as the draft where they acquired Alex DeBrincat and the picks won’t quite matter as much. With that trade, they moved their top two draft picks and probably feel great out of it. Their draft started much later than they expected or are used to though, with Filip Nordberg being selected at 64th overall in round two. Nordberg is a defensive blueliner who engages physically to punish his opponents. He can make a decent first pass, but his value comes from shutting down the opposition.

In the third round the Sens selected Oskar Pettersson, a straight line, attack-the-net style forward. From an overall skating perspective, he lacks high-end speed and is average at best, but his value around the crease, creating havoc, and shoveling pucks to the net are intriguing. Defenseman Tomas Hamara was also selected in round three. Hamara is an accurate passer who can help facilitate at the top of the offensive zone and break the puck out of the defensive end. Hamara will be a long-term project as he will need to work on his consistency as a defender but his tools and transition game make him great value in round three.

Overage forward Stephen Halliday has a big shot and some nice offensive traits but his pace and skating can be a real concern. He thinks the game tactically and understands how to identify a passing or shooting lane, works to get himself into position but does a lot of it at slower speeds. A 2002-born forward in his final year of eligibility, Halliday was a worthy swing in round four.

Jorian Donovan’s father, Shean, works for the Senators as a development coach and the hope is that the pro-development staff can get some of Jorian’s tools to work together at the next level. Donovan is a fluid defender but his lapses often come from misjudgment of a play or not recognizing the pressure in an area not directly in front of his eyes. Theo Wallberg is an interesting pick late as the Swedish defenseman is an effective puck mover. He sometimes struggles to handle a forecheck, but his skating and passing should be able to get him out of it as he matures.

Strengths

With most of the top forward prospects at the NHL level already, the defense is the clear strength of Ottawa’s pipeline. Sanderson is going to graduate this year if all goes well. Thomson and Bernard-Docker have played a few NHL games and will likely play more this year as they continue to develop and overtake some of the underwhelming veterans on the NHL roster. 

Tyler Kleven has already attained fan favorite status with his big hits and rare flashes of skill. Hamara is an interesting defender playing in Finland who plays well at both ends of the ice and has some excellent puck-moving ability on the breakout. Maxence Guénette had a decent start to his pro career as he got more and more comfortable as his AHL season wore on. The Senators may not have a stud defender outside of Sanderson, but they have a seemingly endless list of guys who could realistically play NHL games in the next few years.

Weaknesses

The Senators lack high-end skill across the board in their forward group, but their depth at center within their pipeline is a bit concerning. Pinto is a very good center prospect who has outperformed expectations to this point but missed the vast majority of last season due to injury and will be expected to step into the third-line center role to start the season. Mark Kastelic is a high-energy bottom-six forward. The Senators have Josh Norris and Tim Stützle filling the top-six center roles at the moment but Stützle at center is still not a sure thing, although he did look good there at times last year. Having high-end prospects down the middle is never a bad thing but the Sens have ignored the area a bit recently outside of drafting Stützle and pushing him into a center role.

Next Man Up: D Jake Sanderson

After two successful seasons at the University of North Dakota, Jake Sanderson is expected to step right into the Senators’ top-four and help Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub solidify the blueline for the club. Sanderson is an excellent defender who excels at both ends of the ice. His defensive game is stout, reading and cutting off play before it gets dangerous. The former NTDP blueliner is a fluid skater and deft puck handler. The improvements in his game over the last few years have been impressive. He defends transition extremely well, showing excellent spatial awareness and cutting down gaps. His in-zone defense is enhanced by his ability to analyze the play and perfectly time when to jump into a lane to break up play.

If the transition game, Sanderson is an excellent passer who is unafraid to take advantage of space given to him by skating the puck up ice himself. He can weave and bob through traffic if necessary. Offensively, he is an active participant who can pop at times. He isn’t overly dynamic, but he is effective. Sanderson has a good shot and is a deft passer, but it’s his skating to open up passing lanes and activation off the point when there is room down the wall or into the slot that makes him effective. Sanderson shouldn’t be expected to come in and do what Moritz Sieder in Detroit did, but if everything works out, he could pull off something similar.

Prospect Depth Chart Notables

LW: Ridley Greig, Zack Ostapchuk, Tyler Boucher, Roby Järventie
C: Shane Pinto, Mark Kastelic, Phillipe Daoust
RW: Yegor Sokolov, Carson Latimer, Oskar Pettersson
LD: Jake Sanderson, Tomas Hamara, Tyler Kleven, Filip Nordberg
RD: Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, Maxence Guénette
G: Mads Søgaard, Leevi Meriläinen, Kevin Mandolese

For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition

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