Senators training camp preview: fierce competition throughout rejuvenated roster
Posted Sep 19, 2022 11:00:00 PM.
The new-look Ottawa Senators cannot wait to get training camp started to see how all the pieces fit together.
Their fan base is equally fired up, passing social commentary on their hockey team day and night through the summer and fall.
With the additions of former Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux, ex-Chicago Blackhawks sniper Alex DeBrincat and goaltender Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild, the suddenly high-rolling Senators have added scoring punch, experience and depth as they aim to be legitimate players in the tough Atlantic Division. Giroux was named an alternate captain this week, joining defenceman Thomas Chabot wearing an ‘A,’ next to captain Brady Tkachuk.
Let’s get started.
Salary Cap space: $5,690,1119
GM: Pierre Dorion
Head coach: D.J. Smith
Assistant coaches: Jack Capuano (associate coach), Bob Jones (assistant), Davis Payne (assistant), Zac Bierk (goaltending coach), Mike King (video coach)
Unsigned players: Winger Alex Formenton, RFA. Forwards Derick Brassard and Michael Dal Colle, PTO.
One important question
This much hasn't changed, the important question involving the Senators relates to their defence. Is it good enough?
A lot is expected of rookie Jake Sanderson, but he didn’t play a lot of college hockey last season because of injuries and COVID-19 postponements, and there is only so much the team can dump on a 20-year-old, even one as talented as Sanderson.
Head coach D.J. Smith has already suggested he will try Sanderson in a second pairing, alongside one of his veterans, either Travis Hamonic or Nick Holden, with Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub as his top pair.
GM Pierre Dorion has tried to bring in a “top four” defenceman, to go with his impactful forward additions, but as he told me at a rookie skate this week – rival GMs see him coming “five miles away” when he wants to talk about acquiring a defenceman. In other words, the price is steep to add the likes of a Jacob Chychrun from Arizona.
So far, Dorion has been reluctant to give up any of his prime prospects in exchange for a top D-man. With Nikita Zaitsev and Erik Brannstrom rounding out the D-corps, the group is better than last season. But if Sanderson is not able to step in and be an impact defenceman right away and/or injuries strike, the Senators may have to add someone at the trade deadline.
One of the best things about a young team growing into a competitive group – the battles for spots get heightened. Gone are the days when any experienced player could look at Ottawa’s roster as a soft touch to make. This year, there will be young guns and proven veterans alike engaged in fierce competition to earn a starting position.
Consider the centre ice position. With sophomore Shane Pinto recovered from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of his rookie season, the Senators have tremendous depth down the middle: Josh Norris, Tim Stützle, Pinto and Dylan Gambrell are a possible top four at centre. But also vying for a spot is Ridly Greig, a feisty player who played a big role for Team Canada at the recent world junior hockey championships. Greig could benefit from a year in the AHL.
Parker Kelly, another Smith favourite, can also play centre but is effective on the wing. And former Senators centre Derick Brassard is here on a tryout and could make things interesting if he shows well.
On defence, Brannstrom will be trying to prove he belongs in the starting six. He recently signed a one-year contract and might need to beat out Zaitsev for that final spot.
While the fan base would pencil in that change in an instant, Smith will make the call and it may be based on the Senators' competition on a given night, as much as the players' individual progress. As fans know, Smith has an appreciation for Zaitsev that dates back to their days in Toronto with the Maple Leafs.
In goal, the Senators have, arguably, their best tandem since Craig Anderson and Mike Condon played 40 games each during the 2016-17 season. But who will be the starter between Anton Forsberg and Cam Talbot?
From here, it looks as though Forsberg has the inside track, coming off his breakout year with Ottawa in 2021-22, with 17 wins and a .917 save percentage. Talbot, 35, intends to compete for No. 1, coming off a 32-12-4 record with Minnesota last year, with a 2.76 goals-against and .911 save percentage.
What a difference from a year ago when the Senators started the season with injury-prone Matt Murray and unproven backups. From the seeds of that uncertainty, waiver-wire godsend Forsberg blossomed to stabilize things.
This year, even the Senators' power play will have battles. After all, you can’t fit all of Tkachuk-Norris-Stützle-Giroux-DeBrincat-Batherson-Chabot on the first PP unit. For the first time in years, the second unit should be a threat with this much firepower up front.
Just a sketch of how the Senators might look when camp ends. For now, I have left Alex Formenton out of the mix as he has not come to terms on a contract. He could certainly earn a spot in the top nine if he is cleared to go.
Brady Tkachuk — Josh Norris — Drake Batherson
Alex DeBrincat — Tim Stützle — Claude Giroux
Tyler Motte — Shane Pinto — Mathieu Joseph
Parker Kelly — Dylan Gambrell — Austin Watson
Extra: Ridly Greig
Thomas Chabot — Artem Zub
Jake Sanderson — Travis Hamonic
Nick Holden — Nikita Zaitsev
Extra: Erik Brannstrom