In a season that can be described in one word as “mediocre”, some Ottawa Senators have improved certain aspects of their game to take some big steps forward. While names like Drake Batherson and Josh Norris are notable examples of these players, I want to focus in on some of the less talked about skaters who have shined this season.
Up until this season, many fans questioned Brady Tkachuk’s offensive upside. His career high of 22 goals and 45 points came in his rookie season and since then, his points per game has remained relatively stagnant. When Tkachuk signed for his $57.5 million deal over 7 years in September 2021, this sentiment of doubt grew worse for many people. While he started off slowly, once the Sens escaped the month of November, Brady started to come into his own. As soon as December came, Brady and his line-mates, Batherson and Norris, began to fire on all cylinders, scoring a combined total of 52 points in 15 games.
However, since both Batherson and Norris fell to injury in January, things slowed down for Tkachuk. He even went 15 games without scoring a goal. Tkachuk is currently sitting at 17 goals and 38 points in 50 games. While this production is similar to previous seasons, Brady has shown far more offensive potential over the course of the season. Now that Norris is back from injury and Batherson seems to be skating again, Sens fans can look forward to seeing the dominant top line be reunited again soon.
For many fans, Alex Formenton’s potential is something of an enigma. Will he be a solid third liner or will he develop into a bonified top six player? Despite being the fastest skater on the ice, Formenton has had trouble having his hands keep up with his feet. This stretched back to last year when he became a regular NHLer and remained the case for a good portion of this season.
However, Formenton seems to have found a way to utilize this speed to his advantage. As the season has gone by, he seems to have vastly improved his offensive game. Not only is Formenton scoring more, but he’s seemingly gaining more confidence by shooting the puck more. This seems to not go unnoticed by Coach DJ Smith, who is rewarding him with increased ice time.
While Formenton has also been very cold as of late, his 11 goals and 22 points in 50 games is a massive step up from his previous totals and his newfound chemistry with Tim Stützle is exciting to watch. More so than that, he’s the type of player that can be shifted around the lineup and still find ways to contribute. Whether that be scoring in the top six or defending on the penalty kill, Formenton is a true swiss army knife.
Stützle’s rookie season was mostly regarded as positive. Despite going through lots of pointless streaks (like all rookies do), his strong offensive upside was evident. However, the most common complaint of his game was his atrocious defense. Stützle was generally claimed by the advanced stats community to be one of, if not the worst defensive players in the entire league. However, things changed this year when DJ started rolling Stützle out at centre.
Since then, Stützle’s offence definitely has improved. He is shooting more, getting higher quality chances and seems to be much more confident with the puck. However, the real improvement for Jimmy this year has been his defensive game. Firstly, Stützle has only 29 giveaways this year compared to his 44 last year, meaning he is becoming more responsible with the puck and is making less mistakes. Additionally, he is using his body more for blocking shots and hitting. He has blocked 30 shots compared to his 15 last season and has 81 hits as opposed to his 50 last year.
Earlier this season, the Silver Seven Sens outlined Stützle’s defensive turnaround from an advanced stats perspective, which I highly recommend everyone to read. To summarize though, Stützle is one of the best Senators at limiting chances against. One of the better indicators of this is the expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) stat. When Stützle is on the ice, the xGA/60 is 2.22 compared to the xGA/60 of 3.11 when he is off the ice. This essentially just means that when Stützle is on the bench, there is a greater likelihood of the other team scoring.
While it is normal for young players to develop their defensive games over time, it’s quite unusual to see such a dramatic shift in a player’s game this fast. This along with his creativity with the puck and strong offensive abilities are having Sens fans foam at the mouth in excitement for what’s next.
Many outside of Ottawa might look at Thomas Chabot’s point totals and write this off as a poor season. However, those who have watched the star defenseman this season can all attest to the strides he’s taken. While it’s true that his offensive stats have taken a step back from his career highs of 14 goals and 55 points in 2018-19, the rest of his game has massively improved.
Over the course of Chabot’s young career with the Senators, the striking weakness in his play was in the defensive end. He was notorious for questionable decisions and bad giveaways that would lead to frustrating goals against. Most infamously though, was his horrendous plus-minus total that ranged from as low as -18 to as high as -12. While plus-minus remains a contentious stat that many view as bogus, when taken with context, it can accurately measure a player’s defensive impact. If one player has a negative plus-minus on a high-end team while the majority of the players are sporting positive plus-minus totals, this player could be perceived as being a defensive liability. This is also true in the opposite case. A bottom seven team with a goal differential of -26 naturally has most of its players owning negative plus-minus totals. One would think that the player who is spending nearly half a game on the ice for such a team would also have a similar total. In this case, they would be wrong. For the first time in his career, Chabot has a positive plus-minus of +1. On many teams, this might be a normal number. However, for a player that averages close to 27 minutes a game, this is quite impressive. Additionally, he has only given the puck away 55 times this year compared to his 82 last year. That’s a major step forward for someone whose time on ice is only increasing.
It would have been nice to see Chabot selected for the Olympics this year considering fans outside of our city would have been able to witness the evolution of his game. However, us Sens fans can continue to enjoy the show Chabby has been putting on for us this year.
These four Senators have gone beyond their expectations by improving in areas that were originally considered their weaknesses. While many fans outside of Ottawa might not realize this, we’ll just have to wait until the Sens make their mark in the playoffs to prove them wrong.