OTTAWA – In the middle of a bad season like the one the Ottawa Senators are having, there’s always lots of areas to shake a finger at. Specifically, for this team, lots of frustration has been taken out on the coach for their struggles. After a 6-5 overtime win Friday that was thanks to a wonderfully played third in which they scored 3 unanswered goals to tie it, that was still only Ottawa’s fifth win in their last 23 games. But, if there’s one area fans haven’t shied away from in their frustrations with the systematically-formed ways of Guy Boucher, it’s the way he deals with younger players that are working their way onto the roster.
Boucher took a lot of heat from the get go this year in the way he played youngsters like Logan Brown, the 19-year-old 6’6” centre trying to earn his way out of playing junior, and Thomas Chabot, the 20-year-old offensive-defenceman picked 18th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.
In his short time with the Senators, Brown played just 4 games. He had 10-minutes of ice-time in 2 of those contests, but was playing half of those minutes in his other 2 games, and was the healthy scratch of choice for the opening month of the season.
And Chabot, while he’s finally starting to see some real and consistent playing time, had a slow start due to Boucher’s restraints early on as well. He bounced back and forth between Ottawa and Belleville, playing only 5 NHL games before the month of December. But in the team’s last 6 games, his ice time has gone up consistently, and so has his trust from Boucher.
“I think lately, every game you can see him pick up more and more as we move along,” said Boucher after Friday’s win against San Jose, where Chabot spent some good-looking time in a pairing with Erik Karlsson. “When he deserves it and when you think he can handle it, let’s go. For sure.”
But Boucher says the push for that offensively powered pairing can only come at certain times.
“You can’t do that when the kid’s overwhelmed. There’s some games it’s tough, it’s normal.”
While the coach could see something different, overwhelmed isn’t a word I would pick that defines Chabot’s game right now. Every night, his speed and patience with the puck creates scoring chances, and that trust he’s earned from Boucher is giving him time to explore more of his offensive side on the powerplay.
Defending his ways
Boucher says there’s an intentional method – like there seems to be with everything he does – to the way he handles the up and coming guys in the organization.
“I love coaching young guys. But you want to make sure that you manage them in a way that helps them, so they can grasp step by step what they need to grasp and they don’t drown in it.”
“Right now, we’re following the plan that we had, and it seems to be working,” Boucher says.
Filip Chlapik has faced the brunt of this lately.
The 20-year-old centre made the most of some limited 4th line minutes in the 5 games he played after being called up just before the Christmas break. He had no points to show for it, but his playmaking was generating all kinds of scoring chances with linemates that haven’t been known for their production this season, in Alex Burrows and Nate Thompson.
Chlapik was sent back down ahead of Ottawa’s Friday night game after Zack Smith was cleared to return from injury. But a lower-body injury that took Thompson out the game after the first period might make for a short time back in Belleville.
Boucher says someone will have to be called up to replace Thompson, who left after the first period tonight with a lower body injury. Says he doesn’t know how long he’ll be out, but it’s not a serious injury. #Sens
— Stuart McGinn (@Stu_McGinn) January 6, 2018
Praise for the Dzingel-Jingle
Boucher also had some words of praise Friday for one of Ottawa’s emerging top-six forwards in Ryan Dzingel, who scored in the first period of that game.
“I think now his game is evolving into much better than just his speed,” said Boucher, “He’s going to the net, he’s getting pucks there. He’s blocking shots, being in the right places defensively.”
“Now, it’s not just about his speed.”
A skill he’s always been known for, but at times has had him tripping himself up, and has caused him to miss the net. One of the key factors in his game improving this season has been the jump in his shooting percentage. It currently sits at 17.5%, a big jump from 11.4% last year. And Boucher also noted his ability to limit turnovers, saying those have drastically diminished and it’s another factor that makes him a much more reliable player.
23rd pick in the 7th round of the NHL Draft in 2011 doesn’t exactly scream top-six, but Boucher says that’s where he’s headed.
“That’s the goal with him, for sure. I’ve always like him.”