With three games left in their NHL pre-season schedule, the Ottawa Senators’ opening night roster is beginning to take shape. After an exciting comeback in a 5-4 overtime win over Montreal on Saturday night, the club has pared down its training camp roster to 30 players. They’re left with four goaltenders, nine defencemen and 17 forwards.
Among the more notable moves, the Sens assigned nine players to Belleville: Forwards Angus Crookshank, Philippe Daoust, Max Guenette, Roby Jarventie, Kevin Mandolese, Cole Reinhardt, Kristians Rubins, Egor Sokolov and Lassi Thomson. Former first rounder Tyler Boucher is back with the 67s while Michael Dal Colle, D.J. Smith’s top scorer in Oshawa’s 2015 Memorial Cup win, has been released.
Thomson, Sokolov and Crookshank have been three of the more talked about players.
Thomson was Ottawa’s 2019 first rounder and with potential job openings available on Ottawa’s blue line, the Senators were probably hoping Thomson would push his way into the discussion or at least make their decision a little harder.
Sokolov’s trajectory is beginning to resemble Logan Brown’s (now in St. Louis). Both are skilled, big-bodied forwards who are proven scorers at the lower levels but both need to find the quickness and intensity required to produce at this level.
Crookshank is a total buzzsaw and likely to be a key player in Belleville at both ends of the ice. He’s ready to fill in if Ottawa needs bottom six help this season.
Boucher has been assigned to the 67s, where he’ll play a ton and perhaps discover some scoring swagger. In 41 games last year, split between Boston University and the 67s, Boucher had 17 points in 41 games. That’s not bad, but it’s miles away from the scoring pace one might expect from a player chosen 10th overall in the NHL Draft.
Dal Colle and Derick Brassard arrived in Ottawa last month on professional tryout contracts. While Dal Colle was released, Brassard was skating on the top line with Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux in the win over Montreal.
While Brassard looked solid in that role, a better option might have been highly touted prospect Ridly Greig, who was finally getting his first chance to show his stuff. Instead, Smith placed him on the fourth line with Scott Sabourin and Roby Jarventie.
But Greig still found a way to make a good impression – although maybe not as strong as the ones that Habs shooters made on him. On three separate shot block attempts, the puck seemed to miss Greig’s protective gear every time, probably leaving a good-sized welt on each occasion. But afterward, his performance had earned the admiration of both the coach and his teammates. His fourth line deployment would suggest the Sens already have him ticketed for Belleville, but he’ll be an NHL player soon.
“He’s a nail gun, honestly,” said teammate Shane Pinto. “He’s going to be such a big part of this team in the future. I don’t know if it’s going to be this year, but eventually he is just going to be one of those guys you need in the lineup every night.
Pinto is already that guy right now.
Pinto scored two power play goals in the game. Even as deep as Ottawa is in the top six, he’s going to be hard to keep on a third line for very long. He’s that good, at both ends of the ice. Pinto hasn’t played any games since last October, yet now looks like a guy who’s had a full, normal year of NHL development since then. If he stays healthy, don’t be surprised to see him in the Calder discussion this season.
DeBrincat scored twice as well, including the winner. It’s safe to say that he and Giroux are starting to get comfortable in their new digs, and with each other. Both newcomers put on a show in their Ottawa pre-season home debuts, with Giroux setting up three goals in the game, including DeBrincat’s OT winner.
DeBrincat is one of the game’s smallest players but people rarely talk about that. They just talk about the speed and skill. And perhaps his new teammate Erik Brannstrom, with similar body size, is drawing motivation from that. Brannstrom has shown up at camp this year, looking more confident and assertive with the puck. He was held off the scoresheet but he’s never looked better than he did Saturday night, looking like a confident, skilled NHL defenceman. If there were any lingering doubts about him winning an NHL job, Brannstrom crushed them against the Habs.
Speaking of the Canadiens, the Sens will be good and sick of them by week’s end. The two clubs will have squared off four times in eight days. They’re in Montreal Tuesday night at 7pm, before heading to the east coast. The two clubs square off in Gander, Newfoundland Thursday night at 5:30pm. Then they’re in Moncton Saturday night at 6pm.
Ottawa’s season opener is Thursday October 13, when they finally get a respite from Hab-a-palooza. They’ll be in Buffalo to face the Sabres.
By Steve Warne