Five Senators prospects on the cusp of being NHL-ready

Canada forward Drake Batherson (19) celebrates after scoring against Czech Republic goaltender Josef Korenar (Nathan Denette/CP)

A lot has changed for the Ottawa Senators and their prospects over the past month.

Injuries at the NHL level have caused intermittent callups from AHL Belleville and the organization has continued its habit of promoting different players – some of whom flew completely off the radar of those who follow these organizational developments.

That J.C. Beaudin and Max Veronneau have received promotions while primo prospect Drake Batherson remains in Belleville tells a lot. When the Senators promote their best prospects they want it to be permanent, or as close to permanent as can be forecast.

Think Logan Brown and Erik Brannstrom. Brown was finally promoted in early November after a long apprenticeship in the AHL while Brannstrom has started the season in Ottawa and remains here despite some rookie growing pains.

A month ago, both the NHL Senators and the B-Sens were scuffling. The senior Sens then got on a good roll before their current four-game losing skid, a season high. The Belleville Senators have gotten hot and stayed there, winners of nine of their past 11 games — including a five-game winning streak after the weekend games.

For the B-Sens, Ottawa’s best prospects have carried them into a place among the AHL playoff teams.

Here’s a look at five Senators prospects not currently in the NHL who appear to be on the cusp of being NHL-ready.

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Drake Batherson, RW

Age: 21

Drafted: 121st overall in 2017

Team: Belleville Senators (AHL)

GP: 21 │ G: 9 │ A:18 │ Pts: 27

Despite 10 games in which he has been held off the scoresheet, Batherson has had nine games with two or more points, including one five-point game to remain one of the AHL’s top performers. Definitely streaky with his production. For example, after being held pointless in two games the week of Nov. 16, Batherson rebounded with four points against Binghamton and six in his past three games. He has scored 10 points in his last five games.

Considering Batherson is the one forward prospect who was expected to make the Senators out of training camp, it has to be disappointing for him to see less talented players get promoted ahead of him. Batherson’s time will come. When you’re tied for the AHL scoring lead at 21 years of age it doesn’t go without notice.

Vitaly Abramov, RW

Age: 21

Team: Belleville Senators (AHL)

Drafted: 65th overall in 2016

GP: 18 │ G: 8 │ A: 9 │ Pts: 17

Abramov has already had a couple of NHL games with the big club and as we mentioned in our last report, would have made the Senators roster if not for a setback with a pre-season concussion. After a slow start in Belleville, Abramov has settled in nicely and has recently featured on the team’s top line with Batherson and centre Josh Norris.

Abramov was named first start in Friday’s 6-2 win over Binghamton (one goal, two assists) but did not dress on Saturday for the 3-1 win over Hershey, after getting tripped up on a breakaway late in Friday’s game. Abramov did score on the subsequent penalty shot, but wasn’t feeling 100 per cent after the game and was rested as a precaution.

We already know Abramov has caught the eye of Senators head coach D. J. Smith, who raved about Abramov’s work ethic and scoring ability. The young Russian is already close to matching his rookie AHL totals of last season, when he had 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points.

Abramov was acquired by Ottawa from Columbus in the deadline deal for Matt Duchene. The Senators also gave up defence prospect Julius Bergman and picked up forward prospect Jonathan Davidsson in that deal along with a first-round pick (used to draft defenceman Lassi Thomson).

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Alex Formenton, LW

Age: 20

Drafted: 47th overall in 2017

Team: Belleville Senators (AHL)

GP: 20 │ G: 9 │ A: 5 │ Pts: 14

Best known for his blazing speed, Formenton has recently been impressing Belleville head coach Troy Mann with his scoring touch. In last Wednesday’s 5-3 victory over Laval, Formenton scored twice as part of a five-goal streak over four games. Mann said he has been pleasantly surprised with Formenton’s offensive upside and is using him on both the power play and penalty killing units.

Just a couple of months past his 20th birthday, Formenton is proving to be a quick study in the AHL. A second-round draft pick of the Senators in 2017, Formenton was a point-per-game player for OHL London in 2017-18, with 48 points in 48 games with the Knights, including 29 goals.

Rudolfs Balcers, LW

Age: 22

Drafted: 142nd in 2015

Team: Belleville Senators (AHL)

GP: 8 │ G: 4 │ A: 8 │ Pts: 12

We’d love to see the stat line on this little Latvian forward if he’d been healthy all Fall. Balcers, who was enjoying an outstanding training camp in Ottawa, suffered a left knee injury and only returned to action a couple of weeks ago. He is the only member of the B-Sens to have produced at least a point in every game he has played, albeit with just eight games played. He has seven points in his past four games.

Balcers has one advantage over his Belleville teammates – he has already played 36 NHL games with Ottawa, having been called up last season, scoring five times and adding nine assists over that stretch. Balcers is sometimes forgotten about in the blockbuster trade with the San Jose Sharks that sent Erik Karlsson west. But the organization hasn’t forgotten about Balcers, a late-round pick of the Sharks (fifth-round, 2015), who has the look of a decent late bloomer.

Josh Norris, C

Age: 20

Drafted: 19th overall in 2017

Team: Belleville Senators (AHL)

GP: 21 │ G: 9 │ A: 9 │ Pts: 18

After a slow start, Norris is emerging into a point-per-game centre for Belleville, and in fact has 10 points over his last 9 games and five in his past three. Norris is second in team scoring behind Batherson. Like Balcers, Norris was part of the windfall for Karlsson and was considered a key element of the deal as he was a first-round pick of the Sharks (19th overall 2017).

A slow start in his first professional season was hardly unexpected considering Norris suffered a shoulder injury requiring surgery in January and missed the rest of the season. Norris was a star for the University of Michigan and along with Senators’ big winger Brady Tkachuk was a huge part of USA’s effort at the world junior tournament. There’s lots of upside to this 6-2 centre once he improves on the defensive side of the game.

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