The 2021 season was a wild one for the Ottawa Senators. After not playing hockey for almost a year due to the pandemic the Senators started the season off with a bang, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3. However, things quickly went down hill from there as the Sens only won two of their next 15 games. It seemed like the Sens were destined for a very long season, but the team turned things around after the trade deadline and were one of the best teams in the NHL to close out the season. This electric last month of hockey has left fans more excited than they’ve been in a long time for next season. So, with that said, let’s look back on how individuals on the team performed this past season with our 2021 report cards.
Note: Only players who played 14 games or more (25% of the season) and finished the season with the team will be included.
Tkachuk was the heart and soul of this team all season long and it would be near impossible to find a shift that he didn’t give it everything he has. Tkachuk came up big in important moments for the Sens this season, like assisting on the overtime winning goal in the team’s final game of the season. Tkachuk was on pace to set a career high in goals over an 82 game span. He also was able to total over 200 shots and 200 hits, even in a shortened season. It’s clear to anyone who watches this team consistently that Tkachuk is the leader of this team and the improvements he’s made to his game earn him an easy A in these report cards.
Brown looked like he was heading for a much lower grade early on in the season as he was starting to give many fans Erik Condra flashbacks. Brown was getting so many amazing chances and couldn’t seem to burry any of them. I don’t know what switch Brown flipped, but after a certain point it seemed like he couldn’t miss. I think it was Brown finally being rewarded for his hard work as he went on a scoring tear and ended up leading the team in goals. Brown also broke the franchise record for continuous games with a goal and leads the NHL in shorthanded goals this season. Not only did he contribute offensively, but he was a key piece to an improved penalty kill and was a very reliable defensive forward. If Brown can continue this level of play next season, the Sens can make some serious noise.
Norris continues to surpass Sens fans wildest expectations every step of the way. When he was acquired as part of the Erik Karlsson trade many viewed his potential as a solid number three center with a chance to be a decent number two. I think after his incredible rookie AHL and NHL seasons it’s safe to say he has number one center potential in the NHL. Norris flashed his offensive prowess many times this season, especially with his cannon of a one timer on the power-play. Norris finished tied for second on the team in goals and has formed a power trio of a line with Tkachuk and Drake Batherson. Not only did Norris impress offensively, but he was also very sound defensively for a 21-year-old rookie. Not to mention he held his own having to consistently go up against some of the league’s top centers in the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Norris has shown Sens fans have definitely underestimated him.
Batherson really solidified himself as an everyday NHLer this season. There were stretches early in the season when he struggled, Bruce Garrioch even suggested the team should scratch him for a few games due to his level of play. However Batherson bounced back and proved himself to be an consistent offensive threat. Batherson finished the year on a 25 goal, 50 point pace over an 82 game season. Those are very solid numbers considering it was his first full NHL season and he was still only 22 for the majority of the year. Batherson solidified himself as a top 6 winger on this team going forward and probably played his way into a nice contract this off-season.
Chabot’s play was definitely trending towards an A before he got hurt to close out the year. The reason Chabot couldn’t crack the A group is due to his level of consistency over the course of the season. This is not entirely Chabot’s fault as there were way too many games this year where the quality of the blue line was abysmal around Chabot and he was forced to play way too many minutes. This resulted in too many games where Chabot was either forced to do too much or where he was forced to play too many minutes and looked exhausted. Both of these led to too many defensive lapses and inconsistency over the course of the season for me to give him an A. However, once the Sens shipped out the detractors on the blueline at the trade deadline, got Chabot some help and reduced his minutes, he looked like the Chabot of old that wowed fans on a nightly basis again. As long as the Senators can get Chabot some help this summer the arrow is definitely pointing back up for him, but for now he gets a B.
Stützle quickly became a fan favourite this season. He wowed many with his highlight reel goals and assists. His first career goal was one of the nicest goals of the season, somehow he was able to track that puck even after how high in the air it travelled. His backhand toe drag assist to set up Batherson was also a thing of beauty. Stützle had many highlight reel plays and came so close on other occasions where he was either pushed off the puck, lost his balance or simply lost control of the puck. That is one of the main reasons why Stützle earns a B instead of an A. He was very impressive for a teenager in his first NHL season, there’s no doubt about that. However, there were just too many instances where he was too irresponsible defensively or trying to do too much and caused a turnover that hurt the team. These things are expected of a teenager playing in the NHL and Stützle definitely showed he has superstar potential this year. However, his play was just too inconsistent to put consider his season the same caliber as players like Norris, Tkachuk, etc….
