In the context of the wider world of NHL hockey, plans seem to be gearing up for a return to play for the 2020-21 NHL regular season. Currently, the plan being discussed is that a 56-game season is scheduled to start on January 13.
As a way to mediate restrictions on crossing the border between Canada and the United States, the NHL has announced that it plans to create an all-Canadian division. If all goes well during the final discussions, more details about the season’s schedule could be completed as early as next week.
In this edition of Ottawa Senators News & Rumors, I’ll talk about Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk’s optimism that a 2020-21 NHL season is about to start. I’ll also share a variety of news stories about young Senators’ players who are either playing well where they are or who wanted to step up in ways that contributed to the team.
Item One: Senators’ Owner Eugene Melnyk Believes a 2020-21 NHL Season Is Set to Begin
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is letting everyone know that at least he is “cautiously optimistic” that the 2020-21 NHL regular season will happen. During a conference call between the NHL’s board of governors, Melnyk reported that he understood “there’s still some issues that have to be resolved that aren’t.”
But Melnyk added, “I see that light at the end of the tunnel. We’re gearing up to get ready for it.” (from “Senators owner Melnyk ‘cautiously optimistic’ there will be a 2020-21 season, Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun, 10/12/20).
Item Two: Senators Prospect Jake Sanderson Heading Up Team USA’s Defense
Senators’ left-shot defenseman Jake Sanderson has been partnering with Drew Helleson over the first few days of practice at Team USA’s World Juniors’ selection camp. Sanderson was chosen during the first round (fifth overall) of this year’s 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
In three games playing with his NCHC’s University of North Dakota prior to heading to Team USA’s Plymouth, Michigan, camp, Sanderson scored a goal and two assists. Helleson was a second-round choice (47th overall) of the Colorado Avalanche during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Item Three: Senators Hire Three New Business Executives
Although this is not team hockey news per se, I included it because it suggests that the Senators (at least) are gearing up for 2020-21 regular season play. This week, the organization announced that it had hired three executives whose responsibilities will be the business side of operations. Specifically, Tom Hoof will be vice president of marketing; Jeff Morander will be executive vice president of ticket sales and service; and, Gregg Olson will be the chief financial officer.
In another organizational change, president of business operations Anthony LeBlanc has signed a contract extension and will also become the alternate governor.
Melnyk announced, “I am excited to be adding three very experienced sports executives to our front office team along with having Anthony in place to lead our business operations for the long-term. We had a very productive off-season building our club on the ice. At the same time, we strengthened our management team to ensure our plans for success off the ice, and in our community are realized.”
Item Four: Shane Pinto Was Awarded as the NCHC Forward of the Week
In an announcement from NCHC Hockey, Shane Pinto was named the NCHC Forward of last week. Pinto scored two goals and added three assists during the first three games of his sophomore season at North Dakota (the same team Sanderson plays for).
Last season Pinto had a successful freshman season at UND. He was honored with the league’s award as the 2019-20 NCHC Rookie of the Year. During his first season, he scored 16 goals and 12 assists (for 28 points) in 33 games. Pinto, a 20-year-old center, was chosen during the second round (32nd overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft by the Senators.
Item Five: Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot Wanted to Help the Belleville Senators Last Season
Obviously, the young Senators players want to play hockey, regardless of where it might be. In an interesting piece of news, two young Senators’ stars – Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot – actually asked the organization if they could play for Belleville during the AHL playoffs last season. It never happened because, in part, the pandemic ended the AHL’s season on March 11; however, both wanted to get in some playoff experience.
It turned out that Chabot would not have been eligible because he had already played in 205 NHL games. However, Tkachuk could have suited up if the Senators had decided it would be OK if he were sent to Bellleville. But that would not have happened because, as the Senators noted this week, the organization would not have given Tkachuk the chance.
However, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion was clear that “Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk both asked if they could be part of the Belleville, which no one knows about, and that just shows how much they’re invested in the organization.”
During an interview a week ago, Dorion admitted that the organization “didn’t think we should just parachute people in, either. Both guys wanted to play for Belleville at the end of the year. It just tells what kind of younger, character people we have up here and what could have been with Belleville.” (from A couple of Ottawa Senators were quite willing to give the club’s AHL affiliate in Belleville a hand, Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun, 07/12/20).
Item Six: NHL Names Erik Brannstrom as the Senators’ Second Ranked Prospect
Last week, NHL.com named Erik Brannstrom as Ottawa’s second-ranked prospect. In no surprise, young German prospect Tim Stuetzle who was the Senators’ first-round 2020-draft choice was named the organization’s top-ranking prospect.
Brannstrom was part of the trade that sent Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights. Although Brannstrom suffered a season-ending injured wrist during the 2019-20 season, he’s now fully recovered. His hope, and I suspect the hope of the team, is that Brannstrom jumps right into the Senators’ line-up. The 21-year-old Brannstrom is a defenseman with plenty of offensive upside, but the jury remains out on where he might play this coming season.
Although he hasn’t racked up a lot of experience, his Belleville head coach Troy Mann believes “He’s close (to NHL-ready), but in my opinion, I think he needs to stay healthy and that he needs another chunk of games in the AHL.”
In Mann’s opinion, “There’s nothing wrong with that (more AHL playing time) because he’s a young player and plays a tough position on defense.”
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