Ottawa Senators 2016-17 NHL season preview

Ottawa Senators' Mike Hoffman (68) celebrates a power-play goal with Erik Karlsson (65). (Chris Szagola/AP)

As we approach the 2016-17 season, we’re previewing what’s ahead for each of the 30 NHL teams. Here’s what’s on deck for the Ottawa Senators.

MAIN SUMMER HEADLINES
Murray steps down as Senators GM, Dorion takes over

Senators name Guy Boucher as new head coach

Senators hire Martin Raymond as assistant coach

Senators sign defenceman Ceci to two-year, $5.6-million deal

Senators lock up Mike Hoffman with four-year, $20.75M deal

• Senators trade Mika Zibanejad to Rangers for Derick Brassard

Head coach: Guy Boucher
GM: Pierre Dorion
Team payroll: $67.1 million ($73 million salary cap)

2015-16 Record: 38-35-9 (5th in Atlantic)
GF: 236 (8th in NHL)
GA: 247 (28th in NHL)
Result: Missed playoffs by 11 points


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Key acquisitions: Derick Brassard, Chris Kelly

Key departures: Mika Zibanejad

Rookies to watch: Goaltender Matt O’Connor, 24, is expected to be the future king of Ottawa’s crease. The Boston University standout wasn’t ready for the spotlight last season, but if he learned one thing in 2015-16, it’s patience.

After debuting in the Senators’ season opener a year ago, O’Connor struggled throughout the season with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators where he registered a 3.31 GAA and .895 save percentage with a 10-20-3 record.

He looked good at rookie camp this year despite suffering what management called an “absolutely minor, minor” injury and should be ready to rebound in an effort to climb his way up Ottawa’s depth chart with help from new goaltending coach Pierre Groulx.

Nick Paul is another Senator to watch. And with 24 games of NHL exposure, many Senators fans are already familiar with his offensive talent. The 21-year-old speedster had two goals, three assists and 28 shots on net during his late-season call-up after Ottawa was struck with injuries. If the 6-foot-4, 230-pound winger can crack the opening day roster, look for him to provide a sizeable punch to this year’s offence.

Defenceman Thomas Chabot, picked 18th overall in 2015, is hoping to stick with the big club this year. All signs point to the 19-year-old getting at least a nine-game tryout with the Senators to start the season.

Another bright spot coming down the prospect pipeline is 2016 11th overall pick Logan Brown. The Senators had targeted the 6-foot-6 centre leading up to June’s draft and swapped picks with New Jersey to ensure they’d land the “no brainer” pick. He may not be on the big stage just yet, but he’s definitely one to watch.

Ottawa will have a successful season if…
Their forward core can continue trending up.

The star power of the Senators isn’t overwhelming at the forward position, but this relatively young group of goal-scorers should not be underestimated.

Mike Hoffman enjoyed a breakout season in 2014-15, and performed even better last year with 29 goals and 30 assists in 78 games.

Mark Stone was a major player in the 2015 run and was on pace to match that 64-point season in 2015-16.

Kyle Turris struggled with injuries in last year’s campaign after a 64-point season of his own the year prior.

Stone is still recovering from a concussion but the Senators’ forward core is, for the most part, healthy. Add homegrown talent Derick Brassard to the mix after the trade that sent Mika Zibanejad to the Big Apple, and we might have another strong run on our hands.

Ottawa will have an unsuccessful season if…
They don’t buy into new head coach Guy Boucher.

Making the playoffs is an obvious measurement of success for any team, but it rings especially true for the Senators who had an especially disappointing 2015-16 after making the playoffs the season prior.

We know this team can contend for the playoffs since we saw it in a late charge in 2015. And when you look at the roster, it’s largely the same as the one iced that year, minus the front office of course.

So far, reviews for Boucher and his “we’re not giving anybody anything” message have been positive and word is, the Senators are responding well to his mandate of working hard and learning fast.

Leadership on the ice is just as important as leadership on the bench, and the Senators have plenty of that, too, in captain Erik Karlsson, veteran Chris Neil, Clarke MacArthur (currently recovering from a concussion suffered in training camp) and 2015 addition Dion Phaneuf, to name a few.

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