What a find Zub was for Pierre Dorion and his staff. After getting signed out of the KHL last season, nobody really knew much about Zub or what to expect from him. We really still don’t know much about him, but one thing fans know for sure is he is very good at hockey. Zub was a healthy scratch for many games to start the year and as soon as he got into the lineup it was clear that he belonged in the NHL. Zub was instantly a steadying presence to the Sens shaky blueline and made everyone he played with better. He was a solid piece of the team’s top four and was probably their second best defenseman this season. If he was able to contribute a little bit more offensively on a more consistent basis there is no doubt he would’ve earned his way into the A category.
I think Paul caught everyone by surprise this season. After having been waived in the past and looking like his time with the Senators might be coming to an end, Paul looked more motivated than ever this season. He was one of the hardest working players in the team’s bottom six all season and was able to contribute at both ends of the ice. He was an important part of the team’s penalty kill and also played a key role in many short handed goals this season. Paul is the type of player that all teams with Stanley Cup aspirations need and he cemented that role for himself this season.
Formenton was only able to get into 20 games this season after starting the year in Belleville. However, once he was called up he made the most of his opportunity. Formenton was a key penalty killer for the team down the stretch and used his speed to create chances for himself on a nightly basis. If he can somehow take some advice from Brown on how to finish those chances next season, he could really break out in a big way.
Dadonov was honestly quite disappointing this season after the high hopes Sens fans had for him. Dadonov was one of, if not the biggest free agent signings the Sens had made since Clarke MacArthur. Unfortunately Dadonov had nowhere near the same impact. It looks like he may owe Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov a drink because without those two playing alongside of him he wasn’t really able to create his own chances. When Dadonov was paired with talented playmakers like Stützle he still wasn’t able to do much offensively as he simply couldn’t keep up to the pace. He was still able to burry 13 goals and rack up 20 points, but for the money he is being paid this simply isn’t good enough. He also only managed one power-play goal. When the team brings you in as a power-play specialist this just isn’t going to cut it. Hopefully this season was just a one off, as Dadonov did still show flashes this year. Going forward he needs to show more offensive output and consistency if he’s going to live up to that contract.
Some people may not agree with this grade as Zaitsev was definitely more impressive this season than he has been with the Sens before. There is some truth to this. Zaitsev was a lot more steady and reliable this season than years past. However, the problem is his game is still inconsistent defensively. There’s just too many times throughout the season where Zaitsev is in the defensive zone and fans are left wondering “what was Zaitsev doing??” If Zaitsev can get this inconsistency out of his game he can be a solid NHL defensemen. However, at his age I think he is what he is. That’s a good NHL defenseman, but multiple times a year will leave you yelling at the TV.
Brannstrom was probably one of the team’s most inconsistent players this season. There were times like he looked like an offensive superstar and times where he left fans fearing he needs three more years in the AHL still. This was the case for most of Brannstrom’s season. Now part of that can be attributed to him playing most of the season with subpar defensive partners until the trade deadline. It must be noted that his play did improve after he was paired with Zub. However, he didn’t show the ability to carry play on a consistent basis. Brannstrom was at his best when he was quarterbacking the power-play and transitioning out of the defensive zone. Where his game looked weak was when he was asked to defend the front of net or play in the defensive zone for an extended time. There was play towards the end of the season that stands out when thinking of this. In one of the final games against Calgary, Matthew Tkachuk is skating towards the net, gives Brannstrom a shove, Brannstrom goes flying and Tkachuk buries the goal. This play is consistent with a bigger theme of Brannstrom getting physically outmatched and consequently hurting the team. This is something he needs to figure out a solution to if he’s going to earn consistent minutes with the team going forward.
Honestly Mete was impressive with the Sens since getting claimed off waivers. The only reason he doesn’t earn a higher grade is because his sample size was so small with the team. He just barely qualifies for these rankings as he only played 14 games this season. Mete was on his way to earning a higher grade had he played more games. The one thing to keep an eye on though is his offensive output as he only managed two points in his 14 games.
Murray was also very inconsistent this season and it showed in his record. Murray started the year terribly and was a large reason for the team’s early year struggles. However, after coming back from an injury he finally seemed to be turning things around. Murray was playing better and then got hurt again and didn’t play for the rest of the season. Murray certainly didn’t love up to his contract this season, but he showed flashes of what made him a Stanley Cup champion in the past. Murray needs to find that level of play again and some consistency if the Sens are going to have a chance next season.
