It’s only natural that the Ottawa Senators we talked most about before the season began fell into two camps: New guys on the team and new guys in the league.
What would German Tim Stützle — drafted third overall just a few months ago — look like? Can freshman Josh Norris be a top-six centre already? And how much would trade acquisitions like Matt Murray and Derek Stepan complement the youth movement happening on this team?
While the fresh faces will continue to be a curiosity out of the gate, old favourite (relatively speaking) Thomas Chabot is evolving into a player you can’t take your eyes off.
The longest-tenured Senator — yep, it’s true — has three solid NHL seasons under his belt. Unfortunately, that’s coincided with a period of time in which the Senators have gone 83-125-29. Following their Friday-Saturday split with the Toronto Maple Leafs, there’s already some sense Ottawa’s performance could improve from recent campaigns. And though the bar is already pretty high, the same might be said for Chabot.
How good was that one-timer during the Sens’ 5-3 win on Friday?
— NHL (@NHL) January 16, 2021
Chabot played 27:12 in that contest, roughly six minutes more than any other Senator and about three more than any skater on either side of Ontario’s battle. His advanced stats in the two games versus Toronto were positively silly. He was so undeniable, even the caveman numbers reflected his greatness: Chabot entered this season with a career mark of minus-44 (remember Ottawa’s record the past three years) but emerged from this weekend plus-5.
We’re talking about a first-round pick here who had an all-time World Junior Hockey Championship performance and scored 55 points as an NHL sophomore. Yeah, we knew the dude could play. It just feels like, in Year 4, he could be cracking that top tier of stars; the territory reserved for guys who take home year-end awards.
What a relief it is for Sens fans — who’ve seen so many cornerstone players leave in the time since Chabot joined the squad — to know their stud D-man signed an eight-year extension in September 2019, an entire season before he was eligible to become a restricted free agent. He’s now in the first year of a contract that comes with an $8-million salary cap hit and looks worthy of every penny.
You can’t help but wonder if, come next September, the pre-season talk in Ottawa will be about the Sens handing Chabot the ‘C.’
• Last season, after the Arizona Coyotes acquired him to shoot pucks into nets, Phil Kessel required 24 games to get to four goals. He finished with 14. If he scores on Monday night versus the Vegas Golden Knights, Kessel will notch his fourth of 2021 in Arizona’s third game. The 33-year-old’s pair during Saturday’s 5-3 win over San Jose was certainly a welcomed sight for a club that’s perpetually in need of offence.
• You never want to get too carried away with projections when the season is still just a few days old, but after watching Steven Stamkos bury his second of the year versus the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, I immediately added “not picking Stamkos to win the Rocket Richard Trophy” to my ongoing regrets list.
Maybe I’m just hungry for what would be an awesome story — a two-time Richard winner claiming a third nearly 10 years and numerous devastating injuries after his last goal-scoring title. Doesn’t it feel like Stamkos could do this, though? Of course the Tampa offence is hurt by the loss of Nikita Kucherov, but that might mean more plays at the top of the left circle for Stamkos to hammer home.
• Did Pittsburgh, in earning a 4-3 shootout win over the Washington Capitals, pull off the first must-win of the season on Sunday afternoon? The Penguins — who some believe to have fall-off-a-cliff potential — entered the contest 0-2 in an East Division where getting buried could happen in the blink of an eye.
• From potential scratch to scoring in his season debut, what a roller-coaster ride Keith Yandle had. Leading up to Sunday’s game versus the Blackhawks, there was heavy speculation Yandle’s league-best ironman streak of 866 contests would meet its end by virtue of the 34-year-old being a coaching cross-off. Then, not only does Yandle draw in, he blasts the 100th goal of his career and celebrates like it was the first. Here’s to 867 more, buddy.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 18, 2021
Travis Konecny notched a hat trick during Philadelphia’s Friday night 5-2 drubbing of its Keystone State rivals from Pittsburgh. With three straight 24-goal seasons on his resumé, the 23-year-old might be ready to kick things up a notch. His first tally against the Penguins was the finishing touch on one of the best goals of the year so far.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 16, 2021
• Columbus visits Detroit Monday at Noon as Americans are off work to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
• Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews will share the same ice for the first time since their off-season training fun in Arizona this winter. The Oilers head east for games on Wednesday and Friday in Toronto. (Catch Wednesday’s game on Sportsnet).
• After being waylaid by a COVID-19 outbreak, the Dallas Stars finally start their season on Friday by hosting the Nashville Predators. Last year’s Western Conference champs open with four straight at home.
• The National Women’s Hockey League kicks off its two-week bubble season on Saturday in Lake Placid, New York. The six teams will be vying for the Isobel Cup, which is set to be handed out on Feb. 5.