Keep your eyes on these guys.
Being a ‘person of interest’ isn’t likely a good thing when relating it to the police.
Being the same in this column could be good . . . or it could be bad. Let’s put it this way, and either way, the 10 guys (close to home) listed and detailed below will be worth watching when the season kicks off overseas this coming weekend.
(Next week we’ll have a complete season preview of the Ottawa Senators who open their season Oct. 13th at Buffalo).
Nikita Zaitsev, Ottawa Senators
Add Zaitsev’s face to Ottawa’s Mount Rushmore of whipping boys, joining Cody Ceci and Jared Cowen (and yes, there are others). He is one former Maple Leaf Senator fans wish would have not relocated from central Ontario.
Zaitsev has not one, but two years left on his $4.5 US million deal. Adding to the frown lines is a 10-team no-trade list. Mind you if I’m Zaitsev at this point, I’d take the first plane I could hop on out of town . . . bags packed or not.
Jake Sanderson, Ottawa Senators
Thirty years ago, Geoff Sanderson was helping my cause to capture a hockey pool. Somehow after 46 goals and 89 points from Sanderson I finished mid-pack. I still contend Tony Ambrogio cheated (digression alert) . . . but we’ll leave that for another day.
Son Jake has not looked out of place pre-season in Ottawa. You can’t teach brainwaves and Jake clearly has a head for hockey.
Claude Giroux, Ottawa Senators
Word is the veteran gets plenty grumpy at young players who don’t perform or execute.
Well people, it’s about time.
Ottawa needs accountability at this point, especially in light of what management has provided this off-season. Giroux’s leadership will be counted on.
D.J. Smith, Ottawa Senators
We wouldn’t say the clock is ticking on D.J., but the head coach might want to get off to a solid start this year given all the fan fanaticism and hoopla surrounding a team that has had nary a sniff of the post-season in years.
He signed an extension in the summer or 2021 (runs through the 2023-24 season with the team option for 2024-25).
Given that D.J.’s been handed a bolstered army – like Uhtred of Bebbanburg to fight the Danes in Last Kingdom (digression alert No. 2) – a slow entry could signal a quick axe.
Pierre Dorion, Ottawa Senators
Lucky Pierre’s riding this past summer’s wins to great celebrity here in Eastern Ontario.
However, however, and however.
What do we make of the Alex Formenton situation, a non-talk non-entity for months? This truly could be out of Dorion’s hands.
As well, Ottawa’s defence is better with Jake Sanderson, but it remains a thin group given the lack of significant development from former first-rounders Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson.
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs
Very interesting situation here.
Murray’s been very good during Toronto’s pre-season. The taxing regular schedule awaits.
If healthy, does the two-time Stanley Cup champion regain form and unmask the Ottawa defence for what it was (Godawful)? Or is this simply GM Kyle Dubas grabbing for the wishbone at Thanksgiving?
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
At 26 now, is Nylander ready for another jump?
Nylander was very good for the Buds last season, posting a career-high 80 points and 34 goals. The knock – justified or not – on the Swedish forward has been his lack of drive. Nylander’s known for dipsy-doodle but not getting his nose dirty.
This pre-season’s revealed an added measure of drive. Toronto’s counting on that becoming a regular schedule go-to.
Juraj Slafkovsky, Montreal Canadiens
The Habs stumbled oh so badly a few years ago during a certain first round (see: Brady Tkachuk; see: Not picked) and they can’t afford another enormous fumble.
Slafkovsky has a complete tool kit but needs to get acclimated to the North American ice. Check back on this one in a couple of seasons.
Kirby Dach, Montreal Canadiens
Chicago’s perennial all-star Patrick Kane was perplexed as to why the Hawks traded Dach to Montreal.
Add Ottawa’s newcomer Alex DeBrincat, also a former Blackhawk, to that list: “He’s a big body that’s not afraid to use it, and he’s got so much skill that he can really create offence.”
At 21, Dach’s better days are ahead. He signed a four-year deal with Montreal last month.
Martin St. Louis, Montreal Canadiens
The long rebuild begins, and with an untested head coach patrolling the bench.
St. Louis instills optimism and pairs it with realism – “(Montreal) needs guys who are willing to plant trees, knowing that they will never sit in the shade.”
Full disclosure – heard this quote last year on Netflix’s After Life which goes to prove St. Louis also has good taste in TV.