Senators season preview: Look to accelerate rebuild with Murray, Stepan

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The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Ottawa Senators, who will play in the North Divison.

 

Coach: D.J. Smith (second season)

Last season: 25-34-12, .437 points percentage; 15th place in Eastern Conference

 

3 KEYS

1. Murray looks to regain form

Matt Murray will be the Senators’ No. 1 goalie this season, according to general manager Pierre Dorion. The 26-year-old helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup twice (2016, 2017) but struggled last season (20-11-5, 2.87 goals-against average, .899 save percentage, one shutout in 38 starts). Ottawa displayed confidence in Murray by signing him to a four-year contract Oct. 9, two days after he was acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh.

 

2. Special teams must improve

The Senators had the worst power play in the NHL last season (14.2 percent) and tied for 28th on the penalty kill (76.1 percent). Their man-advantage unit should receive a boost with the additions of forwards Evgenii Dadonov (11 power-play goals for the Florida Panthers last season), Alex Galchenyuk (106 power-play points in 549 NHL games) and Derek Stepan, acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 26 (124 power-play points in 739 NHL games). Defenseman Erik Gudbranson, acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 8, is expected to bring grit to the penalty kill.

 

3. Chabot, Tkachuk continue to evolve

Defenseman Thomas Chabot, 23, and forward Brady Tkachuk, 21, are the young cornerstones in Ottawa. Chabot scored 39 points (six goals, 33 assists) last season and led the NHL with an average of 26:00 of ice time per game. Tkachuk led the Senators with 44 points (21 goals, 23 assists) and should be able to produce more playing alongside Dadonov and Galchenyuk at even strength and/or the power play.

Video: 31 in 31: Ottawa Senators 2020-21 season preview

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

Chabot, Gudbranson, Nikita Zaitsev, Christian Wolanin and Braydon Coburn are expected to be the top-five defensemen, leaving Erik Brannstrom, Josh Brown, Artem Zub and Christian Jaros to battle for the one remaining spot. 

The Senators have a glut at center with Cedric Paquette, acquired with Coburn in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, and Stepan, joining Colin White, Chris Tierney, Logan Brown, Artem Anisimov and Josh Norris. Expect at least one or two to shift to the wing.
 

Marcus Hogberg will likely be the No. 2 goalie; Anders Nilsson sustained a concussion Dec. 16, 2019, and was traded to the Lightning on Sunday.

 

Most intriguing addition

The Senators selected forward Tim Stuetzle with the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and will give the 18-year-old every opportunity to make the team. He scored 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 41 games last season for Mannheim of the DEL, the top professional league in Germany. How Stuetzle adapts to the smaller rinks and physical nature of the NHL will be fascinating to watch; he’s receiving a taste of the more compressed North American-sized ice surface playing for Germany at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, which began at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Dec. 25 and is scheduled to run through Jan. 5, 2021. Stuetzle signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Ottawa on Sunday.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Galchenyuk scored 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 59 games with the Penguins and Minnesota Wild last season, but he’s still relatively young (26) and will be given every opportunity by the Senators to play a prominent offensive role. Galchenyuk scored 30 goals for the Montreal Canadiens in 2015-16 and 19 for the Arizona Coyotes in 2018-19.

Video: MIN@ANA: Galchenyuk nets opportunistic goal in front

 

Ready to break through

Norris scored 61 points (31 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games for Belleville of the American Hockey League and appears poised to take the next step. The 21-year-old center won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as AHL Rookie of the Year and was named an AHL First Team All-Star and a member of the league’s All-Rookie Team.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Norris (undrafted on average in fantasy) was tied for third in AHL scoring last season and could play a top-six role this season with exposure to Tkachuk (58th in NHL.com’s fantasy rankings), Dadonov (155th) and/or Stuetzle (212th). He is worth selecting as a deep sleeper from the Senators. — Rob Reese

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Brady Tkachuk — Colin White — Evgenii Dadonov

Tim Stuetzle — Derek Stepan — Connor Brown

Alex Galchenyuk — Cedric Paquette — Drake Batherson

Chris Tierney — Josh Norris — Austin Watson

Thomas Chabot — Nikita Zaitsev

Christian Wolanin — Erik Gudbranson

Erik Brannstrom — Braydon Coburn

Matt Murray

Marcus Hogberg

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