Drake Batherson has been a fit with the Ottawa Senators from the moment he was drafted by the team in 2017.
It was all in the family. His father, Norm, who played professionally in North America and Germany, was once a member of the Prince Edward Island Senators and Thunder Bay Senators.
Batherson’s uncle, Dennis Vial, was a popular pugilist with the Ottawa Senators in the 1990s.
All Batherson has done since being selected by Ottawa (4th round, 121st overall) is raise his stock to the point where he is at or near the top of most lists of best Ottawa prospects. Still just 21, Batherson looked impressive in his recent seven-game call-up with Ottawa and just rejoined the AHL Belleville Senators (along with Rudolfs Balcers and Filip Chlapik) with the NHL club on a week-long break for the All-Star Game.
Before he left Ottawa to rejoin the B-Sens on the road, we asked Batherson to take on a new role: Senators scout.
Having played 33 games with Belleville this season before his recall for the Jan. 4 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Batherson is well equipped to comment on how some of his fellow prospects are performing for a B-Sens team that has been one of the pleasant surprises of the AHL season, sitting tied with the Utica Comets for first place in the North Division. Both teams have 54 points but Belleville, with a record of 25-13-3-1, has a game in hand.
Not even an eight-game, 16-day road trip could slow down the B-Sens, who have two games left in the roadie to Manitoba and back through the U.S. Heading into Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee, Belleville has taken 11 of a possible 12 points on this trip to improve its road winning percentage to a league-best .789.
This is a team that scores in bunches, with 155 goals to lead the AHL.
Impressively coached by Troy Mann, Belleville is winning young in a league typically dominated by veteran pros. Even before Batherson rejoined then, the B-Sens were routinely trotting out a power play with five players 21 and under: Logan Brown (21), Alex Formenton (20), Josh Norris (20), Vitaly Abramov (21) and Erik Brannstrom (20).
Belleville’s top-five scorers are age 22 and under. Balcers is the 22-year-old.
“We had a slow start,” said Batherson, who opened the season in the NHL and was sent to Belleville after two games with Ottawa. “We had a lot of young guys and they had to get a feel for the league. After that, we started rolling and now we’re in a playoff spot.”
We asked Batherson for his take on a few players who have been making minor-league headlines recently.
C Josh Norris
GP G A Pts
41 22 18 40
Norris has been on fire for weeks. On Saturday in Grand Rapids, his 13-game point streak finally ended. He scored ten goals and added seven assists in that span of games. Mann can’t say enough good things about this centre who was sidelined nearly all of last season after requiring shoulder surgery in January. Against Rockford on Monday, Norris scored his team-leading 22nd goal of the season and launched Formenton for a goal in Belleville’s 3-0 win.
An AHL rookie, Norris has vaulted all the way to fifth in league scoring with 40 points in 41 games. He is just behind Batherson, who has 42 points and is still in the AHL top four, despite being in the NHL for most of January.
Batherson’s take: “I noticed him right away at the rookie tournament – his speed, his vision and his hockey IQ. I had the chance to play with him when Logan Brown got called up and we just connected right away. Josh and I kind of have the same background, we both lived in Germany. He lived there for ten years, I lived there for eight years.
“He’s got a great shot, sees the ice well and is a great skater.”
LW Alex Formenton
GP G A Pts
40 21 12 33
Considering Formenton was playing against OHL teenagers just last year, his rookie pro season has been stellar. With 21 goals in 40 games, he trails only Norris on the B-Sens and is third on the team in scoring with 33 points. He scored a hat trick on Jan. 10 versus Rochester, part of a four-game, goal-scoring streak. Mann has also entrusted Formenton with penalty-killing duties.
Batherson’s take: “Forms has been great. He uses his speed well. He’s good for two or three breakaways a game down there. He has a lot of goals this year, too, and is playing well. I just think everyone’s buying into the system and playing as a team and that’s why we’re having success.”
He wasn’t kidding about the breakaways. Formenton scored on one Monday.
D Erik Brannstrom
GP G A Pts
13 1 11 12
After 31 games with Ottawa, during which he produced four points, Brannstrom has been with Belleville since the first week of December and established himself as close to a point-per-game defenceman. He had exactly a point per game until getting shut down Monday.
Batherson’s take: “I played with him three or four games. He likes to carry the puck down there and make plays, and is just back to his regular self, playing with confidence. He’s going to be a great player, it’s just a matter of time. It’s similar with all of us young guys – we’re trying to get better every day.”
G Joey Daccord
8-2-2-1, 2.58 GAA .914 SV%
There was a time when Senators general manager Pierre Dorion considered loaning Daccord, then with Brampton of the ECHL, to an AHL team to get him quality playing time. That all changed when goaltender injuries in Ottawa caused Marcus Hogberg to be called up from Belleville and in mid-December Daccord started sharing the net with Filip Gustavson on the B-Sens. Recovering from early season struggles, Gustavson had a 23-save shutout Monday. Overall, Daccord, the former Arizona State star, has been excellent. Daccord’s record is 8-2-2-1 with a goals-against average of 2.58 and save percentage of .914. As a bonus, Daccord handles the puck like a defenceman.
“His numbers speak for themselves,” Mann said recently.
Batherson’s take: “I was there for his first game and he was great. He’s been unbelievable ever since. Hoggie has been awesome up here and Joey, every since getting called up to Belleville has been great, too. There are some good young goalies in the organization and they are all playing well.”
While the senior Senators are targeting a draft lottery rather than a playoff spot this spring, their farm team is hoping to go on a post-season run to further enhance the development of their prospects. Belleville’s top players will continue to be their top prospects.
“We do have some high-end skill and we’ve been able to, for the most part, put three pretty good lines together that can contribute offensively,” Mann said.
Batherson’s take: “It’s well balanced. We’ve got some older guys that kind of lead the way and the young guys, we’re all playing together and having fun. It’s kind of like a junior atmosphere down there. We come to the rink everyday and everything is upbeat. All the boys are having a good time.”
Winning never gets old.