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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – OTTAWA SENATORS – Team Preview – Player Profiles

OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 22: Ottawa Senators Left Wing Tim Stutzle (18) (Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire)

REVIEW: When the Senators spent the summer of 2022 signing Claude Giroux, then 34 years old, and spending three picks, including the 2022 seventh overall, to acquire Alex DeBrincat, it was a clear sign that they hoped to exit the rebuilding phase. What followed though was a 39-35-8 record – a 13-point gain from a year prior, but insufficient for a postseason berth. Part of the issue was Ottawa finished a mediocre 18th in goals per game (3.16) despite adding two elite forwards. Alex DeBrincat’s 27 goals and 66 points in 82 contests was a regression compared to his 41-goal 2021-22 campaign with Chicago, but the bigger problem was a lack of offensive depth. Eight Senators players reached double digits in goals in contrast to 13 with Edmonton. Ottawa was also mediocre defensively, finishing 18th with a 5-on-5 expected goals against of 174.36, and unlike the Islanders, which squeaked into the playoffs with a worse offense and expected goals against, Ottawa didn’t have an elite goaltender masking their defensive woes. Instead, Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg were merely average, which sums up the 2022-23 Senators nicely: Not bad, but not good enough.

What’s Changed? The Senators hope they’ve bolstered their mediocre goaltending by signing Joonas Korpisalo to replace Talbot, who left as a free agent. They also failed to agree to terms with DeBrincat, who was a restricted free agent, so they dealt him to Detroit in exchange for a solid middle-six forward in Dominik Kubalik, defensive prospect Donovan Sebrango and two draft picks. In an attempt to make up for the lost offense, Ottawa inked Vladimir Tarasenko to a one-year, $5 million deal.

What would success look like? Ottawa is looking to end its six-year playoff drought, but the competition in the Atlantic Division is intense. A strong year out of Joonas Korpisalo would certainly help, which is possible. He’s not an elite goaltender, but the 29-year-old is solid. A healthy season out of Joshua Norris, who scored 35 goals in 2021-22, but was limited to eight games last year due to a shoulder injury, would also provide Ottawa with a much-needed boost to its offensive depth. Between Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Giroux and Tarasenko, it’s reasonable to believe Ottawa will have two strong lines, but they need enough weapons to fill a decent third unit.

What could go wrong? However, Norris bouncing right back might be too much to hope for. The 24-year-old’s promise is clear, but that 35-goal campaign was also the first time in his career he even reached the 20-goal mark, so he’s far from proven. Meanwhile, Ottawa might get a bit less than Giroux’s 2022-23 finish of 79 points. After all, he’ll turn 36 in January. As far as injury risks go, Ottawa has a big one in elite defenseman Thomas Chabot, who has missed 37 contests over the last two years.

Top Breakout Candidate: One possible solution to Ottawa’s third-line question is Shane Pinto. Playing in his first full campaign, he supplied 20 goals and 35 points in 82 contests last year. Still just 22 years old, Pinto has the potential to start the campaign on the third line and then work himself into a bigger role, especially if Ottawa runs into injury troubles.


Brady Tkachuk

Of the 15 forwards who registered over 200 hits last season, no one scored more than Tkachuk’s 35 goals. His 2022-23 season put him in some exclusive company. Alex Ovechkin is the only other player in the NHL’s recorded history to blend that volume of physicality and goal production. Tkachuk’s skillset makes him a unicorn and one of the premier power forwards in the league. Thanks to his willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice and battle for deflections and loose pucks, Tkachuk has established himself as a shot-generation machine. Of all the qualified skaters who logged over 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time last season per NaturalStatTrick, only David Pastrnak averaged more shots per 60 minutes than Tkachuk. Any knocks to Tkachuk’s game are rooted in his defensive contributions and the notion he does not finish as many chances as he should given his shot volume. Considering he scored 35 goals, it may sound weird to read that he does not finish enough, but Tkachuk finished fourth in the league in expected goals (min. 500 5v5 TOI) in 2022-23. His expected goal metrics are always higher than his actual output. One of these years, it feels like if everything breaks right, he has the capacity to put up a monster offensive season. Like many of Ottawa’s other young players, Tkachuk’s poor defensive metrics can partially be explained as a product of the team’s personnel and defensive system. With a vastly improved defensive corps and a greater commitment to puck support as a five-man unit, Tkachuk’s metrics should continue to improve.