Watson is another player who is tough to evaluate since he never got to play any games with the improved version of the 2021 Sens. Watson got hurt around the midway point of the season and was never able to return. In the 34 games he was able to play he contributed decently offensively, given his role, putting up a modest 10 points. He was also able to get in the face of opponents some nights and be a physical presence out there. The problem is he wasn’t able to do this consistently enough over the course of the season. For Watson to make an impact on the game he needs to take some of the pressure off Tkachuk by going out there, laying a few big hits, getting in the goalie’s face and agitating the other team. There were too many games where he was a non-factor physically this season.
I think some fans forgot Tierney was even on the team at certain points this season. Tierney and Brown had a similar problem early in the season as they were both getting a ton of chances but couldn’t burry any of them. From there their seasons took two very different trajectories as Brown started scoring almost nightly and Tierney faded to the bottom of the lineup and stat sheet. There was too many games this season where Tierney just didn’t really contribute and instead was just blocking the kids from getting more playing time. He was also surpassed on the penalty-kill pretty quickly by players like Formenton and Shane Pinto, which I don’t think bodes well for his future with the team.
White had a roller coaster of a season this year. White started the season as a healthy scratch and fans were calling for DJ Smith to be fired because of it. White eventually got into the lineup and made an impact right away, even scoring a few goals. From there though things went down hill for White. He was injured multiple times this season and was a non-factor in too many games this season. What earns White a D grade this season was the multiple horrible turnovers he made in front of his own net this season that led directly as goals. For someone who has always been touted for his defensive prowess that simply can’t happen, let alone multiple times in the same season. White is going to need to turn things around quickly with the team if he is going to have a long term future in Ottawa.
Anisimov somehow found his way into the lineup of the majority of games to start this season. Fans were begging Smith to scratch him and let the prospects play after it was very clear Anisimov just didn’t have the speed to keep up anymore. However, after finally being scratched for many games, when Anisimov got back into the lineup he was able to contribute occasionally offensively and create some scoring chances. Expectations were relatively low for Anisimov this season, but I’d say he was a serviceable player as long as he was used properly. The team definitely shouldn’t bring him back next season and clog up the lineup even further, but his play improved towards the end of the year. Also, the fact he almost suited up as the team’s goalie deserves an A alone.
Dzingel was re-acquired by the Sens shortly before the trade deadline and made an immediate impact. Dzingel looked rejuvenated after the team traded for him and he even scored a few goals. However, this production quickly faded and Dzingel appeared to lose a step. After his early boost from the trade wore off Dzingel faded to the bottom of the lineup once again and didn’t contribute much to the team. He was a nice veteran piece for the team to have down the stretch, but there is no reason the team should bring him back next year.
Brown’s deployment confused a lot of fans this season. For the majority of the first half of the season Brown spent his time as a healthy scratch. However, once the team traded away the likes of Gudbranson and Coburn, Brown became a mainstay in the lineup and took a lot of games away from Jacob Bernard-Docker. Brown eventually broke his foot and missed the final games of the season. Brown was a very hit or miss player this season. There were some games where he was a physical presence, throwing hits, clearing the front of the net and standing up for his teammates. However, there were a lot of other games where Brown was nearly invisible except when he was getting walked by the other team’s top players and giving up a scoring chance. If Brown is going to get consistent ice time next season he needs to play more physical more often and make his presence felt on the other team’s skill players.
Only two players earned a failing grade for the Sens this season, which is an improvement over past years. Those two players were Marcus Hogberg and Derek Stepan. Hogberg regressed immensely from last season and likely played his way off the team this year. He got lit up in way too many games early in the season and is a big reason for why the team struggled so heavily early on. I had high hopes for Hogberg coming into the year, but his play was just way too all over the place. As far as Stepan, I think many fans felt this trade was a mistake as soon as it happened and Stepan didn’t do much to quiet that discourse. Before Stepan was injured for the rest of the season, he was able to play in 20 games this season. Stepan looked like he was two speeds below everyone else on the ice and just couldn’t keep up with the pace of the game. In addition to that his shot was awful this year as he wasted so many glorious opportunities due to a very weak shot. Stepan’s tenure with the Sens has likely come to an end and will likely leave many fans wondering why the team brought him in in the first place.
That wraps up our 2021 Ottawa Senators report cards. The team definitely appears to be headed in the right direction and has fans buzzing for next season. What did you think of the Sens this season and how would you grade the performance of the team? Let us know in the comments or on our social medias.