Top 5 Senators prospects: Jake Sanderson leads talented cast as WJC nears

Senators prospect Jake Sanderson. (Rena Laverty / via USA Hockey)

The Ottawa Senators have largely built their roster through the draft and with prospects acquired via trade.

And while the young core, led by Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson and Tim Stützle is now fully entrenched on the team’s NHL roster, there remains an interesting mix of prospects in the system.

Assuming the World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer is able to go off as scheduled, Senators fans will be tuning in to see several of Ottawa’s top prospects on display in the tournament, representing Canada, the United States and Finland.

Understanding that prospect rankings are nearly as fluid as hockey scheduling in a pandemic, here is an arbitrary list of the Senators top five prospects, with comments from Senators development coach Shean Donovan.

For the purposes of this list, we didn’t include players who are already NHL ready or close to it with multiple games of experience. Namely, Erik Brannstrom, Jacob-Bernard Docker and Lassi Thomson, who have all played for Ottawa this season.

Jake Sanderson, 19, University of North Dakota (NCAA)

GP: 15 │ G: 6 │ A: 13 │ PTS: 19 │ PIM: 4

Position: Defence
2022 WJC: USA

Before playing a single NHL game, Jake Sanderson is already a source of hype in Ottawa. The upcoming world junior tournament should be a showcase for Sanderson’s all-around game and steady presence on the blueline as he captains Team USA.

Donovan: “Jake is ready for pro hockey and he’s doing his thing. He wants to be a player so badly there is no stone unturned for him on anything, to be better. He went back (to UND) with a purpose. He didn’t go back and say, ‘oh, it will be fun to stay in North Dakota.’ He went back with the purpose of getting better.

“I love that his game is based on defence-first, not offence-first. He plays like the Big D that you need now – he’s a big body, he’s 6-2, he skates and he logs big minutes. He’s one of those D that every team needs if they want to be good.”

While he may not be “offence-first” in his thinking, Sanderson has turned some heads with his offensive game this fall. Though he has missed four of the Fighting Hawks' games with injury or illness, Sanderson has been a dominant player in the NCAA when he’s been in the lineup. If he can stay healthy he will be an early favourite to win the Hobey Baker Award.

Ridly Greig, 19, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

GP: 19 │ G: 14 │ A: 14 │ PTS: 28 │ PIM: 46

Position: Centre
2022 WJC: CAN

After a modest start, Greig has been on a tear with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, proving what we already knew. Brandon’s captain needs to be playing in a higher league. He did play seven AHL games with Belleville last season and B-Sens head coach Troy Mann said he would have loved to have him this season as well.

Donovan: “Ridly is like a Mike Peca type, smaller guy but he just plays so hard. Obviously, he also has the skill. Coaches love him. Troy Mann wishes he (Greig) would have got the 20 games or whatever it was he needed to get the exemption to play in the American League this year.”

To say Greig plays with an edge would be an understatement. He has been suspended twice this year – including a two-gamer (one pre-season game, one regular-season game) during the NHL pre-season for a cross-check on Winnipeg’s Pierre-Luc Dubois. He then earned a two-game suspension for an interference major and game misconduct while with Brandon in late November. Clearly, Greig has to learn not to cross the line while playing on the edge of it.

Greig will be all-in at the WJC for Canada, after missing last season’s tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test during the pre-tournament camp.

Egor Sokolov, 21, Belleville Senators (AHL)

GP: 18 │ G: 4 │ A: 10 │ PTS: 14 │ PIM: 6

Position: Winger

His many fans in Ottawa were pulling for the big, personable Russian to make the Senators out of training camp. He needed another year in the AHL, and though the goal-scoring touch isn’t as evident this year as last (15 goals in 35 games in 2020-21), that is largely because the B-Sens aren’t as strong offensively this season and have had a lot of disruptions due to emergency call-ups, especially on their defence. In time, Sokolov will get a chance to be a top-six right winger for Ottawa. Sokolov has no points in four games with the big club this year.

Donovan: “Goals tend to come in bunches and I don’t think Belleville is super-skilled, either, as a group. But Soko is nearly at a point a game, he’s working on his game and hasn’t gone off the gas. He’s come a long way as a player and that’s what everyone is excited about. He was a bigger guy before the draft and is slim and fit, now. He’s counted on a lot there, which is good for a young guy.”

Mads Sogaard, 21, Belleville Senators (AHL)

Record: 6-5-0 │ GAA: 2.59 │ SV%: .915

Position: Goalie

After a couple of rough starts early in the season, Sogaard has rebounded to be a pillar of strength for the B-Sens. At 6-7, Sogaard is known for his size but is getting to be just as well known for his positioning and mobility for a big man.

Donovan: “He’s obviously a huge kid, and a really nice kid. He’s the type of kid who’s picking up pucks after practice. He moves so well that you think sometimes he’s not that big. That’s a pretty impressive unit, right there.”

Roby Jarventie, 19, Belleville Senators (AHL)

GP: 21 │ G: 3 │ A: 6 │ PTS: 9 │ PIM: 8

Position: Winger
2022 WJC: FIN

Somewhat typical of European-based prospects who don’t play any junior hockey in North America, Jarventie has had a steep learning curve in the AHL. But as a big kid (6-3) with a lot of skill, the Senators will give Jarventie every chance to show he was a solid choice at 33rd overall in the 2020 draft.

Donovan: “We felt Belleville was a good choice for Roby because we trust Troy (Mann) so much. There are coaches who wouldn’t want that task – but Troy’s group is dealing with a young kid, a late-year birthday (Aug. 8). So, he’s adjusting but he has some top-six NHL skill. It’s just the consistency of playing with it every night. And just dealing with being a pro here in North America.”


Along with Jake Sanderson, Ridly Greig and Roby Jarventie, cited above, the Senators will have two other prospects to focus on at the junior worlds. Goaltender Leevi Merilainen and defenceman Tyler Kleven.

Leevi Merilainen, 19, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Record: 14-4-3 │ GAA: 3.19 │ SV%: .897

Position: Goalie
2022 WJC: FIN

Though he was on Finland’s roster last year, Merilainen didn’t see any action in the 2021 WJC. That should change this year, and the Senators organization is certainly hoping that Merilainen is Finland’s starter in the junior tournament. Merilainen is quick and positionally sound. He has also improved down the stretch with Kingston. On Dec. 7, he was named the OHL goalie of the week after stopping 48 of 49 shots combined in two games vs Oshawa and Ottawa.

Donovan: “I like Merilainen. He’s athletic, he’s catching the puck really well. It was an adjustment at the start because there are so many breakdowns in junior. But I’ve watched him play a bunch, he makes some really big saves and he’s a good goalie – a big, tall (6-3) kid like all of them are now. He’s not as big as Sogaard but he’s got a chance for sure.”

Tyler Kleven, 19, University of North Dakota (NCAA)

GP: 19 │ G: 4 │ A: 2 │ PTS: 6 │ PIM: 58

Position: Defence
2022 WJC: USA

Kleven joins Sanderson, Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker in the long line of Senators’ UND prospects. And he represents a unique package as a very large, intense defender. Already 6-4 and 200 pounds while still a teenager, Kleven brings the demeanour of a Zdeno Chara to the rink. He could turn out to be a steal for Ottawa at 44th overall in the second round of the 2020 draft.

Donovan: “Kleven is a hidden gem, to be honest. He’s a big, heavy kid who is mean, and he is going to mean (as a pro). So, for me, he’s up there in that top group of prospects.”

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