Through 57 games of the 2019-20 campaign, the Ottawa Senators find themselves no closer to the ultimate prize of playoff contention and meaningful post-season games.
But to say the Senators are no closer to progress would be to miss what’s been happening at the Canadian Tire Centre this season. While the club finds itself once again in the lottery mix, and leaning far closer to ‘seller’ than ‘buyer’ territory with the trade deadline approaching, they’re also seeing the first signs of promise from their young core.
Specifically, from young all-star Brady Tkachuk, who’s been chipping in with his offensive instincts and his physicality.
“It’s funny, coming into the year I said I didn’t really want Brady to fight. I wanted him to bang and crash and I wasn’t big on him getting hurt, maybe breaking a hand or something fighting,” head coach D.J. Smith told Sportsnet 590’s Hockey Central Friday. “But he’s just so big and he plays with so much energy that naturally he’s going to get into a few here and there. I think he actually got bigger since the start of the year — he was standing in the hall yesterday, I can’t believe how big he is. He’s gotta be six-foot-four, probably 225 [pounds].
“And he can certainly handle himself probably better than even I thought.”
The 20-year-old’s already emerged as a key force for the young Senators in his second NHL campaign. And according to Smith, it isn’t just that the Scottsdale, Ari., native has the skills to contribute, it’s that he’s been the one leading his club forward.
“He has skill, and he can make plays and he skates and he does a lot of things,” Smith told the Hockey Central crew. “He’s a guy that shows up every day. Even if your team maybe doesn’t have it, [he throws] a couple hits, he scores an ugly goal, [he’s] yelling at the other team — they drag you into the battle. And he’s a guy that’s going to help us turn this thing around.”
Smith certainly knows a thing or two about the physical side of the game — the former Maple Leafs and Avalanche defender topped the 100-penalty-minute plateau five times during his tenure in the minors.
And he understands that while fighting is no longer a central part of today’s game, certain kinds of physicality are still a useful tool, particularly during the playoff grind.
“There’s very few fights anymore, but what I do believe, truly, is there’s still intimidation in the game. And when you have big, strong guys that are willing to hit people, people still get shy,” Smith said. “People still don’t want to go to the front of the net and get cross-checked, people don’t want to get run over going back for pucks.
“… If you look at the St. Louis Blues model, they just kept trucking on, banging on people, and eventually they outlasted the whole league. So I think there’s still — especially in the playoffs, maybe not so much the regular season — but I think in the playoffs there still is a huge role for that physicality.”
Listen to the full interview with Senators coach D.J. Smith and the Hockey Central crew via the audio player embedded within this post.