The 2020-21 NHL Season is closing in fast, and after a flurry of activity, the Ottawa Senators spent this past week getting down to business at training camp. There are a lot of new faces, from veterans to rookies, and all will be trying to give the team a new identity after a very tough 2019-20 season. They’re off to a good start – they have new jerseys and a new face of the franchise in Tim Stuetzle, plus several other top prospects who are the results of a long, painful rebuild.
But it won’t be an easy transition. The Senators have a long way to go before they become a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference, and the North Division, consisting of all Canadian teams, will be a challenge. But that hardly matters now. Hockey is finally back for the first time since March 2020, and the future couldn’t look brighter.
Item One: Greig Signs Entry-Level Deal
The Senators signed their third player from the 2020 Draft, Ridly Greig, to a three-year entry-level contract. A star for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, he was selected 28th overall in October and was on the preliminary roster for the Canadian World Junior Team before returning home after a positive COVID-19 result, although it’s unlikely he would have made the final roster. Since then, he’s been in quarantine and recovering from the virus.
Greig doesn’t have the same upside as other prospects taken later in the draft, but the Senators were drawn to his strong work ethic, his physical, gritty style of play, and his refined defensive skills. Last season, he put up 26 goals and 60 points in 56 games, coming in second on the team in goals and third in points. Along with fellow first-round pick Braden Schnieder, the Wheat Kings will be a powerful team in 2020-21. The only question is when, as the season has been delayed from it’s original Jan. 8 start date.
Item Two: Training Camp Under Way
This week saw the start of the Senators’ training camp as 42 players were invited to take part: six goalies, 13 defensemen, and 23 forwards. Several top prospects will be competing for a few spots on the roster, or at the very least, a spot on the taxi squad of four to six players. Most will be focused on the deep center group, with Logan Brown, Josh Norris, and Filip Chlapik all fighting for a spot with newly acquired Derek Stepan and Cedric Pacquette, plus Colin White, Chris Tierney, and Artem Anisimov.
Adding to the competition is the fact that most players haven’t been on NHL ice for several months, meaning everyone is starting on the same foot. No one will get a free ride, despite the flurry of moves made last week to bring in veterans. “We’re going to give a chance for our young players to play but at the same time we want them to be successful in their development and have as much internal competition as we can have,” said general manager Pierre Dorion before camp opened. “No one can come into this camp thinking they have a job. They have to earn it.”
The goaltending battle will be especially fierce, with three goalies who could reasonably fit into the role behind Matt Murray. Marcus Hogberg likely has the advantage as he has the most experience, but Joey Daccord and Filip Gustavsson have a higher upside and could establish themselves as the second-best option for Ottawa. Kevin Mandolese is the dark horse of the group, as he hasn’t been tested at the professional level yet, but his dominance in the QMJHL makes him an intriguing option.
Egor Sokolov is the only player from the 2020 Draft in attendance. The big forward signed his entry-level deal on Nov. 20, to become the first among the Senators’ 2020 draft class. He has since been followed by Greig and Stuetzle. However, both will likely join the Sens training camp in the coming days, as Greig is still recovering from COVID-19, and Stuetzle was competing for Germany at the World Juniors in Edmonton. Team Germany was eliminated by the Russians in the quarterfinals, so the Senators’ 2020 third-overall pick can now join the club for the upcoming season.
Several other prospects will not be attending. Jake Sanderson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Shane Pinto, and all the other prospects playing college hockey won’t be able to participate. Also absent are Mads Sogaard, Max Guenette, and Mark Kastelic, who have decided not to attend for various reasons that have not been specified to date.
Item Three: Brassard Signs PTO
Several professional try-outs were announced this week, the most notable being Mike Hoffman who will join the St. Louis Blues. The Senators also made a splash with a PTO, bringing goalie Francois Brassard to training camp. The Senators’ sixth-round pick in 2012, Brassard played the past season and a half with the Maine Mariners of the ECHL, where he put up a 0.911 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.90 goals-against average (GAA).
The 26-year-old Gatineau native spent his junior career in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and Gatineau Olympiques, where he recorded a career 0.903 SV% and a 2.92 GAA, but never signed an entry-level deal with the Senators. Instead, he joined the Peoria Rivermen of the SPHL before he enrolled at Carlton University in Ottawa. While it’s a long shot for him to make the team, he could earn an entry-level deal and find a spot in the AHL, especially if Ottawa decides to keep a goalie on the taxi squad.
Item Four: Senators Name (Alternate) Captains
With the start of training camp also came the much-anticipated announcement of the team’s captains. Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, and Erik Gudbranson were named alternate captains, as the Senators chose not to select a captain this season. It will be the second season they go without an acting captain; no one since Erik Karlsson has worn the ‘C’ on their sweater.
There are many reasons why management decided not to name a captain this season, but the leading theory hinges on Tkachuk signing an extension. The young forward is on the last year of his entry-level deal and will be looking for a big raise for 2021-22. He has become the face of the franchise, and while the Senators likely want to make him captain, they are playing it safe and waiting until he commits to a long-term deal. If that’s the case, then look for Tkachuk to become the franchise’s 10th captain next season.
Item Five: Callahan Retires
On a final note, Ryan Callahan decided to hang up his skates last week, posting his official announcement on Twitter. The American forward played 13 seasons in the NHL for the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning and wore a letter on his jersey since 2009-10. He was traded to the Senators last season, along with a fifth-round pick in 2020, for Mike Condon and a sixth-round pick. However, he never played a game in Ottawa and missed all of the 2019-20 season with a career-ending back injury suffered near the end of 2018-19.
Callahan was not expected to dress for the Senators; the move was mainly to give Condon a change of scenery and free up an opening for some other young goalies in Ottawa’s system. But to see a talented player and leader have his career derailed by an injury is never fun, and the Senators’ organization wishes him all the best in the next stage of his life.
What’s Next for the Senators?
All eyes will be on the training camp battles as the 2020-21 season creeps closer. The team is set to have the most rookies in their lineup among all North Division teams, by far, so seeing who makes the final cut, who ends up on the taxi squad, and who has to wait for the AHL season to start will be very interesting.
The coming days will also see Stuetzle don a Senators jersey for the first time, and fans and management will be eager to see how he fairs after dominating for Team Germany team at the World Juniors. There is a lot to look forward to for Senators fans. Finally, the future is looking very bright, indeed.