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The Ottawa Senators 2024-25 Third Defence Pair

After the dust has settled from the NHL free agency kick-off on July 1st, we are now left to sit back and watch the tumbleweeds roam freely for the month of July and enjoy the summer offseason. So, just where do the Ottawa Senators find themselves? They have made a lot of moves already. Moreover, they will enter 2024-25 with a much different lineup than to start 2023-24. Today, with motivation from yesterday’s Coming in Hot Podcast, we will focus on who can become a third-pairing defenceman for the Ottawa Senators. On the podcast itself, newly acquired from the Washington Capitals, defenceman Nick Jensen sat down with the crew, but we want to focus on other parts of their discussion.

For Another Top-Six Defenceman for the Ottawa Senators the Search Begins Internally

In a perfect world, the Ottawa Senators would already have a defenceman or two for their third pairing. And although things are generally far from perfect, they do have some very worthy internal candidates for the role. First of all, from all indications, Tyler Kleven will be the Sens third-pair, left-shot defenceman for the start of 2024-25. In other words, the spot is his to lose.

Moreover, Kleven comes into the season with a little bit of NHL experience under his belt. A little bit in the sense, it should be just enough for player and organization alike to have confidence in playing the rookie defenceman, a regular shift for a full 82-game slate. In 17 games in the NHL thus far in his career, he has three assists. In addition, Kleven had a very strong 2024-25. He played with the Belleville Senators to prove he is ready for the professional ranks. He played 53 games for them last season, with five goals and 16 assists for 21 points to go along with 51 penalty minutes.

Most importantly for the Sens entire defensive unit, he brings size and toughness, to go along with his dynamic skating abilities. As an example of his physicality, let’s consider in his last two seasons playing in the NCAA with the seemingly Senators feeder program, given the number of eventual Sens players that have passed through there, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. In 73 games, the 6-foot-4 Kleven, had 177 penalty minutes. Jake Sanderson also spent two years at UND, as well as one of his prospective third-line, d-partners, Jacob Bernard-Docker.

The Time is Now for Ottawa Senators Defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker

Bernard-Docker appears to be the top internal candidate to fill the role of third-pair, right-shot defenceman for the Ottawa Senators. Kleven looks up to Bernard-Docker, as he spent three years at UND, finishing up in 2021. Therefore, Kleven looks to him as been there, done that.

However, the problem with Bernard-Docker, is that given his lack of performance at the NHL-level, we are still waiting for the done that part. Unfortunately for Bernard-Docker, at 24-years-old, he needs to step up in 2024-25. Statistically, he does have some to build off. Playing in a decent amount of games at 72 in 2023-24, which added to the two games he suited up for Belleville, the 74 was by far the most he’d ever played, even going back to his AJHL days in Okotoks. For Ottawa, he scored four goals and added ten assists in 15:42 of ice time. He had a oZS% of 48.2%, which brought down his Corsi rating with a CF% Rel of -8.7. Conversely, he made up for it with his 156 blocked shots.

But, Bernard-Docker needs to play with more confidence. His -27 takeaway/giveaway differential is an example of a player not confident in firing breakout passes to his wingers. Or moving his feet, and making confident plays with the puck himself. If Bernard-Docker can have a good training camp, and parlay that into regular minutes, he needs to take advantage in 2024-25. General Manager Steve Staios isn’t so connected to the old regime. Therefore, he doesn’t feel the pressure of obligation to have one of his prospects make it. With Staios’ early track record for accountability, look for him to fill the role quickly if it is not working out.

The Ottawa Senators do have a few other resources to help push Kleven and Bernard-Docker. Max Guenette had a very strong 2023 training camp, and is tough to play against. He scored 34 points in 58 games for Belleville in 2023-24, so look for him to make a concerted push for an NHL job. Also, recently acquired Filip Roos is there for depth. Finally, don’t forget 14-year NHL veteran Travis Hamonic is signed for one more year as well. He got into 48 games last year, so will probably fill a similar sixth or seventh role this season.

One Further Option for a New Ottawa Senators Defenceman

So far we have looked at current organizational pieces to fill the role. However, what if the Ottawa Senators want to take their right-shot, third-pair job search externally? A responsible, offensively-minded, right-shot defenceman, who can help mentor Kleven. Given Staios’ management of the club’s finances thus far, the Sens do have a few dollars left to round out their roster. This isn’t to be a repeat of last year, when for example, even on opening night the Senators could only dress 17 skates, needing to make Zack MacEwen a healthy scratch because they didn’t cap room to get him into the lineup.

Currently, according to puckpedia, the Ottawa Senators have 21 of 23 roster spots filled for the NHL roster, with almost $2 million in cap space. Therefore, they could use it on available unrestricted free agents, but the list isn’t huge. Some potential candidates include Tyson Barrie, Justin Schultz, Tony DeAngelo, or Gustav Lindstrom.

Let’s identify Justin Schultz as the top candidate out of these players, assuming Kleven is his partner. The reason this is a match, is for Schultz’s entire 12-year NHL career, he has been used more so as an offensive option. His career oZS% is 61.8%. This would synch up well with Kleven, who also prefers the offensive side of the play. He has a oZS% of 63.7 in his small sample size of an NHL career to this point. Schultz has been productive throughout his career, including chipping in 34 points for the successful 2022-23 Seattle Kraken squad. Additionally, he carries a very respectable career ice time of 19:41 a night.

At the end of the day, whatever the Senators do, adding David Perron, Linus Ullmark, and Nick Jensen has really bolstered the Sens lineup. It seems they are much better off than they were a season ago. And whether Kleven and Schultz comprise the Sens third pair for 2024-25, or two entirely different people, they have options. It is great having a GM in place to look after your players. Now, the players have to look after him, with their on-ice play in 2024-25.

Main photo credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports


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