Because the team tanked one-third of the way into the NHL season, prospects in the Ottawa Senators system were suddenly thrust under a more intense microscope as fans tried to get a better handle on what the future might bring.
While there are no silver bullets just waiting to suit up and solve the club’s problems next October, there are a couple guys who at least figure to be part of the solution sometime soon. And one of the players who doesn’t appear below — 19-year-old goalie Filip Gustavsson, acquired from the Penguins at the trade deadline — would be a very intriguing part of any conversation more centered on an 18-to-30-month timeline.
With that in mind, here’s a look at four youngsters who are in the mix to make the full-time jump to Ottawa next fall. (The list is more focused on amateur players as opposed to the likes of Colin White and Filip Chlapik; guys who could still be called prospects, but who have now logged 15-20 NHL games this year.)
Reasons for Optimism
Alex Formenton, 18, LW, London Knights
Drafted: Second round, 47th overall, 2017
Season: 48GP, 29G, 19A, 48P, plus-6
Formenton’s season ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Owen Sound Attack, but the lightning-quick left-winger certainly did his part, netting five goals in the series.
Formenton made the Sens out of camp and played a single game before being returned to junior. He’s not necessarily going to be a high-end offensive player in the NHL, especially right away. That fact, though, might increase his odds of making the team next year because his value won’t be solely dependent on whether or not he can put up points right out of the gate.
Formenton, who won’t turn 19 until right around the time camp opens next September, is the kind of fast, whip-smart player who may not move the needle that much on his own, but who will be trusted by his coaches from the word “go.”
One thing to consider, though — and this could apply to other prospects, too — is what Ottawa’s goals will be next year. If it’s a full-blown rebuild season, maybe the Sens would prefer to shelter Formenton from constant losing, in which case he could return for another year of junior and be in the running to be Canada’s captain at the World Junior Tournament, where he already won gold last January.
But just in terms of his own ability to play a useful role every night, the teenager is likely ready to step in.
Logan Brown, 20, C, Kitchener Rangers
Drafted: First round, 11th overall, 2016
Season: 32GP, 22G, 26A, 48P, plus-4
Brown played four games with the Sens at the start of the year and you get the sense he’ll be severely disappointed if he’s not an NHLer come October. The talent and, certainly, the size — Brown is six-foot-six — are there, but is some AHL seasoning required before he steps into the big-minutes, scoring role Ottawa envisions for him long term?
Brown led the OHL playoffs in scoring in the first round, netting two goals and 11 assists for 13 points in the Rangers’ six-game victory over the Guelph Storm.
Christian Wolanin, 23, D, North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Drafted: Fourth round, 107th overall, 2015
Season: 40GP, 12G, 23A, 35P, plus-12
After becoming the first defenceman since former NHLer James Patrick in 1982-83 to lead UND in scoring, Wolanin — a junior — signed with the Senators and scored his first NHL goal in his seventh outing. Wolanin is averaging just over 14 minutes per night and 71.8 per cent of his shift starts are coming in the offensive zone. If Erik Karlsson is dealt over the summer, there may be one more opening for Wolanin to fight for.
Drake Batherson, 19, C, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Drafted: Fourth round, 121st overall, 2017
Season: 51GP, 29G, 48A, 77P, plus-12
The young man who paced Canada with seven goals at the WJC turns 20 later this month and is eligible to turn pro in the fall. Chances are he’ll be an AHLer, but given the way this fast-riser has shot up the charts this season don’t put it past him to debut with the Sens in October.