Would a regular training camp, with preseason games, have changed the course of the adjusted Ottawa season in the event of the 2020-21 pandemic?
Think about it for a second. Loaded with newly added veteran players like Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn and Erik Gudbranson, as well as newly acquired goaltender Matt Murray, the Senators kicked off their season by favoring deep veterans rather than prospects throughout their roster.
We know what happened. Murray, without the time to familiarize himself with his new defense, was terrible. Some veterans faltered and were eventually replaced by younger players from the organization. As the trade deadline approached, the Senators were one of the NHL’s most prominent teams – even Murray rediscovered his game over the past month as Ottawa finished 10-3-1.
Flash forward for this fall. In his first speech to reporters, head coach DJ Smith made a stunning admission about his “mistake” in evaluating Artem Zub, with nothing to do but workouts.
Like an undiscovered gem, Zub stepped away as the Senators staggered through January. On January 31, Zub played a modest 13 minutes in a loss to Edmonton, his NHL debut. In February, Zub averaged over 16 minutes per game. In March and April, his total time on the ice was almost 19 minutes as he established himself as Ottawa’s top pure defenseman.
On Friday night, Zub, now a first-team defenseman with Thomas Chabot, was greeted as a hero as he scored a shootout goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Oh, how things have changed in the last nine months, and not just when it comes to Zub’s status. Instead of forgoing players based on their league experience, the Senators get a good look at what prospects are about to be ready.
Without a preseason, Shane Pinto and Alex Formenton would almost certainly have started the season in the AHL Belleville. But after seeing them play in camp and in preseason games, how could the Senators demote them now?
In many cases, the future is now in Ottawa’s perspective.
Smith is running out of superlatives for Pinto, who continues to play as a No.2 center and finally gets his chance in Monday’s game against the visiting Maple Leafs. On the other hand, veteran Chris Tierney took the opportunity to cross Tim Stützle and Connor Brown after a few terrible trio games.
“Pinto was as good as anyone in the camp,” Smith said. “He just keeps making plays, and he plays so well down center – strong stick, good on faceoffs. He can play on the power play and kill penalties. So we think we have a good player there.
Formenton, meanwhile, skipped the line to the front row alongside Josh Norris and Drake Batherson because he did a reasonable job as a replacement for Brady Tkachuk, who still hasn’t signed a deal. new contract. When Tkachuk arrives, Formenton will slide down the depth map, but he’s unlikely to slide all the way to Belleville.
“He wants to be in the NHL,” Smith said of the guy his teammates call “Forms”. “He spent two years with minors and doesn’t want to go back.
It’s not just the kids who benefit from the preseason games. Murray seems much more comfortable with the advantage of a more normal side to prepare him for the season. He took the win in a 7-2 loss to the Habs on Friday and is expected to play in two of Ottawa’s last three exhibition games, including Toronto on Monday.
This preseason has been critical for a team like Ottawa that needed time to properly assess their growing pool of talent.
“The more exhibition games you play, the more you see who the NHL players are and who the guys can do it night after night,” Smith said. “And to me, it seems clear at this point who this group is. “
Lassi Thomson impresses
It’s a sad truth from boot camps that some bright young prospects can look really good – right before they’re released. Defender Lassi Thomson is one example. Thomson surprised many observers with his piece this fall. Last season, his first in professional hockey, Thomson struggled to adjust in 35 games with Belleville. But his Ottawa camp ended with a stellar game in Montreal on Saturday, where Thomson played 20 minutes and put in some big shots in the Senators 2-1 loss. Thomson tied for first on the team with three shots on goal.
For now, however, Thomson is set to start the season at Belleville, with no real opening on the Ottawa blue line as of yet. Thomson was one of 13 players released on Sunday.
“He’s going to be a really good player,” Smith said of Thomson. “It’s hard to play defensively in the NHL. You look at a guy like (Jeff) Petry over there tonight, how many years it took him to be an everyday D, the best offensive player. There have been a lot of ups and downs in his career. Lassi is a youngster who just had his first pro experience last year. We think he’s going to be a very good player.
Up to five lines, 8D, 3G
The Senators sent 11 players to their AHL camp on Sunday (three waivers required) while two others, Ridly Greig and Zack Ostapchuk, were released to their WHL squads. The biggest names among the cups were Thomson, compatriot D-man Jacob Bernard-Docker, as well as forwards Mark Kastelic and Egor Sokolov. There weren’t any real surprises here, although Sokolov and Kastelic, with their size and grain, had an outward chance to form a team that lack the fiber of Tkachuk. Belleville is expected to have a strong squad and all of these cups will benefit from additional professional experience under the guidance of B-Sens head coach Troy Mann.
The alignment of the senses after the cuts
Ten days before the opening night, the Sens workforce is taking shape. Eliminate the “fifth” line and a point of defense and the list is pretty well defined. At least until Tkachuk arrives. Look for goalie Gustavsson to have time in Belleville until he is needed in Ottawa.
Formenton – Norris – Batherson
Stützle – Pinto – C. Brown
Paul – Blanc – Sanford
Ennis – Tierney – Watson
Kelly – Agozzino – Shaw
Chabot – Zub
Del Zotto – Zaitsev
Mete – Holden
Brannstrom – J. Brown
Murray – Forsberg – Gustavsson