The Ottawa Senators, currently in the later stages of their rebuild, must now trust the talented players they have drafted over the following years, in what fans hope is the creation of a Stanley Cup Champion in the near future. With Tim Stutzle (2020 3rd overall) and Brady Tkachuk (2018 4th overall) being the main jersey sellers and attention grabbers for Sens fans, the success of this rebuild will come down to the crucial pieces currently playing for NCAA’s North Dakota Fighting Hawks. With cup aspirations in the coming years, the UND kids are the future and are the keys to a potential dynasty.
Jacob Bernard-Docker, RD (2018 26th overall)
With the drama surrounding the 4th overall pick and whether Ottawa should select or defer the pick, a significant trade for the Senators’ future occurred just a few months earlier. The Senators sent Derrick Brassard to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-team trade, receiving both Filip Gustavsson and a 2018 1st round pick (22nd overall), along with a few other smaller pieces. Ottawa would end up trading down this pick with the Rangers, grabbing the 26th overall pick and a 2nd round pick, eventually selecting Jacob Bernard-Docker, the smooth skating, offensive threat from UND.
Bernard-Docker currently has 8 PTS (1 G, 7 A) in 18 games with the Fighting Hawks this season, including a +14 differential. He totaled 25 PTS in 32 games with a +21 differential during the 19-20 season, and 17 PTS in 36 GP during the 18-19 season, asserting himself as an offensive presence in NCAA hockey. Bernard-Docker made the Team Canada 2020 WJC roster, only totaling 1 goal in the 7-game tournament, struggling like other Canadian defensemen such as Jamie Drysdale and Bowen Byram.
Bernard-Docker is known and praised for his skating abilities and offensive upside, being able to make efficient passes to well-positioned teammates. He creates on the UND power play unit, always having a scoring presence by positioning himself in spots to unleash his great wrist shot, efficiently getting it through lanes for either a deflection, rebound, or goal. What Sens fans can be excited about is his chemistry with Shane Pinto, finding him many times over the course of the 19-20 season for goals in front of the net. Bernard-Docker is also extremely confident up the walls, often taking the puck down low and around the net, swiveling his head for teammates in the slot area.
Jake Sanderson, LD (2020 5th overall)
With the potential of selecting twice in the top 5 looming over the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, Senators fans were hoping to acquire multiple top end offensive talents in the Top 3. Despite the lottery dropping their own pick from 2nd to 5th, Jake Sanderson is absolutely an amazing consolation prize, and perhaps a blessing in disguise.
Sanderson, known for his defensive abilities, has totalled 6 PTS in a short 11 game season for UND this year, missing time to represent USA at the 2021 World Juniors. At that tournament, Sanderson picked up 2 assists on route to a gold medal, being one of the best defensive players of the tournament, picking up minutes in clutch, shut down scenarios. Sanderson was the most trusted defensemen on the roster, shutting down the Team Canada offense in the championship game, using his physicality, defensive awareness and defensive positioning. In the prior years, Sanderson played for the United States development programs, tallying 24 PTS in 44 GP for the U17 team, and 29 PTS in 47 GP for the U18 team. What is interesting to note about Sanderson is that he has only had 32 penalty minutes in his past 102 regular season games, a great sign for a young Ottawa team struggling with both discipline and PK issues.
Sanderson is praised for being an excellent penalty killer and stay at home defensemen, close to his ceiling as a hockey player. He pinches well in the offensive zone, similarly to how Marc Methot pinched for the Senators, calculating when it is appropriate and when he can create chances for his teammates. Sanderson is a physical and creative player, able to outlet the puck well and create offensive rushes during a breakout.
Tyler Kleven, LD (2020 44th overall)
Although not receiving as much attention as Sanderson, Stutzle or Greig, the Senators traded up to 44th overall with the Toronto Maple Leafs to select Tyler Kelven. Standing at 6 foot 4 and weighing just shy of 200 pounds, Kleven is your textbook shut-down defensemen who plays with an edge and with a notable physicality.
Kleven has totalled 4 PTS through 11 games so far for North Dakota, whilst also representing the United States at the 2021 World Junior Tournament, winning a gold medal alongside Sanderson. Kleven is a poised, confident and patient defenseman, always ready to relay pucks to open ice, whether it be through his skating or his passing abilities. A notable component to his defensive game is his ability to angle skaters to the boards and away from the slot, using his body and long reach to get into lanes and force players outside, similarly to Zdeno Chara. Although not praised for his stickhandling, Kleven is efficient in moving the puck up the ice and is more than capable of skating it to center ice and away from his net. Unfortunately for Senators fans, Kleven has amassed 84 penalty minutes in his last 56 games, a potential issue that may need to be addressed to have success at the NHL level. Despite this, Kleven has the defensive abilities and mindset at a young age, with skills that should be able to translate to an NHL level.
Shane Pinto, C (2019 32nd overall)
With some of the younger prospects like Norris and Batherson cracking the NHL lineup, Shane Pinto may just be the most exciting non-NHL prospect the Senators have right now. Considered a reach at the time, Pinto has quickly turned into an exciting player to watch, especially considering how he can easily step into a depth center role for Ottawa in the future.
Pinto currently has plotted 11 goals (4th in NCAA), 12 assists and 23 points (4th in NCAA) this season, putting up comparable numbers to Cole Caufield (MTL) and Brandon Kruse (VGK), two highly rated prospects. As it stands, Pinto is on pace to break 40 points and 20 goals on the season. He has 5 of his 11 goals on the power-play, often finding deflections off Bernard-Docker point shots, and 3 of his 11 goals are game-winners. In the prior season, he tallied 28 PTS in 33 GP, while playing 5 games at the 2020 World Juniors for USA, finishing with an impressive 7 points and most notably 2 goals against Canada on Boxing Day.
Pinto is a very opportunistic player; typically creating room in front of the net for a potential deflection or dirty goal. His chemistry with Bernard-Docker is notable; plenty of Pinto’s goals this season have come from Bernard-Docker shots or passes. Pinto is arguably the best in the NCAA at faceoffs, with a 61.1%-win rate last season, and on pace to smash that percentage this season. In December of this season, Pinto incredibly went 18 for 18 on draws in a game against Denver. He also has 9 multi-point games this season, while being at the top of almost every offensive category for the league. Pinto is amazing at creating scoring opportunities, and it would be nice to see him confidently create more chances in other places on the ice, whilst maintaining his ability to create chances in front of the net.
The makings of an incredible team are here, and these 4 players are massive pieces for the Ottawa Senators and their upcoming success. With already the likes of Chabot, Brannstrom, Wolanin, Thompson and Zub in the system for the upcoming years, Sanderson, Kleven and Bernard-Docker will be extremely motivated to push for spots. In addition, Ottawa currently sits towards the bottom of the standings, with an upcoming draft full of defensive prospects such as Clarke, Lambos, Power and Hughes, that could enter the system as well. Pinto could also push for center minutes; Norris and White should have spots going forward, and a successful transition for Pinto could put him on the second line, paired with skilled players like Stutzle or Batherson. Regardless of where these UND players will slot in the lineup, they will all drive the competition for spots up when their time comes, and their individual talents will make the Ottawa Senators an incredible fun team to watch, with a very promising future.