I think if were going to change the name of the hockey team to a children's book, this would be apt. The Ottawa Senators, on paper, shouldn't dazzle anyone, but someone comes out of the woodwork and all of a sudden, they're right in the thick of every race and everyone is watching this team with a sincere anticipation.
The 2015 season was about the rookie class, which saw Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman light the lamp, while Andrew Hammond put up some numbers that were off-the-charts. No one saw them coming as hard and fast as they did and it made this team very exciting to watch.
There is no question that the expectations are now going to be much higher for this team and someone is going to have to step up to make that huge contribution in the coming year. I think there is a name or two on the list that could be that guy, but let's not forget about that challenge for those who stepped up already, trying to do it again.
The Sens are going to challenge in the East, but it's going to be a hard road this year.
Table last updated on August 14th
Most Intriguing or Breakout Player
The Hamburglar, Andrew Hammond, was the centerpiece of the run that clinched a playoff spot for the Senators in the Eastern Conference, as he went 20-1-2 in 24 appearances to finish the regular season, before losing both starts in the playoffs and giving up the crease to Craig Anderson again.
Hammond is the obvious choice for the intriguing player on this squad, since everyone is going to want to know whether or not he'll be able to do it all again. Anderson is going to have a lot to say about that, until Hammond either flourishes or flops, which is anyone's guess right now.
My projections for the Senators' crease are fairly conservative, at this point in the Summer, and will no doubt be adjusted, as word drops on who is getting how much work in the crease and maybe wait for a quote or two from the coaches.
First Round Picks
In terms of points, straight up, I don't necessarily value anyone on this Ottawa team for the 1st round, but if you were to handicap the value of the defense in this pool, you could argue that Erik Karlsson would be a 1st round pick. Karlsson was a 2nd round pick last season, which sounds about right, especially given the premium on starting goalies in the pool.
Other Pool Worthy Forwards
If everything fell into place, this team could have a very potent top nine forwards, according to these projections. Sophomores Stone & Hoffman have some real upside, as over-aged sophomores, instead of those fresh players, drafted only two Summers ago. Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan should still be able to bring some speed and creativity to the side, while Mika Zibanejad should be getting some more responsibility in the lineup. Another sophomore, Curtis Lazar, who didn't really feature well in 2015 as a rookie, could fly under the radar for a big year. Don't forget about veterans Milan Michalek and Clarke MacArthur, who may have lesser roles, but are just as important.
Other Pool Worthy Defense
Below Karlsson in the blueline depth chart, there is some expectations... some still being met, while some have been missed. Cody Ceci is developing at a very reasonable pace and is due for a big year, while Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch haven't produced to where they have been expected to... yet. Ceci should be a lock for the draft, while Cowen will be on the fringe and it will be interesting to see if anyone will take a flyer on Wiercioch, like some have in the past couple of seasons.
See the Most Intriguing or Breakout Player section. No sense in typing this up twice.
Possible Entries Into the Rookie Race
The Senators don't really have the punch in the rookie department, which they had last season, especially since Lazar played enough games to forego his rookie status in 2016. That's okay though, it might be something that will work in their favour, as the number of sophomores keeps this team at a younger average age, regardless.
Team To Pick From Late?
I think this team will get through the bulk of its pool worthy depth through the bulk of the draft, so there is a good chance that there'll be very little left, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of the rounds. If we're down to the last few rounds, I would probably stray away from the Senators, looking for something a little bit more stable, rather than the filler in the 4th line of the Sens.
Unsigned Players and Salary Cap
The Senators have finished the better part of their paper work in this off-season, taking care of all their necessary restricted free agents in good time. The core of this group had been signed for the coming year already, leaving very little work to be done in the off-season.
Ottawa is still considered to be a budget team, when it comes to the salary cap. Their current projected roster of regular players, to my count is 21 in total, comes in at only $58.9 million, leaving ample room for any other mid-season move, if necessary.