Ottawa Senators: Positional Battles to Follow at Training Camp

Feb 15, 2022; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators center Mark Kastelic (47) skates during warmup prior to game against the St. Louis Blues at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2022; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators center Mark Kastelic (47) skates during warmup prior to game against the St. Louis Blues at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports /
Mark Kastelic (47) Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Kastelic (47) Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports /

The Senators’ roster is pretty much set in stone, however, there are a couple of intriguing battles to follow

Thanks to tremendous offseason additions by Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion, this upcoming training camp shouldn’t feature many marquee battles for roster spots. However, there are a few intriguing competitions for roster spots that should be interesting to monitor over the next few weeks.

4th Line Center: Mark Kastelic vs Dylan Gambrell vs Derick Brassard

With the Senators signing veteran forward Derick Brassard to a PTO, they now seem to have a three-horse race in the makings for the center position on the fourth line. Despite Gambrell and Brassard having the advantage in experience, Kastelic brings a different element that the other two don’t provide, and has more room to grow while in the position.

As of today, the upper hand seemingly goes to Gambrell, as the 26-year-old pivot appeared in 63 games with the Senators last season, with most of those games on the bottom line. Gambrell is never going to wow you with his production, scoring 4 goals and 7 points in 63 games last season, however, his defensive responsibility and “low risk” style of play have him in the good graces of head coach D.J. Smith. Signed to a one-year, $950,000 contract in the offseason, there’s no situation where Gambrell isn’t on the roster on opening day but he may not be in the lineup on October 13th against the Buffalo Sabres.

Mark Kastelic made the most of his opportunity with the big club last season, obviously making an impression on the Senators coaching staff with his toughness and powerful two-way game. The 23-year-old appeared in 16 games last season, adding 2 goals and 4 points, most of which were spent on the fourth line. Kastelic uses his large 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame to overpower opponents and thrive in tight area battles. He was also able to show an ability to win face-offs, winning an impressive 58.3% of them as a rookie. Of course, nobody can forget Kastelic’s first NHL goal and fight on the same play, that endeared him to countless Senators fans:

Lastly, former Senator and 15-year NHL veteran Derick Brassard comes back to the organization to try and fight his way into a depth role with the team. The 34-year-old forward appeared in 46 games split between the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers, registering 8 goals and 19 points in limited roles. It seems like a bit of a longshot for Brassard to make the Senators, the team would likely feel more inclined to give this position to younger players like Gambrell and Kastelic, whose ages don’t pose a problem. With Alex Formenton’s situation still up in the air, Brassard could potentially try and fill that role, however, recent signing Tyler Motte seems like the logical player to fill that role.

Prediction: Gambrell

3rd D-Pairing: Erik Brannstrom vs Nikita Zaitsev vs JBD vs Lassi Thomson

This is likely to be the most polarizing battle in all of camp. The Senators have reportedly been trying their best to move on from Nikita Zaitsev, but with the rapport the veteran defenceman has with D.J. Smith, it would be a surprise to see him out of the lineup.

Zaitsev has struggled for the majority of his time in the nation’s capital, hitting an all-time low last season with his poor decisions and lack of awareness on the ice captivating Senators fans everywhere. If the team starts the season with Zaitsev in the lineup, their defense will once again be unable to survive its putrid right side. This is one of the bigger decisions that D.J. Smith will have to make prior to the start of the season, if he decides to stick with the underwhelming veteran and it doesn’t work out, his job could be on the line.

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Erik Brannstrom is heading into his fourth season as an Ottawa Senator and his role is still not defined, whether due to coaching decisions or lack of production, this season should provide us with an answer to that question. It shouldn’t be a secret at this point that Brannstrom is capable of playing 3rd pairing minutes at the NHL level, his skill flashed more last season and he provides better overall play than the aforementioned Zaitsev. Brannstrom recorded 14 assists in 53 games last season, which was slightly underwhelming, but due to his role at times, there are some tangible reasons for some of his inconsistent play. Some key additions at the forward position should make the Senators a better puck-possession team, allowing Brannstrom to thrive as a puck distributor on the bottom-pairing and on the second power-play unit.

Lassi Thomson #60 (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Lassi Thomson #60 (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson seem to be the wildcards in this battle. Both spent the majority of their time last season with Belleville, but when their number was called in Ottawa they didn’t look out of place. However, thanks to a stellar campaign in Belleville last season and in his brief stint with Ottawa, Thomson likely has the upper hand on the depth chart when camp opens.

The 21-year-old native of Tampere, Finland scored 10 goals and 26 points in just 44 games with the BSens, and in 16 games with the big club, added 5 assists. Thomson has all the skills of a potential top-4 defenceman, possesses great skating, a hard shot, and is competitive in the defensive zone despite being prone to the odd mental lapse.

Bernard-Docker is more of your prototypical stay-at-home defenceman, limiting risks and moving the puck forward is what works best for the young defender. In 58 games with Belleville in 2021-22, Bernard-Docker scored 2 goals and 9 points along with an impressive +11 rating. JBD isn’t overpowering in his play, being just 6-foot tall he relies on his instincts and competitiveness in the defensive zone.

If the Senators don’t move out a defenceman over the next few weeks it’ll be an uphill battle for both Thomson and Bernard-Docker. The team currently has 7 defencemen on one-way contracts and both Brannstrom and Zaitsev will likely get precedent over the inexperienced duo.

Prediction: Brannstrom/Zaitsev