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Senators season preview: Tkachuk, Chabot, Smith at forefront of rebuild

Forward, defenseman show leadership qualities, new coach to guide young roster

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Ottawa Senators.

 

Coach: D.J. Smith (first season)

Last season: 29-47-6; eighth place, Atlantic Division

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Smith's influence

D.J. Smith became the 14th coach in Senators history when he was hired May 23. The 42-year-old former NHL defenseman worked the past four seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs after coaching Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League to the Memorial Cup championship in 2015. Smith has relied on four former Maple Leafs he coached in Toronto (defensemen Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey, and forwards Connor Brown and Tyler Ennis) to help spread his message to a young roster throughout training camp. He's been handed the keys to the Senators rebuild; how his players respond remains to be seen.

 

2. Nilsson's readiness

The stage has been set for Anders Nilsson, who is in his seventh NHL season, to carry the workload in net for the Senators. Is he ready for it? The 29-year-old played an NHL career-high 36 games (34 starts) last season for the Vancouver Canucks and Senators, going 14-19-1 with a 2.97 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and two shutouts.

Filip Gustavsson is considered the goalie of the future in Ottawa, but the 21-year-old has been sent to Belleville of the American Hockey League for further development. Craig Anderson played 50 games last season (17-27-4, 3.51 GAA, .903 save percentage, two shutouts), but Nilsson is expected to get the opportunity to be the No. 1.

Video: CBJ@OTT: Nilsson reaches back to rob Atkinson

 

3. More offense required

Ottawa was 17th in the NHL with 242 goals last season, but forwards Mark Stone (28), Matt Duchene (27) and Ryan Dzingel (22), each traded away, combined for 77 of them. So who will score the goals? Consider that one player on the projected roster scored 20 goals in the NHL last season (forward Brady Tkachuk scored 22 as a rookie). Ottawa's first line thus far at training camp has been Tkachuk at center with wings Connor Brown (eight goals in 2018-19) and Colin White (14).

 

4. Continued growth of Tkachuk, Chabot

Tkachuk turned 20 on Sept. 16. Defenseman Thomas Chabot, who signed an eight-year contract extension Sept. 19, is 22. They are the cornerstones of the Senators rebuild and are already considered leaders on and off the ice. Chabot was third on the Senators with 55 points (14 goals, 41 assists) last season, and Tkachuk was fifth with 45 (22 goals, 23 assists).

Video: OTT@NYR: Tkachuk converts on a two-man advantage

 

5. Ryan must produce

With the Senators needing to find additional offense from within, can forward Bobby Ryan be one of the solutions? Ryan is the third-oldest player (32) on the roster behind Anderson and Hainsey, each 38. Ryan's 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) last season were his most since 2015-16 (56), but his minus-29 rating was third worst in the NHL. He played the early part of training camp on the third line but has received time on the power play.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

Defenseman Christian Wolanin injured his shoulder early in camp and is out at least four months, opening up another job at defenseman. Christian Jaros has the inside track over Cody Goloubef and Erik Brannstrom, the 19-year-old who came to Ottawa as part of the Feb. 25 trade that sent Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights. Ottawa is not expected to keep Brannstrom as a seventh defenseman, so he would be sent to Belleville if he doesn't make the top six. Center Logan Brown is being given every opportunity to make the team as a 21-year-old. Forward Alex Formenton, who was expected to battle for a spot, was sent to Belleville on Sept. 21.

 

Most intriguing addition

Smith knew exactly what he was getting when the Senators signed Hainsey to a one-year contract July 1. Smith was in charge of the defense during his time in Toronto and witnessed the influence Hainsey had on young players on and off the ice. The respect for Hainsey was reflected when he was selected to be an alternate captain at the start of training camp.

 

Biggest potential surprise

The Senators are Anthony Duclair's fifth NHL team (New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets) despite his young age, and the 24-year-old forward has yet to come close to the NHL career-high 20 goals he scored for the Coyotes in 2015-16. But there's ice time to be earned, and Duclair is making a strong bid. Smith called Duclair the Senators' best player through the first few days of training camp, when he was on a line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Drake Batherson. Duclair has 122 points (56 goals, 66 assists) in 287 NHL games.

Video: OTT@BUF: Duclair tips Ceci's point shot past Hutton

 

Ready to break through

Batherson was impressive after being called up from Belleville late last season, when the 21-year-old had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 20 games. He's been on the second line in training camp and is known for his quick release and heavy shot. General manager Pierre Dorion said Batherson (6-foot-3, 187 pounds), a fourth-round pick (No. 121) at the 2017 NHL Draft, can evolve into a top-line player.

Video: NYR@OTT: Batherson deflects puck past Lundqvist

 

Fantasy sleeper

Batherson (average draft position: N/A) had nine points in his first 20 NHL games and should have a prominent role with potential exposure to Tkachuk. -- Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Brady Tkachuk -- Colin White -- Connor Brown

Anthony Duclair - Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- Drake Batherson

Rudolfs Balcers -- Artem Anisimov -- Bobby Ryan

Tyler Ennis -- Chris Tierney -- Mikkel Boedker

Thomas Chabot -- Nikita Zaitsev

Ron Hainsey -- Dylan DeMelo

Erik Brannstrom -- Mark Borowiecki

Anders Nilsson

Craig Anderson

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