Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators.
2022-23 Ottawa Senators
The 2022-23 Ottawa Senators come into the season with one of the most hyped offseasons in the entire league. While no one expects this team to be a Cup Contender, expectations are sky-high compared to past seasons. And rightfully so. General Manager Pierre Dorion had one busy offseason this summer. Signing big-name free agent Claude Giroux, trading for superstar Alex DeBrincat, and locking up two integral parts of the core in Tim Stutzle and Josh Norris. He also added some solid names such as Cam Talbot and Tyler Motte. Leading to what should be a completely new looking 2022-23 Ottawa Senators team.
The 2021-22 season was one of mixed emotions at times for Sens fans. It started on a very rocky patch, with the last offseason not being anything close to what was promised. The Senators started the year a brutal 4-15-1 to immediately remove themselves from any sort of competitive season. However, the bright side came as the team crawled their way back to a 33-42-7 season record, going 29-27-6 after that terrible start. Even more impressive? This was largely off the backs of their young players.
Norris, Stutzle, Drake Batherson, and Brady Tkachuk led the way up front. Even with those names missing time throughout the season, all of their development was incredibly encouraging. Mix that along with the emergence of Anton Forsberg being a goalie they could trust, and there were some positives in the Sens season.
As mentioned earlier, there is arguably no team that had a bigger or more impactful offseason than the Ottawa Senators. This team went out looking to improve, and it is impossible to argue that they did just that. Adding Giroux and DeBrincat gives the team multiple lines with elite shooting and talent on it. They will now have more support for the Tkachuk-Norris-Batherson first line that dominated last season.
On top of that, they managed to make all their additions to the team while removing just one roster piece in Connor Brown. Brown was a great Sens player and will be missed, but at the end of the day, he is a middle-six forward. To bring in two first-line players, including a legit star in DeBrincat while losing Brown as the biggest piece means you really upgraded your forward core. In net, they added stability by locking up Forsberg and adding Talbot. The one place there are still questions remains the blueline, which they did very little.
It was a largely positive offseason for the Sens. However, there is one story that isn’t positive, and that is the ongoing Hockey Canada investigation. The Sens have two players in Batherson and Alex Formenton who were on the World Jr team but haven’t released any statement about their involvement (or lack thereof) like many other players have. This by no means determines if they are innocent or guilty. However, it is a very noteworthy story as Formenton is yet to sign a contract due to this investigation. Because of this, we will be leaving him out of any projections for now.
Line Up Projections
Brady Tkachuk – Josh Norris – Drake Batherson
Alex DeBrincat – Tim Stutzle – Claude Giroux
As we have already stated, this top six is now very legit. Ottawa has the ability this season to either load up the top six like it is now or spread the wealth a little more. It seems reasonable they will start the season like this, however, if things go cold, don’t expect these lines to stay exact. Names like Pinto and Joseph can slide up and down the lineup as needed. Regardless, the big six players for the Sens will need to do the heavy lifting for this team.
The biggest step forward for guys like Norris and Batherson now are showing that not only can they score at a solid rate, but they can also drive play at an effective rate. Driving play will lead to long-term success, and the point totals will always be bound to follow for skilled players like them. For Stutzle, this season is about showing what you can do with great teammates. At times last year, he was playing with names like Brown and Adam Gaudette. They are both good players in their own right, but not exactly guys that will help you put up large point totals. This season, Stutzle is going to have one of the better puck-movers in Giroux feeding him the puck, and an elite shooter in DeBrincat finishing the chances he creates at a better rate.
The depth of this team may ultimately be a decider about whether they are a team that sees some improvement or a team that legitimately pushes for a playoff spot. Pinto is looking to have a healthy season after suffering a shoulder injury early last year. He and Joseph should add some much-needed skill and speed to the depth of this team. Newly added Motte will likely compliment this duo which should be a handful for other teams’ depth players.
