The Ottawa Senators had a very busy offseason this year. With many new names and faces entering the organization. Names such as Evgenii Dadonov, Tim Stutzle, Alex Galchenyuk and more. However, with these new names, that means others may find themselves without a spot. Artem Anisimov very well could be one of those players.
Artem Anisimov On the Outside Looking In
Roster Filling Up
Even near the end of last season, it appeared as if Anisimov’s role was diminishing with the Senators. However, new additions and gradual rookies coming up may force the coaching staff’s hands this season. Ottawa already has 13 NHL forwards on their roster and that doesn’t include Stutzle or Filip Chlapik, two names that will absolutely be pushing for full-time minutes in the NHL. The issue for Anisimov is that he doesn’t have an exact role on this team.
Ottawa’s forward group is really lacking top-six centremen. While Anisimov can play centre, he is nowhere near good enough to be thrown into the top-six. Names like Chris Tierney, Colin White, or even Logan Brown will be more suited for those top roles. That leaves depth positions to contend for, where the Sens are also full. As mentioned before, names pushing for ice time near the bottom could be the likes of Chlapik, Nick Paul, Austin Watson, Galchenyuk, and possibly someone like Josh Norris or Rudolfs Balcers if they impress during camp. That is a lot of names for Anisimov to fight through, and with limited spots, he may need to beat more than one of them out.
Rough Results in 2019-20
Here is the tough thing for Anisimov, he had a really tough year in 2019-20, at least from an on-ice standpoint. At 5-on-5, he was a complete liability on the ice. One of Ottawa’s worst regular skaters from a shot generation and prevention standpoint. He also ranked dead last among Ottawa forwards in Goals Above Replacement, with a very poor -3.4 GAR. That ranks 330th out of 353 forwards who played at least 30 games this year.
As seen above, his expected and actual numbers line up pretty close to each other and neither of them are very good. Anisimov is a complete liability in his own end, but unfortunately doesn’t bring much offensively either. This is further shown from HockeyViz’s shot location data of Anisimov on and off the ice.
When he is on the ice, the Senators were just not a good team at 5v5 last year. It is hard to defend anyone getting ice time with those numbers. It becomes much harder when it’s an older player on a roster full of high-potential players looking to breakthrough. He needs to adapt and find a way to provide value in at least one area of the ice. Ottawa likely doesn’t care which either, but it needs to be one. The team was much better with him off the ice last season.
Another area where Ottawa might need some help this season is on the penalty kill. However, the issue with this when it comes to Anisimov is that he wasn’t particularly good there last season either. There were eight forwards who played at least 10 minutes on the penalty kill for Ottawa last year, Anisimov being one of them at just 12 minutes. However, of those eight forwards, Anisimov ranked second-worst in CA/60 with 111.89 attempts allowed per 60 minutes. As well as second-last in xGA/60, with 9.22.
The only player below him was Mikkel Boedker, who also didn’t play much time for the same reason. Now, this is a very small sample size, so it is possible that it’s not all Anisimov’s fault. Looking at his 2018-19 season with the Chicago Blackhawks, he played 90 minutes on the penalty kill. His CA/60 was better at 87.82 but his xGA/60 was 9.31. However, the Hawks weren’t a great penalty-killing team either.
There is certainly an opportunity available for the lead penalty killing time this year in Ottawa. Last season, the leading forwards on the penalty kill for ice time were Connor Brown, Tierney, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Anthony Duclair. Three of those players are no longer with Ottawa. Nick Paul should fill one spot, but that still leaves likely two or three spots open for the taking. If Anisimov can show he is a reliable option at 4v5, that might be his ticket onto this roster.
What seems like it might be the most likely option for Artem Anisimov is he becomes Ottawa’s 13th or even 14th forward. Who knows what roster size will look like due to COVID-19 this year. However, it seems reasonable he won’t be in the AHL due to his salary. That being said, his ideal role feels like it’ll be as a spare forward in the press box most nights who will hop in on back-to-backs or if someone is injured on a road trip.
He will need to fight for every minute come training camp, because if multiple rookies impress, it’s even possible Watson becomes the 13th forward, making Anisimov the 14th guy. Watson will likely start on the fourth-line when the season begins but nothing is ever guaranteed in the NHL. The young guys are going to have the potential to show what they can bring and if it looks good, they will play.
It means that for a guy like Artem Anisimov, every second will matter. He is going to have to set the tone early this year to show why he still belongs in the NHL. Because if he can’t, it might be the end of the road for his NHL career. He might be hard-pressed to find minutes every night, but we will have to wait and see what training camp brings.