A mere 17 games ago, I put together a quarterly review of the organization. The team had just won its third straight game and things were looking up after a horrible November that yielded just one victory and a Covid-19 outbreak. They had bottomed out with a 6-2 loss at home to the Vancouver Canucks and were in the process or righting the ship.
Since that time, the team has gone 7-7-3 and has begun to resemble what Sens Nation had hoped we might see from the team to start the season.
Let’s see if the grades have improved, regressed, or stayed the same.
PIERRE DORION: C+ (up from a C)
Since the last report card, the main things that have happened include waving Michael Del Zotto to the AHL, returning Filip Gustavsson to the AHL, moving Erik Brannstrom to the NHL and recalling Matt Murray after his brief hiatus in Belleville and on the waiver wire.
Those moves were the right moves, in my humble opinion, and the team has been the better for it.
I know Sens Nation is dying to hear of possible extensions for Nick Paul, Josh Norris and possibly Alex Formenton. Dorion has already extended an open invitation to Jake Sanderson to join the team whenever he wants. We are told dialogue is happening on many of these fronts. For now, Dorion gets the benefit of the doubt.
I still don’t know where Pierre McGuire begins and Pierre Dorion ends. For now, McGuire continues to let Dorion do the talking which is a good and bad thing. The Sens GM tends to paint himself into a corner with some of his player comments.
DJ SMITH C (up from a C-)
With the team coming out of the COVID-19 phase of the season and regaining most of its lineup, the results seem to suggest the players are still playing for their coach.
He has started to make use of Erik Brannstrom and trust him in situations he previously wasn’t. An injury took Josh Brown away from him which makes me wonder if that's the only reason.
For now, players are trending upward and so is the team, so Smith has earned an increase in his ranking. How he manages the remaining condensed schedule will go a long way to determining the team’s success or lack thereof.
BRADY TKACHUK (C) A- (same rating)
Tkachuk continues to impress, finding ways to be effective both as a player and leader even while he's on his longest goalless streak of his career. He has been without a goal for most of the 17 games since the last review, yet it is not for a lack of chances and shots on goal.
He continues to be the straw that stirs the drink and a big part of the season’s turnaround.
THOMAS CHABOT: A (up from A-)
Chabot continues to do his best Forrest Gump impression most nights with an unlimited supply of stamina. He leads the league in average time on ice. I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing for the team. However, it does nothing to diminish his effectiveness. His point total has more than doubled in the last 17 games and he would surely have gotten serious consideration for Team Canada had the NHL participated in the Beijing Olympics.
Smith will need to manage his minutes with 42 games coming between now and April 29th or injury could become a factor. When your Alpha Dog has to play that many minutes for your team to be competitive, it doesn’t speak highly of others in the D core.
NICK PAUL: B+ (up from B-)
Paul has amped it up since the last evaluation, more than doubling his point total in the 17 games played. His worth isn’t just measured in points. When he is playing his game, he is a physical force who has the pace necessary to forecheck effectively and create turnovers. Dorion is said to be working on an extension. However, I don’t want him to be next Zack Smith and get a contract he can’t live up to. Plus/Minus is often said to be a deceiving statistic. If that were the case, they wouldn’t track it. Minus 16 is worst on the team. Just saying.
CONNOR BROWN: B (No change)
Brown was starting to play some good hockey when he got injured against Calgary. He is way behind on goal production and way ahead on assists. He returned right after the All-Star break so I will re-evaluate at the ¾ poll.
NIKITA ZAITSEV: C- (No Change)
He has missed the entire review period due to injury. I don’t want to say the improved team performance has anything to do with the fact he hasn’t been playing. Smith referred to him as an “Elite defender”. I would consider that a Pierre Dorion moment for Smith. Ready, Fire and Aim. I am okay with him forcing someone like Lassi Thomson or Jacob Bernard-Docker back to the AHL since the season is shot and they have an opportunity to develop and go on a playoff run.
DRAKE BATHERSON: A (No Change)
I always thought he had upside, but I never saw this season coming. Pierre Dorion getting him on that contract extension is going to be great value in the years ahead. Thanks to Aaron Dell, Batherson won’t be playing in games 41 to 60 (at least) and is robbed of an All-Star game experience. Being a pragmatist, I would say there is no good time for a high ankle sprain. If it has to happen, make it in a non-playoff year.
JOSH NORRIS: A- (up from a B+)
He has upped his game noticeably since the last review. He is starting to look like a number one center more and more. I would imagine when Shane Pinto returns to form and insulates him even more, he will look even better. They still don’t have a clear diagnosis on his shoulder injury. Let him get the second and third opinions he wants.
TIM SUTZLE: B+ (Up from B-)
Well, I may have to eat a little crow here. Maybe Tim Stutzle is a center after all. It’s hard to know if his increased production is because of the move to center or not. However, I reiterate my concerns about his defensive awareness. Last year he was -18 and worst on the team. He is -14 now, 2nd worst on the club, behind only Nick Paul.
TYLER ENNIS: C+ (Up from C)
Ennis was trending at roughly the same pace until he landed himself in the press box for a stretch. The message appears to have been heard. He is going to be worth a pick at the deadline at this pace which was likely always the plan. He is reliable and can integrate into a system and make himself useful.
CHRIS TIERNEY: C- (Down from C)
I originally thought this player might have some value as a pick to a team looking for some depth. However, his pace isn’t what it was, and he is behind last year’s offensive clip which was significantly off his previous two years. In order to be of value when you aren’t scoring, you need to be good defensively and -9 doesn’t support that narrative. If Norris, White and Pinto all return before end of season, this could either force Stutzle back to the wing or Tierney to the press box.