Tim Stützle

When the Senators invested in Tim Stützle, signing him to an eight-year contract worth an AAV of $8.35, they gambled on the German’s pedigree and offensive upside. His transition from the wing to centre during his sophomore year helped spark his ability to impact the game on both sides of the puck. In 2022-23, he rewarded the Senators with their long-term investment. He continued to take marked steps in his development offensively and defensively. He would finish the season leading the Senators in scoring with 39 goals and 90 points in 78 games. He became the third centre in franchise history to eclipse that point threshold but holds the distinction of being the youngest to do it at just 21 years of age. The departures of Connor Brown and Alex Formenton represented a significant loss to the Senators’ penalty killing units and Stützle was one of the forwards called upon to fill the void. It speaks to D.J. Smith’s growing confidence in him. Stützle tied for the team lead in shorthanded goals with three and averaged 1:16 of shorthanded ice time per game. Besides the natural growth of a young player, the jump in production can be explained by the quality of linemates. After spending most of the previous season playing predominantly with Alex Formenton and Connor Brown, centring Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux represented a significant improvement. As the team continues to improve around him, the hope is that his offensive production and defensive metrics will continue to improve.

Claude Giroux

Claude Giroux has only played one season for the Senators, but he already has leapt to the top of the list as the best free agent signing in franchise history. In his return home, the 35-year-old wowed fans by recording 35 goals and 79 points while playing in every single one of the Senators’ 82 games. Amazingly, the veteran’s 35 goals established a new personal regular season high. It was the first time Giroux had cracked the 30-goal mark since the 2017-18 season. This boost in production can be chalked up to the chemistry he developed alongside Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stützle. This trio generated more than 55 percent of the goals (58.49 GF%), shots (56.82 CF%), shots on goal (55.37) and expected goals (59.82 xGF%) at five-on-five per Evolving-Hockey. Playing predominantly as the right winger on this line Giroux had one of the best isolated defensive impacts on the team per Hockeyviz. His ability to impact the game at both ends of the ice was a huge addition to the Senators’ top six. In particular, his strength in the faceoff circle allowed his line to overcome Stützle’s struggles at the dot. Of the players who took more than 300 draws last season, Stützle’s 41.6 percent success rate was the eighth-worst mark in the league. Giroux insulated Stützle’s ineffectiveness with the league’s 10th-best mark at 58.3 percent.

Vladimir Tarasenko

Following the well-publicized departure of last season’s prize acquisition, Alex DeBrincat, the Senators shored up their top six scoring by inking Vladimir Tarasenko to a one-year contract worth $5 million. The signing of the four-time All-Star and 2019 Stanley Cup champion generated headlines. Tarasenko is a recognizable talent who can still be a productive NHL player. In 69 games split between the Blues and Rangers last season, Tarasenko recorded 18 goals and 50 points. It was a step down in production for the six-time 30-goal scorer, but he represented the best available offensive talent that remained on the free agent market. There is a chance that Tarasenko’s waning production is part of an age-related decline, but the good news is that he is just one season removed from the second-best five-on-five shooting percentage of his career (14.8 per Evolving-Hockey). Last season’s (9.7) was the second-worst. A motivated Tarasenko should be extremely valuable to the Senators. If he can get back closer to his career norms, he will have a chance to cash in on the open market next summer. If his production continues to decline, the Senators will still need his offence to outweigh his defensive contributions. Tarasenko’s become a liability on the defensive side of the puck. There is also the question of fit. As a winger who prefers playing his off-side, the addition of Tarasenko to the right wing could necessitate moving one of Claude Giroux or Drake Batherson to their off-side.

