Ottawa Senators prospect report: An insider’s breakdown of the best in the system

Toronto native Alex Formenton talked after being drafted by the Senators about the rivalry against Toronto and if he expects to make the NHL next season.

An annual crop of fresh faces isn’t the only new thing associated with the Ottawa Senators’ top affiliate this fall.

The Belleville Senators made their home debut on Nov. 1, as Ottawa’s American Hockey League partner is now just two-and-a-half hours down the road after years of the Baby Sens being stationed in Binghamton, New York.

Belleville GM Randy Lee — who also holds the title of Ottawa’s assistant GM — said the renovation of Yardmen Arena came right down to the wire, but the Sens were able to kick things off with a 4-3 shootout win over the Syracuse Crunch.

Belleville began the AHL season with a nine-game roadie, providing an added degree of difficulty for the team’s prospects. As for how the next generation is performing — both at the AHL level and in a variety of other leagues — we’ll let Lee handle the heavy lifting from here.

AHL

Thomas Chabot, 20, D
Drafted: First round, 18th overall, 2015
Season to date: 7GP | 1G | 2A | 3P | -5

As with all D-men in the pipeline, Chabot — who’s been bothered by a slight groin injury — is up against the fact Ottawa has seven blue-liners on one-way deals. That said, the crown jewel of the system is still on track to star in the NHL.

“Last year, when we sent him back, we told him to go dominate,” Lee said. “We told him he has to work on his shot; his play without the puck; his stick; his body position and be able to maintain his compete level for 30 minutes a game. [He proved he could do that] not just in St. John, but in the world juniors. He exceeded our expectation there.

“Now, it’s defending really well; making really good decisions with the puck; understanding the situation in the game, when to manage it. Overall, he had a good camp, but we have seven [defencemen on one-way contracts], so it’s up to him or [one of the other young defencemen] to knock somebody out of the box.

“He’s a very receptive guy and very coachable. He can play. He went up this year when we had the injuries and he played well.”

Colin White, 20, C
Drafted: First round, 21st overall, 2015
Season to date: 3GP | 0G | 1A | 0P |-1

Had White not broken his wrist in training camp, he might be in the NHL right now. Belleville’s first home game doubled as White’s season debut.

“He’s one of those guys who definitely would have pushed for a spot on our team. He knows he’s got to play and get his game going and then he’ll dictate where he ends up at the end of the year.

“Pace and strength [are the biggest thing]. More battle strength. He’s a very competitive guy; he sees the game so well offensively and defensively; he’s a pain in the ass to play against. He really does get under your skin, which is fun, cause he’s a nice guy off the ice. But boy, you strap the boots on and he comes to play.

“He was on the ice as soon as he could be [after the injury] working on his legs and his speed. He put a lot of time in in his rehab.”

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

Filip Chlapik, 20, C
Drafted: Second round, 48th overall, 2015
Season to date: 11GP | 2G | 4A | 6P | -4

Ottawa’s coaching staff hadn’t seen much of Chlapik entering camp and he really caught their attention. The organization values the Czech much more now than it has at various other times in his development. He has good vision and is tougher to play against than people realize.

Reason for optimism…

“He’s exceeded our expectations. He’s playing big minutes in Belleville and scoring some big goals. It’s a really good story because this is a guy who struggled and we weren’t going to sign him at one point because we questioned his compete level and his dedication. But he [went back to the QMJHL and] did a complete 180. We came to him and said, ‘Hey, you earn this contract’ and he hasn’t looked back. He just keeps getting better. He’s a top-six guy right now in the American League. We thought he’d be way down in the lineup and we’d have to take baby steps with him.

“He’s proving he can skate at an NHL level, that he’s got a really good head. He’s just got to play consistently and compete hard every single night. He’s one of the guys who self-evaluates really well and if he doesn’t have a good game, he recognizes it and knows what he has to do to get better.”

Ben Harpur, 22, D
Drafted: Fourth round, 108th overall, 2013
Season to date: 3GP | 0G | 0A | 0P | -1

Harpur played nine games during Ottawa’s playoff run last year and was recently called up to the big club, so many fans have a sense of what the 6-foot-6, 222-pound blue liner can do.

“Ben is a great passer, he has great vision; he’s one of those guys who can hook [his own] net and do the backhand pass to the centre right on the tape. Really good stick, really good range. When he plays with an edge, he’s really hard to play against. There were times last year where we felt he was one of the top defencemen in the American League and that’s what warranted the call up. He can play both the left and right side [as a left shooter].”

Nick Paul, 22, C
Drafted: Fourth round, 101st overall, 2013 (Dallas)
Season to date: 0G | 5A | 5P | -2

Acquired in the trade that sent Jason Spezza to Texas, Paul remains a player the Sens believe can contribute at the NHL level and he joined the team for its trip to Sweden. His 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame is a wonderful asset.

“We like Nick Paul; we just challenged him to be harder to play against, we challenged him to have the same level of consistency in his game and he had a good off-season and we expected him to challenge for a spot out of camp,” Lee said. “Then he had an injury and it sort of set him back. He’s still a young guy. We’re patient with our guys; we never write them off. We like what Nick Paul brings to the table and we think he has a chance to be a player.”

