The Ottawa Senators have been saying for days that the rest of the year will be devoted to the youth of the organization.
To paraphrase Erik Karlsson: “The time is nigh.”
This means you, D-men Erik Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-Docker and centre Shane Pinto. Winger Alex Formenton, 21, who scored a shorthanded goal against the Leafs on Saturday, has also been told he will be on the NHL roster for the rest of the campaign.
Oh, and suddenly, the Senators youth brigade also includes defenceman Victor Mete, 22, claimed off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens Monday. Over the final 14 games of the season (including Monday vs. Winnipeg), the Senators will get a look at Mete to see if he is worth bringing back and perhaps extending. Mete has RFA status this summer.
Mete drove over from Montreal on Monday, “from one bubble to another,” requiring no quarantine, said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion.
Head coach D.J. Smith says the remaining games against North Division contenders will be a learning process for his young roster.
“It is a great experience for our young guys to see, especially down the road here, some of these teams that are built to win now,” Smith said.
With no playoff contention on the horizon this spring, tryouts have already begun for the 2021-22 NHL season in Ottawa. Bernard-Docker and Pinto, Senators draft picks recently signed out of the University of North Dakota, had their first practice in Ottawa Monday following a week of quarantine in a Kanata hotel.
Smith said he wants the two to get comfortable for a few days or perhaps even a week of practice before he puts them into a game. But they will play, the collegians have been assured of that. The Senators have two more home games this week before heading west next week.
Low key deadline
For the Senators and their fans, this was a decidedly more low-key deadline than others that saw such favoured stars as Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau get dealt.
While his team was not involved in any high-profile deals, Dorion said he was pleased with the club’s deadline moves, acquiring picks and one AHL defenceman for three vets on expiring deals. Dorion likes the idea of giving his prospects a good look down the stretch, especially on defence after he moved three NHL defencemen.
“We’re all looking forward to seeing an expanded role for Erik Brannstrom,” Dorion said. And “Mete. He’s just 22 . . .
“It's a great chance to see how these young players play in the grind. And it will prepare us for years to come.”
The organizational consensus on Mete is that with just 185 NHL games played, the young defenceman still has some upside. Why not take a look with a waiver claim?
“From what we’re told, he’s a good person, he wants to get better at his craft,” Dorion says.
“He skates well, he moves the puck. He’s the new-generation type of NHL defenceman. He’s not the biggest, but he’s definitely not afraid.”
The Reilly and Coburn deals were done late Sunday night, part of the league-wide trend to getting trades done early this year. Reilly went to the Boston Bruins for a third-round pick in 2020; Coburn to the New York Islanders for a 2022 seventh-rounder.
Gudbranson, the Orleans native, was dealt to the Nashville Predators just prior to the 3 pm deadline. In return, Ottawa received undrafted defenceman Brandon Fortunato (zero points in nine AHL games with Cleveland) and a seventh round pick in 2023.
A product of the US National Development Team program, Fortunato contributed one assist in seven games to the USA bronze-medal team at the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships.
Why the 2022 and ‘23 picks instead of for 2021?
Dorion and his chief amateur scout, Trent Mann, believe next year’s draft will be stronger than 2021, plus the added time gives staff a better chance at evaluating prospects. A lot of teenage talent sat on the sidelines for extended periods this year due to the pandemic and scouts were scouting from their home offices rather than arenas.
Interestingly, the Senators now have just six selections in 2021, including none in rounds 4 and 5, but have ELEVEN picks in 2022, with five in the first three rounds. Ottawa made 10 selections in 2020. Dorion said that if his team is in contention next year and needs a player at the deadline, he could move one or more of those draft assets.
Smith was sorry to see Reilly go. He worked well with the younger defencemen and got a huge opportunity to play this season -- putting up 19 points in 40 games while playing close to 19 minutes per game on average. There was consideration made to extending Reilly on a short term deal but when a contract couldn’t get done prior to the deadline, Dorion opted for the third-round pick. Dorion also noted the number of drafted D prospects the team has to accommodate, from Jake Sanderson to Lassi Thomson, along with JBD and Brannstrom.
No doubt, the Senators will miss the veteran dressing room influence of Coburn and Gudbranson, two physical defencemen whose off-ice training and leadership were great examples for Ottawa’s younger players.
Dorion said he has met “no better pro than Braydon Coburn.” And calling Gudbranson to tell him he was being dealt was difficult, Dorion said. Yet, he is pleased both players get a chance to be in the playoffs.
Just last week, Gudbranson, 29, became a father for the first time, and he was thrilled he got that opportunity in his hometown, where his family could be a part of the big moment. All that homespun togetherness was fleeting, it turns out.
Monday morning, speaking to reporters while still uncertain of his status, Gudbranson admitted getting traded at the deadline wouldn’t be great timing, considering he and wife Sarah have a newborn child, Bennett, at home.
If a trade did happen . . . “you just have to be a pro and do what you do,” Gudbranson said.
Spoken like a player who is moving to his sixth NHL organization.
At least he will be reunited in Nashville with another Ottawa-area hockey product in Mark Borowiecki, who grew up in Kanata.
Gudbranson knew when he arrived home last fall in a trade from Anaheim, there would be a time when the torch was passed and the kids got more playing time. And here we are.
Dorion believes his young prospects have earned it.
“I think all our young players exceeded expectations,” Dorion said. “I think all of them took a huge step in their development -- in their output as far as production, and their play. They’re not perfect. All young players make mistakes. But they never quit. They play hard. They are learning what the NHL grind is all about. Especially in a 56-game schedule.”