Josh Norris

On the heels of a sophomore season in which he exploded for 35 goals and 55 points in 66 games, centre Josh Norris cashed in by signing an eight-year pact carrying an AAV of $7.95 million. The contract represented a significant commitment to the team’s second-line centre and set a relatively high standard for Norris to live up to. Last season, he never got the chance. A devastating shoulder injury curtailed his season and limited him to eight games. So much of Ottawa’s postseason aspirations hinge on Norris’ recovery and his ability to resemble the player that he was pre-injury. Even when healthy, it was fair to believe that Norris would experience some natural regression in his shooting percentage (20.3 in 2021-22). Fortunately, he has historically been a strong shooter throughout his career, so that regression should not be too severe - provided that Norris’ recovery does not inhibit his ability to shoot the puck. Power play usage will be another thing to monitor. Of the forwards who logged over 100 minutes of power play ice time in 2021-22 per NaturalStatTrick, only two forwards averaged a higher goals per 60 minutes of ice time rate than Norris – Chris Kreider and Leon Draisaitl. Norris should continue to play the right side on the first power play unit, but the addition of Vladimir Tarasenko, who also works from that spot, could impact those minutes.

Drake Batherson

On the surface, it is easy to look at Drake Batherson’s numbers and arrive at the conclusion that he had a down year. Scoring 22 goals and tallying 62 points in 82 games is not a terrible season by any measure, but that minus-35 was unsightly. Considering Batherson put up 17 goals in each of the two previous seasons while playing in what was essentially half a season’s worth of games, expectations for him were high. After scoring on more than 15 percent of his shots in each of his previous two campaigns, Batherson’s shooting percentage was almost halved to 8.8 percent last season. Although NaturalStatTrick’s data shows that Batherson’s goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five ice time dropped from 1.08 to 0.37 last season, there are a number of reasons to believe that he can reach another level. He shot the puck more than he ever had in his career. His average of 8.87 shots per 60 of five-on-five ice time per NaturalStatTrick represented a career-high. Last season, only Buffalo’s Tage Thompson (15) hit more posts than Batherson. Provided he can stay healthy and preserve that kind of shot volume, better luck and a regression to the mean in terms of his shooting percentage should allow Batherson to enjoy a career season in 2023-24.

Shane Pinto

For the first time since Brady Tkachuk scored 22 goals during the 2018-19 season, Shane Pinto became the eighth rooking in franchise history to score 20 or more goals in his rookie campaign – joining Tkachuk, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Patrick Eaves, Daniel Alfredsson, Alexandre Daigle and Alexei Yashin. Pinto started the 2022-23 season strong, scoring six goals in his first eight games. But, when Josh Norris was felled by a shoulder injury, Pinto moved up the depth chart and no longer received the luxury of being insulated. Despite more challenging assignments and responsibilities, the Senators still outshot (51.4 CF%) and created a higher percentage of expected goals (50.7 xGF%) when Pinto was on the ice at five-on-five. With the return of Norris, Pinto will once again be relegated to the third line and potentially easier matchups. For an organization that struggled to generate offence from its third and fourth lines, a returning Pinto armed with the confidence of knowing he can pot 20 goals will be vital to this team’s push for the postseason. One of the things to keep an eye on with Pinto this season will be his work on the penalty kill. Following the departures of Austin Watson, Dylan Gambrell, and Tyler Motte, shorthanded minutes will need to be reallocated. One of the benefactors of those responsibilities should be Pinto.