The fourth line will be interesting. Kelly and Kastelic both saw time in the NHL last year and looked solid while up with the Sens. It seems like a good bet that they will form a fourth line that will be physical and “hard to play against”. The real question will be Watson. He has likely earned first crack at this roster, but he will need to add a little more than simply blocking shots and looking tough if he wants to play all 82 games. Other options such as Brassard, who is currently only on a tryout, or even Greig when healthy may be players to slide in when the fourth line needs a little extra skill.
Greig will be the most interesting name to watch. He looks like an NHL-ready player but an injury in the World Jrs likely means he will start in the AHL. Other AHL names we may see at various points this year include Egor Sokolov and maybe even Viktor Lodin.
Jake Sanderson – Travis Hamonic
The defence core will undoubtedly be the biggest question with the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators. It starts very strong with Chabot and Zub, who are two solid players. Whether they decide to split them up or not will be the most interesting thing to watch. Chabot has shown he can carry around just about anyone but it would be ideal to get him a defensively responsible partner who is actually good like Zub.
However, it would also be nice to have Zub, who also showed at points over the last two seasons, he can be effective with almost anyone, play with a rookie like Sanderson. It is a lot to ask for a player such as Sanderson to step into a big role. However, he is such a skilled player he should be able to do it. The real question will become how much does Hamonic play? His on-ice results have been disastrous over the past few seasons and it is clear he is not a top-four guy. Even in Ottawa, while fans didn’t mind his play, it still wasn’t particularly good. With improved expectations, his play is going to come under a microscope.
Bottom Two and Extras
Currently, we have a third pair of Brannstrom and Zaitsev. In all honesty, if this team wants to hunt for a playoff spot they can’t have both Zaitsev and Hamonic in the lineup. In an ideal scenario, Zaitsev is moved or at least not being played unless absolutely needed. However, DJ Smith has seemed to like him so it seems unlikely he will start out of the lineup immediately. Regardless, a better option would be to move either Brannstrom or Holden to the right.
Another option would be to call up one of Thomson or JBD. Both played with Ottawa at times last year and both looked just OK. At this point, “just OK” would likely be an upgrade on the right side.
The Sens will run a tandem of Forsberg and Talbot this year. Hopefully, this keeps some stability in net. Forsberg had an excellent season last year but it was the first time he had ever been the starter for a team. Instead of just assuming he can play 45+ games again, they added some depth in Talbot.
It is likely the Sens will rub a true tandem and start whoever is hotter at the time. Look for both guys to play in the 35-45 game range. It would be very surprising if either of them started 50 or more games unless someone is hurt.
Players to Watch
The easiest selection here is Jake Sanderson. Stepping into his first NHL season, the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators blueline relies on him pretty heavily. After Chabot and Zub, this team lacks high-end talent on their blueline. While it might not show immediately, Sanderson is one of the few names that can flash that talent the Sens will desperately need.
He has looked solid at every level of play since being drafted. That combined with the other young defenceman we have seen have success around the league lately makes it a lot easier to believe that he can step in and be an impact player. The nice thing is he does not need to be a top-pair guy, as they have Chabot for that. However, if he can develop into an effective second-pair player, that will give the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators a much-needed option for when Chabot is off the ice.
We mentioned this earlier, but Stutzle is another easy choice to watch. Last year, he showed so many flashes of skill. This rewarded him with a massive payday this offseason. Now, it is time to show what he can do with even better linemates. Stutzle will look to take a jump the way Jack Hughes did last season. While he may not have the same points per game, the idea that he can make a jump from a good player with skill to a legit top-line player seems reasonable enough.
Prediction for the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators
Overall, this team should be much better than in years past. If they are not playing meaningful hockey into March this season will be a disappointment. Have they done enough to knock one of the top teams in the Atlantic? That will remain to be seen. That should be the goal, however. And if they don’t make the playoffs this season, it seems likely that the Sens will only miss by a few points.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) September 24, 2022