The Senators tore it all down in an attempt to build it back up again, and there are promising pieces in place. Any future success will come down to a matter of fulfilled potential, though one position in particular looks certain to be strong moving forward.
Thomas Chabot|Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images
Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Ottawa.
Given the Senators are entrenched in one of the most full-scale rebuilds in the NHL, and quite possibly one of the most scorched-earth retooling processes we’ve seen in some time, it should come as no surprise that much of the forecasted 2023-24 roster is built upon a foundation of hope. More specifically, that hope has to do with fulfilled potential, in large part because Colin White is the lone forward locked up into or beyond the 2023-24 season. The outlook of the top six is promising, though, with White and Norris projected to battle for the gig as top-line center and lethal wings that include rookie standout Tkachuk and a trio of promising prospects. The bottom-six comes with questions, but there’s enough talent on the way up that Ottawa will be icing a skilled top-nine in a few seasons’ time.
One important note: the nature of this exercise doesn’t allow for draft pick projections, but the Senators have nine selections in the top two rounds across the next two drafts. There’s talent incoming and lots of it. And given the Senators have their own top pick this season, it’s not out of the question that Ottawa lands a top-three choice at the 2020 draft.
There’s no replacing Erik Karlsson, not only because he’s one of the most elite offensive defensemen in the history of the league, but also because the former Senators captain meant an awful lot to the fans and the organization. That said, Ottawa has potential to have two of the next-best-things in their lineup in short order. Already, Chabot has stood out as a top-tier offensive producer and he received some Norris Trophy buzz in his sophomore season on an abysmal Senators squad. That’s impressive. Also impressive: Brannstrom, who had a dynamite rookie campaign in the AHL. He’s on his way to the big club and that gives Ottawa an excellent one-two punch on the blueline. Add in Bernard-Docker, Thomson and Tychonick and the Senators have their blueline sorted out. Zaitsev also remains as part of the roster, as his contract expires following the 2023-24 season.
There’s no blue-chipper in goal for the Senators, but Gustavsson, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Derick Brassard trade in 2018, has potential to be a starter down the line. He didn’t fare all that well in the AHL last season, but he has plenty of room to grow. Projecting the crease right now, he’s likely to split time with Hogberg, who has a bigger frame, posted better AHL numbers last season and has a few games NHL experience.
The Senators’ success in five years’ time will be predicated on the development of key prospects, particularly those who will be making the transition to the NHL this coming season and be heading into their prime years in when the 2023-24 campaign comes to pass. Supplement this group with some depth talent, a few key draft pickups and possibly a goaltender and it has all the potential to become a perennial post-season contender. There’s pain now, but it comes with promise later.
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