Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Sens Previews: Maxime Lajoie Autographed Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Two more caveats: at this point, the NHL has not even confirmed the division make-ups yet despite the season being set to start a month from now, and several impact players such as 25-to-30-goal scorer Mike Hoffman and 20-goal journeyman forward Anthony Duclair, among others, haven't found a team yet. And quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

That being said, let's start with the one division we're pretty sure is going to happen if only because of the border situation, the Canadian Division, and the Ottawa Senators.

Because Ottawa didn't qualify for the NHL's Return To Play in August, it will be roughly 11 months between stints ont he cie when the team finally hits the frozen surface. On the outs are Duclair, local boy and two-way prodigy Jean-Gabriel Pageau, once-presumed captain Mark Borowiecki, veteran defender Ron Hainsey, long-time strarting goalie Craig Anderson, Masterton Trophy winner Bobby Ryan, and free agents Mikkel Boedker and Jayce Hawryluk, replaced by 28-goal scorer Evgenii Dadonov, former 30-goal promising prospect Alex Galchenyuk, two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray (one of which was deserving of Conn Smythe votes), stay-at-home bruising defenseman Erik Gudbranson, Austin Watson, Josh Brown and Logan Shaw.

Dadonov is an improvement over All-Star Duclair, Murray essentially rolls the clock back five years on prime-years Anderson, and the rest are pretty much lateral moves, which means any true measure of climbing in the standings will have to come from within, i.e. the emergence of hime-grown talent - and there is plenty of talent to do so, in time.

What makes their odds look good:
Thomas Chabot is a true #1 defenseman, and is signed until 2028; he will again share the ice with Nikita Zaitsev until the likes of Erik Brannstrom, Jake Sandersson, and Maxime Lajoie can take up spots on the second pair.

Up-front, Brady Tkachuk is eastablishing himself as a true star, Tim Stuetzle should become a first- or second-line center, and Logan Brown, John Norris and Drake Batherson look like blue-chip prospects who can make an impact quick;y, so much so that Colin White - who signed a lurative deal not too long ago - could find himself on the outside looking in. These players have all domonated in Juniors as well as lower-leve lpro leagues, all that remains to be seen is how much they can improve in getting to their prime to perform in the bext league in the world.

What's fun about a 56-game schedule is that two relatively lon gwin streaks can net you a playoff participation, and momentum can catch quickly when facing the same teams over and over again.

Question marks:

Anders Nilsson would need to be able to play 15 to 20 top-level games behind Murray for the Sens to remain in the mix, not allowing over 3 goals per game and hovering around the .900 save percentage mark like last season. Filip Gustavsson has been keeping in shape in Sweden's Allsvenskan (second division) and may earn a few games between the pipes himself. Chris Tierney has been good as a middle-six pivot but would best be served as a permanent third-liner for this team to contend; Artem Anisimov is trending downwards. On defense, Gudbranson, Mike Reilly and Brown will see some time on a second pairing when they ideally should be fighting for a spot on the third pair instead.

Not this year, but soon!

There are still too many questions marks as the kids have not yet cemented the positions they'll be performing in for the next half-decade (apart from, say, Tkachuk, Dadonov, Chabot and Murray), but as other teams' windows (Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins) start to close and their salary caps start to tighten too drastically, Ottawa will be one of the teams on the rise to take up their spot.

Seventh - and last - in the Canadian Division.

Which brings me to Lajoie, who in my opinion is a couple of years away from cementing his position as a top-four D in the NHL. He's a great skater who is willing and able to improvise - including swift and brisk stops and starts - with his feet, is dependable in his own end and also a very good laymaker with an accurate shot. Despite all of this, he plays relatively conservatively, always to his strengths, seemingly never taking risks.

Here he is wearing the Sens' white (away) uniform on card #351 from Upper Deck's 2018-19 Parkhurst collection:
It's his "Rookie" card, and he signed it in blue sharpie during the 2018-19 season, in which he suited up in 56 games for the Sens, accumuliating 15 points in the process - the exact same numbers he ahd posted with the AHL's Belleville Senators the year before. His progression is steady. He and Wade Redden are the only two Senators defensemen to ever score in their NHL debuts.

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