Ottawa Senators’ Prospect Report: World Juniors Recap
It can’t be very common for an NHL team to have a prospect finish in each place in the top four at the World Junior Championship, but that’s exactly what the Ottawa Senators had in 2023. They had a prospect on the team that finished first, second, third, and fourth at the tournament. Although the Senators’ prospects didn’t catch many headlines, they were big parts of their team’s success and certainly gave the fans much to talk about.
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In this month’s edition of the Senators’ Prospect Report, we’ll take a look at how each player fared at the World Juniors and what to expect heading into the new year, as well as a few top performers at home who are on pace to have a big year in 2023.
Zach Ostapchuk started on Canada’s fourth line, but thanks to his hard work and leadership, he was rewarded with more ice time and bigger roles as the tournament progressed. While the points didn’t come — he had just two goals and three points in seven games — he seemed to always be in the right place at the right time, creating opportunities with his speed and tenacity. His overall upside is still limited, but if his second World Junior appearance is any indicator of his future, he’ll be an incredibly effective role player with the Senators.
The Senators weren’t the only ones keeping an eye on Ostapchuk’s performance. Not a week after he returned to the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Vancouver Giants, he was dealt in a blockbuster trade to the Winnipeg ICE for two prospects, three first-round picks, and three other pieces. The team already has a stacked roster featuring 2022 first-round picks Matthew Savoie, Connor Geekie, and 2023 top prospect Zach Benson, but they seem intent on making a deep playoff run, acquiring fellow Senators’ prospect Carson Latimer a week earlier, who had 28 points in 31 games with the Prince Albert Raiders this season.
The only question that remains is where Ostapchuk will play when he gets to Winnipeg. Right now, the ICE’s top six consist of Benson, Savoie, and Ty Nash on the first line while Geekie, Latimer, and Owen Pederson man the second unit. After having paid so much for their newest member, it’s practically guaranteed he finds a place somewhere in that group, which means someone has to come out. The only real candidate is Nash, who has the lowest point total of the group at 28 points in 33 games, but the veteran has shown decent chemistry with Winnipeg’s top unit.
Related: Zack Ostapchuk Is Canada’s Unofficial Leader
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Could Ostapchuk find himself as the first-line winger on a team hoping to make a long playoff run? Or will he take a depth position as he did for Canada and give them a better chance of winning? Alongside Benson and Savoie, he would likely become a gritty net-front presence and give the first line some serious bite; otherwise, he’d have a similar impact to what he had at the World Juniors — low offense, but highly effective. Either way, the ICE will be much tougher to play against with him on the team.
Czechia came unbelievably close to securing their first gold medal at the World Juniors since 2001, and much of that was thanks to their incredibly deep defense that stepped up and provided support from all ends of the ice. However, Tomas Hamara was not one of them. It’s not as though he played poorly; he was still a key member for the silver-medalists, chipping in an assist and finishing with a plus-7 in his seven appearances while playing a primarily defensive role. But he was never able to assert himself as a top-four option and was thus given limited opportunities despite his experience in the tournament last year.
Here’s Scott Wheeler’s more in-depth analysis of his tournament:
There were times when his head was always up and he was moving it quickly and efficiently. There were others, particularly under pressure, when the pace of good forechecks looked to be a little too much for him. Took some bad penalties. Just seemed a little unsure of himself a little too often. That was enough to not play a ton, given how well the rest of the Czech D played.
‘2023 World Juniors notebook: Scott Wheeler’s thoughts on more than 100 NHL prospects,’ The Athletic – 06/01/2023
Hamara is now back with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Kitchener Rangers, who currently sit fifth from last place. However, that’s still just one spot out of the playoffs and it appears that the team wants to go all in; last week, the Rangers traded for Danny Zhilkin, a third-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, from the Guelph Storm for six draft picks and a prospect. Back in a familiar role, Hamara will have a great opportunity to help the team snap their six-game losing streak and help the team make a push for the playoffs.
Tyler Boucher was one of my honorable mentions in my 2023 World Junior Championship Players to Watch article simply because of his ability to impact the momentum of the game in a variety of ways, and that’s just what he did with the Americans. He made his mark on the tournament with several highlight-reel hits, but also finished tied for sixth in scoring with three goals, showing some great net-front awareness and soft skills that fans don’t often get to see in the OHL.
But, of course, things can’t go too well for the Senators’ 2021 10th-overall pick. In the semifinal game against Canada, Boucher dislocated his shoulder, and while the team was hopeful he would return, he was ruled unable to play for the rest of the tournament, meaning he had to be replaced for the bronze medal against Sweden. It was a tragic end to the 19-year-old’s tournament, but he still was able to celebrate with his teammates after a bronze medal win. It’s unclear when he will return to the Ottawa 67’s, but when he does, he’ll make the top team in the OHL even deadlier.
The majority of the Swedes had a frustrating tournament, finishing fourth despite showing an improved offense compared to last year’s team. Oskar Pettersson was one of the few bright spots, scoring two goals and four points in seven games to finish sixth in team scoring despite playing primarily on the fourth line with Milton Oscarsson and Simon Robertsson. He was regularly blocking shots, dishing out hits, and winning puck battles, but with his limited ice time, fans weren’t able to see him impact the game around him all that much. That is, not until the bronze medal game against the United States, where he scored a crucial goal to bring the Swedes within one and back into the game.
Pettersson has yet to return to Rögle BK of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), where he has a goal and an assist over 12 games so far this season, but will likely return to the main club rather than the J20 team, where he started the season. He’s proven that he’s too good for the junior league, as he was playing upwards of 11 minutes a game in the SHL, a great start for the teenager. He’s also eligible to return to the World Juniors next year, where he’ll likely compete for a top-six spot.
5 Prospects to Watch
The World Juniors dominated headlines this month, but a few other prospects made some notable accomplishments. Here are the five best performances from December:
- Ridly Greig closed out 2022 with a bang, scoring four goals in two games with the Belleville Senators. He’s primed to break out in 2023 and definitely worth keeping an eye on for a late-season call-up.
- Maxence Guenette has been the B-Sens’ hottest defender, scoring nine points in 13 games in December, but he still hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 25. That should change, however, as he put up 28 shots last month.
- Chandler Romeo was among those traded this week, joining the OHL’s Guelph Storm after putting up five points in 24 games for the Sarnia Sting. However, three of those points came in his last 10 games, including his first goal this season. Although not an offensive catalyst, he may be heating up as the Storm push for the playoffs.
- Tyson Dyck was out most of the month, but he came back with a vengeance on Dec. 28, putting up a pair of assists on his return to the University of Massachusetts. Before leaving the lineup, he had been promoted to the second line, so the team seems to be ready to give him a bigger role in 2023.
- Jonny Tychonick continues to have a banner season at the University of Omaha-Nebraska. His December wasn’t as good as the month prior, but he still put up six points in six games, four of which came in the last two matches.
That’s it for another edition of the Senators’ Prospect Report. January will surely prove to be an exciting month as many players are returning with newfound energy and drive to push their teams to the playoffs. Stay tuned!
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.