Dominik Kubalik

As the lone NHL piece that was returned to the Senators in this offseason’s Alex DeBrincat trade, Dominik Kubalik is a reasonably priced player who offers the Senators affordable depth scoring. He is in the last year of a two-year deal carrying an AAV of $2.5 million. In 81 games with the Red Wings last season, he scored 20 goals and 45 points. Brady Tkachuk is entrenched as the team’s first-line left winger, but beyond that, the second line could be open. If Vladimir Tarasenko plays on his preferred off-side, it could necessitate Giroux or Batherson moving to their off-side to accommodate him. The alternative is Kubalik because of his natural left-shot handedness. If he does, there is a chance for Kubalik to flourish. He finished third on the Red Wings in individual expected goals for per 60 (0.81 ixG/60) and individual scoring chances per 60 (7.71 iSCF/60) per NaturalStatTrick. He thrived playing alongside Dylan Larkin and David Perron. Away from Detroit’s top talent, the underlying numbers cratered. Something to keep an eye on is if Kubalik winds up on a line with Tarasenko. The Senators’ forward group is not exactly renowned for its defensive aptitude and their two biggest additions in Kubalik and Tarasenko are not going to bolster that weakness. They could exacerbate it.

Mathieu Joseph

It is never ideal to be referenced in the same breath as the infamous Bill Muckalt, but Mathieu Joseph was the only Senator forward to log more than 500 minutes of ice time who failed to score a five-on-five goal in 2022-23. According to NaturalStatTrick’s data, of the 382 forwards who logged more than 500 minutes of five-on-five ice time, only two forwards failed to score one goal last season: Montreal’s Jake Evans and Joseph. It was a precipitous drop in offence. Following his trade to the Senators at last year’s trade deadline, Joseph averaged 3.89 points per 60 minutes of ice time. Being an 11-game sample, it was naive to believe that this brief stretch was truly representative of his offensive upside. Last season’s output of three goals and 15 points was incredibly disappointing for Sens management after they locked him up to a three-year contract worth a $2.9 million AAV. Without any even-strength production out of Joseph, it really hurts the Senators’ secondary scoring. Hopefully, the return of Shane Pinto to the third line will boost Joseph’s productivity. Fortunately for the Senators, while Joseph struggled to produce offensively, he is still a competent defensive forward and a valuable contributor on the penalty kill that ranked in the top half of the league last season.


Thomas Chabot

The 2022-23 season was a polarizing one that showcased the best and worst of Thomas Chabot. Often last season, he would take heat for his defensive play and lapses. The numbers backed it up. According to Evolving-Hockey’s Total Defence (DEF) metric that combines the even strength and shorthanded contributions to arrive at a single number for defensive value created, 2022-23 was tied for being the worst defensive season of his career. The good news is that the site’s Total Offence (OFF) metric, which combines even strength and power play contributions measured 2022-23 as being his best offensive year – surpassing his impressive 2018-19 season in which he scored 14 goals and 55 points. One of the things that hurt Chabot last year is that he logged more than 30 minutes of ice time with eight defensive partners last season – including 257 with an ineffective Nikita Zaitsev, one of the least valuable defencemen in the league. Even with poor defensive partners and a lack of continuity, Chabot was rated as the team’s most valuable player according to according to Evolving-Hockey’s ‘wins above replacement’ (WAR) and ‘goals above replacement’ (GAR) metrics. It speaks to his importance in Ottawa’s puck movement and transition game. A full season alongside Jakob Chychrun will inevitably make things easier for Chabot and improve his numbers, but the Senators will need him to be more reliable for the team to take a step forward.

Jakob Chychrun

It took time, but the Senators finally addressed their need for a top-four defenceman by acquiring Jakob Chychrun at the 2023 trade deadline. A lower-body injury limited Chychrun to 12 games with Ottawa, but in those games, he averaged 21 minutes of ice time scoring two goals and adding three assists. Most of his minutes were spent playing with Travis Hamonic to some underwhelming 5-on-5 shot and goal metrics. When they were on the ice together, the Senators generated 48.9 percent of the goals (GF%), 40 percent of the expected goals (xGF%), 43.8 percent of the shots (CF%) and 44.2 percent of the shots on goal per Evolving-Hockey. Fortunately, Chychrun is expected to open the season playing alongside Thomas Chabot. In a very small sample size of 35 minutes of five-on-five ice time, the duo was exceptional – generating approximately 60 percent of the shots and expected goals. A wrinkle is that Ottawa’s three most talented defencemen are all natural left shots. Chychrun has experience playing his off-side, so that mitigates most of the concern, but he has missed 152 games across his seven seasons in the league. With so much invested in Chychrun being the solution to shore the blue line, if he needs to play his natural side or continues to be plagued by injuries, it could really hamper the team’s postseason aspirations.