ZACH SANFORD: C (No Change)
Sanford has doubled his point total since the last review as well. However, that was from six points to twelve. In 40 games played, he has become a grinding type of winger with limited offensive upside. He is also -12 and was -13 with St. Louis last year. Like Tierney, one off year can be a blip. Two years is a pattern. Whatever Sanford was when he played for the Blues championship team, he is not anymore. Because he does have a Cup ring, it might make him more desirable at the deadline. I would expect a 3rd or 4th round pick in exchange at most.
ALEX FORMENTON: B (Up from C)
The light bulb appears to have come on. I hinted in the last review that if he had similar point production that he might end up back in Belleville when players get healthy. He started the season with five points in 20 games and now sits at 19 points in 38. He's going nowhere and should be firmly on Pierre Dorion’s to do list as far as extensions go. If I am Formenton’s agent, I am betting on the player and taking a shorter extension. His speed is electric, and his hands are catching up. He is going to get paid one day.
ARTEM ZUB A+: (Up from A)
ZUUUUB continues to be the redeeming gem of the pro scouting department. He has always been thought of as a steady defensive influence for players like Thomas Chabot. However, don’t look now, he has 11 points in 40 games while still bosting a +4 rating. He has some offensive upside. Next to Batherson, he is the best value for the money on the team, and I fear they may lose him to free agency if the Sens don’t extend him come July. A nice 5-year deal ought to do it.
NICK HOLDEN: B (Up from C-)
Easily the most improved player on the team since the last review. He has become the steady influence the team needs and has been rewarded with an extension. Given his age, I am pleasantly surprised he agreed to an extension. The Sens are on the rise. However, they aren’t going to win next year, and I would have thought he would have wanted to take his act to a contender by way of a trade at the deadline or free agency. Hopefully, Father Time doesn’t pay him a visit in the off season.
VICTOR METE: D+ (Up from D)
Mete has been the odd man out of the rotation of late. However, with the team’s improved play, he hasn’t been as obviously out of his element. This has allowed Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Dokker the chance to develop in Belleville where they belong. He is RFA at season’s end and I suspect he will be qualified and become a depth defenseman who has to fight for a spot in the lineup. At 23, it’s hard to give up on him. With what they have coming, it’s hard to see a future here.
JOSH BROWN: D+ (Up from D-)
Like Mete, the team’s improved play has allowed Brown to look better. I would normally say there is no future here beyond this season. However, DJ Smith is a fan and that could lead to him being brought back as a UFA. He already finding himself the odd man out of the rotation and when Zaitsev comes back and Sanderson joins the fold, it will be him and/or Mete watching barring injury.
ADAM GAUDETTE: B (No Previous Ranking)
As waiver wire pick ups go, Gaudette had an inauspicious beginning to his Sens tenure and spent some time as a healthy scratch. However, of late he has showed some potential and will likely get a good look down the stretch and could ultimately have some value as an RFA. If he continues to play the way he has been of late, he will likely receive a qualifying offer and could be a depth center depending on Colin White’s status (buyout or not).
DYLAN GAMBRELL: C (No Previous Ranking)
If only this player could manufacture a little bit of offense. He moves well enough but has no offensive upside. Right now, if I had to choose whether to qualify either Gambrell or Gaudette, it’s the latter. He has the rest of the season to change my mind.
LASSI THOMSON: B+ (No Previous Ranking)
Though I like the fact that he is in Belleville right now, I have seen enough of him to know this kid is a player. I am far more certain of his future in the league than I am Erik Brannstrom. I see him as a top four defenseman with second pair power play potential. He moves well and distributes the puck effectively. He doesn’t have a big physical presence but will compete for pucks. In the new NHL, that is more than enough. I put him ahead of Bernard-Docker on the depth chart as well.
ERIK BRANNSTROM: C+ (No Previous Ranking)
The team’s upswing in play seems to have somewhat coincided with his insertion into the lineup on a regular basis. Of course, he also spent part of this time on the injured reserve list. He has shown some flashes of what the Sens hoped he would become. However, the vote is not in yet on this kid. He has two points in 11 games and boasts a -7. Pace isn’t the issue, and I don’t believe defensively he is the liability that Smith might think. However, eventually the numbers pretty much tell the story. He needs to get a good look between now and the end of the season so that the team can either move him over the summer or qualify him. I am for the former. The D core is going to get crowded and he could be left without a chair when the music stops.
MATT MURRAY: C- (Up From D-)
I know that ranking might seem harsh given his recent play. However, we are only talking about a handful of starts. The whole season can’t be erased that quickly. That said, I am not surprised he has found a bit of a groove. He has shown in bursts that he still has game. Now it’s about showing he can still handle the workload. Of course, with 42 games between now and April 29th, he will likely play every other game at most to avoid injury.
ANTON FORSBERG: C (Up From C-)
Consistency appears to be the issue with Forsberg. When he is on, he is unbeatable. When he isn’t, he is an AHL goalie. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. This likely explains why he has had a hard time finding consistent NHL work and why Ottawa is his 4th NHL team since 2015. He does boast a nearly 91% save % which, if he maintains, could make him marketable at the deadline. That would be the ideal scenario which would allow the recall of Filip Gustavsson.
See you at game #60 by which time I expect Ennis, Sanford and possibly Tierney and Forsberg to be moved out.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey