The Ottawa Senators have signed GM Pierre Dorion to a contract extension that runs through the 2024-25 season and if all goes according to plan, the franchise will be making some pretty deep playoff runs around that time.
This is a much-deserved extension for Dorion, who came up through the organization first as the director of amateur scouting in 2007 and after a couple promotions in between, GM in 2016 (before that, Dorion was an amateur scout with the Canadiens and Rangers).
During Dorion's time up top, the Senators have been a draft machine, churning out winners and setting the table for a rebuild that has been painful, but at least purposeful.
As an outsider who watches the prospect realm dutifully, it's gratifying for me to see Dorion get rewarded for his work to date, as he now gets the confirmation he will be able to see his plan through all the way. Dorion's lineup isn't complete, but it's getting pretty close.
When it comes to rebuilds in today's NHL, you have to be strong down the middle and while we haven't seen the apex of Ottawa's young pivots yet, there is a lot of positive momentum around Josh Norris (acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade with San Jose) and Shane Pinto (drafted 32nd overall in 2019). That right there would be a sufficient 1-2 punch for the future if the two kids continue to develop on their current path, while it's also possible that Tim Stutzle could grow into a center role too.
For the sake of playing it safe however, Stutzle is better suited on the left wing, where the third overall pick from 2020 looked real nice as a rookie. His fast friendship with fellow left winger Brady Tkachuk is, frankly, adorable, but the pair's on-ice contributions are way more important than their ability to tickle the Internet meme machine.
Both players are incredibly competitive and Tkachuk in particular has been singled out by management as a player who drags others into battle with him. For a growing team that will need to learn how to win after years of losing, that kind of fire and passion is crucial (and it's hard to see Tkachuk not getting the captaincy sooner than later). Toss in big and skilled Drake Batherson and you've got the makings of a very nice top-six, augmented by veterans such as Connor Brown - who went through a similar rebuild in Toronto and took on a leadership role for Canada's gold-medal World Championship team this past season.
And while Tyler Boucher may have been picked a lot earlier than most teams would have expected, the 2021 first-rounder does have a unique power forward skill set that will serve the Sens well in the future. For Ottawa, the pick made sense.
On defense, Thomas Chabot is the workhorse and ace, with help still on its way. Jake Sanderson, the fifth overall pick in 2020, has the highest ceiling of those still in the pipeline, with a terrific all-around game and that same competitive spirit possessed by Stutzle and Tkachuk. Sanderson is also of course part of that hilariously deep crop of University of North Dakota products drafted by the Senators, which also includes fellow blueliners Jacob Bernard-Docker (who made his NHL debut this past season) and hard-hitting Tyler Kleven. Once those three are entrenched in Ottawa, the Senators are going to have a great mix of skills back there (while Erik Brannstrom and Lassi Thomson are also still developing).
The biggest question mark for Dorion is in goal, unless Matt Murray rebounds from his back-to-back brutal seasons in Pittsburgh and Ottawa. No one expects the Sens to be a playoff team in 2021-22, so this isn't a short-term concern and internally, there are options for the future. One name I'm going to keep an eye on is Leevi Merilainen, a third-rounder in 2020 who had a great summer with Finland's national junior team. Merilainen will be playing just down the highway in Kingston this season for the OHL's Frontenacs, who promise to be quite the show thanks to center Shane Wright, the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2022 draft.
And if Dorion doesn't see an internal solution, there's always the market. As we saw this summer, it's not hard to get a top netminder if your team is positioned correctly; just look at Chicago grabbing Marc-Andre Fleury or Seattle inking Philipp Grubauer. The Senators already have two second-round picks and three third-rounders for the 2022 draft, so Dorion has assets - and a ton of cap space.
So the table is set. The team still has to grow together and execute, but D.J. Smith is a coach who has proven he can helm a champion thanks to his days with OHL Oshawa. Dorion has done a bang-up job in this rebuild; now it's time to watch the seeds bloom.