Jake Sanderson

When Jake Sanderson was selected with the fifth overall selection in 2020, it created some ripples and consternation. Was he the best available defenceman? Should the Senators have targeted another highly skilled forward? Sanderson’s rookie campaign erased any concerns about his selection. He contributed four goals and 32 points in 77 games last season. Only Owen Power recorded more points as a rookie defenceman than Sanderson. Where he thrived was on the defensive side of the puck. His elite skating ability, gap control and active stick made life frustrating for attacking forwards. Perhaps the most flattering thing that you can say about Sanderson’s play last season is that he helped land veteran Travis Hamonic a new two-year contract. The pair logged over 500 minutes of five-on-five ice time together and the results were average. When this pairing was on the ice, the Senators generated as many shots and expected goals as the opposition (50.5 CF%, 49.5 xGF%). They did however give up a greater percentage of actual goals (42.9 GF%), but that can be attributed in part to bad luck. Sanderson is expected to play with Artem Zub this season. In 239 five-on-five minutes together, the Senators generated more of the shots (52.7 SF%) and expected goals (53.3 xGF%). Most impressively, the team suppressed a lot more shots when this pairing was together. Put in contrast with the Sanderson/Hamonic pairing which allowed 33.6 shots per 60 minutes of five-on-five, the Sanderson/Zub pairing allowed 24.9.

Artem Zub

Since joining the Senators from SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL in 2020, Artem Zub has developed a steadfast reputation for being the Senators’ best defensive defenceman. It is that reputation that earned the 27-year-old a four-year contract extension worth an AAV of $4.6 million. And, it is a reputation that is backed up by the data. Using HockeyViz’s data that measures a player’s isolated offensive and defensive impacts, no Senators defenceman had a more significant defensive impact than Zub. Evolving-Hockey’s total defence metric (DEF) had Zub ranked second on the team behind Erik Brannstrom, but injuries limited Zub to 53 games last season - robbing him of the chance to accrue more value. Historically, Zub has always been a player who makes those around him better and in 2023-24, he will be tasked with trying to get more performance and development out of sophomore Jake Sanderson. Considering how well Sanderson fared in his first season playing meaningful minutes carrying Travis Hamonic, the likelihood of Sanderson helping push Zub to a career year feels very real.


Joonas Korpisalo

The rebuilding Ottawa Senators have made it clear in the last few years – goaltenders who are moving on from old teams have a place with the Atlantic Division underdogs, and there’s plenty of time in their rebuild window to be patient with anyone needing a little extra time to get their game back on track. For former Columbus Blue Jackets tandem starter Joonas Korpisalo, it’s the perfect place – out of the public eye, and with a team that’s been slowly but surely turning things around – to prove that he still has an NHL-capable game and establish himself as a number one outside of the free-falling Blue Jackets.

Korpisalo stylistically looked like the less reliable option in Columbus, with a game that relies almost too much on flat angles and post coverage in a way that opened up holes and made him easy to predict. But while Elvis Merzlikins had the flashier game, Korpisalo was the team’s better option last year – and he showed during a brief stint post-trade deadline with the Los Angeles Kings that he might be predictable, but he’s reliable. He struggles at times with rebounds, but his tracking is effective – and for the Senators, the most important thing is that he’s both still relatively young (he’s only 29) and he has a fairly good track record of staying healthy. After multiple years of bad injury luck, the Senators should count it as a win if Korpisalo is even league average while maintaining his reputation as a goaltender who won’t go down for most of the year.

Projected starts: 45-50