Belleville Senators, josh norris, Senators Prospects

Senators’ Josh Norris: A Diamond in the Rough

It certainly isn’t a secret that the Ottawa Senators are currently in the midst of a rebuild, prioritizing the development of their younger players both at the NHL level and in their system. One of those young players that has begun blossoming and should find himself on Sens fans’ collective radar is Josh Norris.

Notre Dame's Jake Evans Michigan's Josh Norris
Notre Dame’s Jake Evans and Michigan’s Josh Norris look to control the puck (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Stacy Bengs)

Norris was drafted 19th overall in 2017 and was one of the centrepieces in the multi-asset blockbuster that saw the Senators trade former captain Erik Karlsson to the Sharks. The American pivot’s two post-draft NCAA seasons at the University of Michigan were productive (42 points in 54 games). His sophomore season was derailed by an injury suffered at the 2019 World Junior Championships, but Norris’ stint in college was successful and provided a good base for the Senators as he’s continued his upward trajectory into the professional ranks.

How Is Norris Doing?

Norris is currently playing at an exceptionally high level. Not only is he leading the way in terms of rookie scorers in the American Hockey League (AHL) with 46 points in 45 games, he’s also gone ahead and broken the Belleville Senators’ record for most goals in a season (24).

Norris breaks Belleville record with 24th of the season in comeback win vs Marlies.

The uptick in offensive production Norris is currently seeing is nothing but found money for the Sens. As a prospect, Norris’ two-way play, high motor and ability to accurately read the game while being relied on in tough situations were his calling cards. Now, as he continues to progress and develop, the offence is starting to come along and develop into a genuine strength in his game, and could point to him being a potential top-six centre, something the offence-starved Senators are in desperate need of.

Where Does Norris Fit Within the Sens’ Current Timeline?

Ottawa’s overhaul of their NHL roster has seen plenty of players experience newfound success in larger roles — Connor Brown, Anthony Duclair and Jean-Gabriel Pageau being prime examples. However, a rebuild is a rebuild, and the Sens are no strangers to moving on from veterans at the deadline, which is where Norris might come in to play.

It’s a difficult situation that general manager Pierre Dorion, head coach DJ Smith and the rest of the Sens management will have to navigate — whether or not to call him up should some spots be left open by potential deadline departures and open up the opportunity for him to at least get a cup of coffee in the NHL during his first pro season.

Ottawa Senators Pierre Dorion
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

While offering fans a glimpse into what the future might look like by calling him up does sound alluring, he’s currently playing a massive role in Belleville and playing it well, so the argument for letting him continue on his path and only bring him up when he’s fully ready is definitely a valid one.

Comparable Trajectories?

In terms of comparable players who’ve followed similar paths to the NHL, Sens fans should be licking their lips at the company Norris is currently keeping with his stellar freshman season in the AHL. Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (also a University of Michigan alum) spent the 2016-17 season with the Jets’ AHL affiliate in Manitoba and put up 44 points in 52 games — a total already bested by Norris — and Toronto Maple Leafs Swedish star William Nylander registered 32 points in 37 games during his rookie season in the AHL, albeit having already experienced professional hockey in Sweden, which differs from Norris’ career path.

Points and games played obviously aren’t the end all be all and the fact that Norris’ rookie season in the AHL outshines Nylander’s and Connor’s doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be better. However, it does mean he’s on the right track and it definitely speaks volumes to his development and improvement on the one major criticism in his game, his supposedly lower offensive ceiling.

Sens fans haven’t had too many reasons to cheer this season, but the continued improvement seen for their prospects at all levels, including the stark improvement in Norris’ game does give Senators fans a reason to clear their throat, puff out their chest and proudly proclaim that the kids are alright.

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