Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. What are these? These are players that have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams. Whether that’s as someone who finally finds their place in the NHL, or as someone who had previously been good but has struggled as of recently. Each day we will be looking at a different team! However, today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 Ottawa Senators key players.
2020-21 Ottawa Senators Candidates
Colin White is entering his third full NHL season after an up and down first two years. His first season was solid. White scored 41 points in 71 games and looked to be a top-six centre for a long time in Ottawa. The Senators signed him to a six-year contract worth $4.75 million a season.
However, his encore performance wasn’t great. In the first month of the year, White missed three weeks with a groin/hip-flexor injury. When he returned, he struggled and never rediscovered his swagger. In 61 games, White scored seven goals and 23 points.
Reason for Optimism
Playing through a hip-flexor injury is not easy and diminishes a player’s skating ability. White will have at least 10 months to become fully healthy again if the NHL starts on Jan. 1, 2021. Automatically he should be better.
During White’s 41-point season, he had the good fortune to play with Mark Stone and Brady Tkachuk for 38 percent of that year. That line had a nearly 60 percent goals for percentage and a 52 corsi for percentage (all advanced stats are from Natural Stat Trick), showing White is good when playing with talented wingers.
He will have that opportunity again this season with them signing Evgenii Dadonov and an older Tkachuk. Dadonov is not as good as Stone but similar in that he’s a smart offensive player with a good shot, passing ability and defence. Those two wingers lining up next to White will undoubtedly allow him to have a better season. White is Ottawa’s most dependable centre, even if he didn’t score that much last year, so expect him to get this assignment.
Alex Galchenyuk signed a one-year contract with Ottawa, hoping to bounce back after the worst season of his career. Before this season, Galchenyuk scored over 40 points in each of the past five years. Last season, he scored 24 points in 59 games, split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild, and played a career-low 12:18 in average ice-time.
Reason for Optimism
There is no doubting Galchenyuk’s skill. He has good speed, soft hands, and an excellent wrist shot. When given the opportunity, Galchenyuk can produce. At the age of 26, there is no reason for him to be slowing down. He’s been criticized for his defensive play in the past, but that shouldn’t hold him back because the Senators have had success with a similar player.
Anthony Duclair is a former Senator who had the same calling card as Galchenyuk. He famously didn’t work with head coach John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets and was traded to Ottawa in 2019 in the Ryan Dzingel deal. In 87 games played as a Senator, Duclair scored 31 goals, 23 assists for 54 points.
He was named as the Senators’ representative for the 2020 All-Star Game. The Senators allowed Duclair to play his skilled game and played him a career-high 16 minutes a night. If the Senators allow Galchenyuk to play a skill game, he could find similar success. Unlike Duclair at the time, Galchenyuk has proven experience. He has scored 320 points in 549 games.
Christian Wolanin had the most disappointing 2019-20 season out of anyone on this list because he barely played. On the first day of training camp, Wolanin tore a labrum in his shoulder and was out for months. He returned in February and played nine games in the AHL and three in the NHL before the season abruptly stopped because of the pandemic.
Reason for Optimism
Wolanin showed a taste of what he could do two years ago. In his first full professional season, the offensive defenceman scored 31 points in 40 AHL games and went to the AHL All-Star Classic. He played in the final stretch of the Ottawa Senators season and scored four goals, eight assists for 12 points in 30 games.
His 45.92 corsi for percentage is not great, but it was third-best amongst Ottawa’s defencemen that season. He was expected to be on the ice for 16.5 goals for but was actually on the ice for 28, showing his offensive capability.
The 2020-21 Ottawa Senators won’t have a good defence. This gives Wolanin lots of opportunity to play, especially on the power play, and prove himself. Wolanin should be peaking physically as a 25-year-old and had 10 months to train for this season. He should be in the best shape of his life, ready to battle against opposing forwards every night.
2020-21 Ottawa Senators Honourable Mentions
The nature of Ottawa being a rebuilding team means they have many players who could make this list. Here are some others that could breakout.
Logan Brown has all the tools to be successful. Brown has great vision, playmaking ability, shot and hands. He hasn’t had the intensity or the health luck to put it all together. The Senators have an opening on their third-line centre spot, and Brown and Joshua Norris will battle for it. If Brown wins and plays with offensive confidence, he could be Ottawa’s best offensive centre by the end of the year.
Artem Zub signed with the Senators as a 24-year-old right-shot defenceman from the KHL. Ottawa’s right side consists of Nikita Zaitsev, Josh Brown, Erik Gudbranson and Zub. Zub is projected to be a reliable, mobile defender and a good puck mover. If he can play that way, he could find himself as a top-four defenceman for the team.