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

Christian Jaros, 21, D
Drafted: Fifth round, 139th overall, 2015
Season to date: 9GP | 1G |4A | 5P | +4

“Myself and Shean Donovan are huge fans and we’ve seen him a lot in [Sweden]. We knew it was time for him to come over. He’s got offensive instincts — he likes to rush the puck, he’s got a great one-timer — but he combines it with a really hard, sandpaper-like [approach]. He’s a right shot on our power pay and he just hammers the puck, but then you see him defensively and he comes over and wipes people out with these great open-ice hits.”

Andreas Englund, 21, D
Drafted: Second round, 40th overall, 2014
Season to Date: 12GP | 0G | 2A | 2P | 0+/-

“He’s a hard-to-play-against, shutdown D; he makes a good first pass. He’s never going to put up a lot of points. It’s funny, but he really likes the shutdown role. He likes to be hard around the net, he lays the lumber on guys. It’s a perfect [example] of guys who know what they are and embrace it.”

Max Lajoie, 20, D
Drafted: Fifth round, 133rd overall, 2016
Season to date: 10GP | 0G | 4A | 4P | -1

Lajoie, who turned 20 on Sunday, is eligible to return to the Western Hockey League this season, but convinced Lee and the brass he deserves a look in the pros.

“We said, ‘Right now, you’re staying’ and he’s playing big minutes. He’s a power-play guy, he’s a puck-moving guy; very good composure. He makes the right read on the breakout, he knows how to look one way and pass the other way.

“He’s a guy who has a chance. He’s an under-the-radar guy who’s going to be on the radar really soon.”

Gabriel Gagne, 20, RW
Drafted: Second round, 36th overall, 2015
Season to date: 12GP | 4G | 1A | 5P | -3

Gagne, who stands 6-foot-5 and turns 21 on Saturday, played pro instead of major junior last year, including some time in the ECHL.

“Now he’s starting to get a bit of swagger to his game where, when he gets the puck, he’s making plays, he’s shooting the puck really well. He’s starting to really carve out a bigger role for himself. He’s come a long way.”

OHL

Alex Formenton, 18, LW, London Knights
Drafted: Second round, 47th overall, 2017
Season to date: 7GP | 1G | 7A | 8P | +3

Formenton making the Senators was the story of September. He started raising eyebrows right from the development camp that was held just a little while after he was drafted last June.

“Everybody knows about his speed, but he has a quiet confidence with the puck and he’s able to make plays. I think a lot of our veteran guys really liked the kid, so they took him under their wing. It’s a real special talent there. He earned what he got. He knows now how much of a step it is from junior to the NHL. He knows, if he wants to make it next year, he’s got to really work on his game this year. He went back with a great attitude and we expect big things from him.”

Logan Brown, 19, C, Windsor Spitfires
Drafted: First round, 11th overall, 2016
Season to date: 6GP | 5G | 6A | 11P | +1

There’s no doubt Brown had his heart set on being a Senator, but after four games in the NHL he was returned to the Windsor team he won a Memorial Cup with last year. Brown’s first post-draft season was marred by injuries and the message to him this year was basically the same thing the Sens told Chabot 12 months ago: Go dominate.

“We know it’s tough, he wanted to make the team this year. It’s definitely not going to hurt him to go back and have a great season and work to make the world juniors and dominate at that level.

“We told him, ‘We want your coaches to put you on the ice in critical situations. They have to trust you in a gold medal game. We’re excited about his potential. We kept saying, the amount of time you invest this season — like [Chabot] did [last year] — will pay huge dividends next year. If you just go down and glide and put it in neutral, then you’re going to lose ground because other guys will get better. Logan knows that and I think he’s receptive to that type of challenge.

“We expect him to be a [No. 1 or 2] centre. He’s 6-foot-6 and he’s still a boy. He had a tough time last year with some injuries that really set him back. But he finished strong with the Memorial Cup, he had a really good off-season, he had a good rookie tournament, good training camp. It was like night and day [from last year]; his personality, he was much more engaged. I think the experience last year — like every young kid, they think they’re ready for the NHL — and then they get there and it’s a really tough [and] fast league, and it’s an everyday league.

“His routine became so much better in terms of his preparation, how he took care of his body, how he worked on his game [with and without] the puck. He’s got incredible vision. I mean he’s got high-end NHL vision. If you look at the pre-season, the points he got were good points. He was right around the net, he was in dirty areas, he made some nice plays.”

QMJHL

Drake Batherson, 19, C, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Drafted: Fourth round, 121st overall, 2017
Season to date: 18GP | 17G | 13A | 30P | -4

Passed over entirely in the 2016 draft, Batherson is showing signs he could be a real find for the Sens. The nephew of former Ottawa tough guy Dennis Vial, Batherson has impressed at every turn since he was selected. He’s eligible to play pro next season.

“Something about him intrigued me in the [pre-draft] interview, but I said ‘Hey, I don’t know him as a player; you guys decide.’ We were lucky, we got him in the fourth round. He had a great development camp, he had a great rookie tournament and we signed him [to an entry-level deal]. That’s not common, where you sign a fourth-round pick right off the hop. I told him stories about other guys we made wait right to the end, because you have to earn the contract. Well, this kid earned the contract.

“He’s playing hard, he’s hitting, he’s fighting, he’s being a power forward. It’s a really good story for us and a great pick by our scouting staff.”