HENDERSON, Nev. — Brady Tkachuk knows eyebrows were raised.
The Ottawa Senators signed defenceman Jake Sanderson — a player with just 77 games of NHL experience — earlier this month to an eight-year, US$64.4-million contract that ties him to the organization through 2031-32.
The dollars and term for a player with less than a season of professional hockey under his belt comes with a level of risk.
Tkachuk also expects any doubters will soon understand management’s thinking.
“For the people that don’t know, they’ll know soon enough,” the Ottawa captain said of Sanderson with a smirk at this week’s NHL/NHLPA player media tour in suburban Las Vegas.
That sounded like a warning. Tkachuk agreed.
“People don’t know how special a player he is,” added the 23-year-old forward. “The 77 games he played for us, (Sanderson) changed the complexion of our team.
“I’m really excited for what’s to come with him.”
A 21-year-old from Whitefish, Mont., Sanderson had four goals and 32 points in 2022-23 as part of a defensive setup in Ottawa that also featured veterans Thomas Chabot and Jakob Chychrun.
Tkachuk said there was never a question about the blueliner’s offensive pedigree after two seasons at the University of North Dakota, but added the son of former NHL forward Geoff Sanderson’s defensive game was even more impressive.
“Very shocked,” Tkachuk said. “Coming out of college, some guys can’t handle that speed, size, toughness and a lot of skill. He handled it so well. I didn’t realize how fast he was, how good of a skater.
“He never seems to be out of position.”
Tkachuk spent the spring supporting older brother Matthew as his Florida Panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
The younger Tkachuk is desperate to get to the playoffs for the first time in his career — and drag Ottawa back into the post-season for the first time since 2017 as the leader of a core that also features star centre Tim Stutzle.
“Our group has experienced the lows,” Tkachuk said. “Each year we’re getting closer to where we want to get to. That’s what’s gonna make it special. When we do accomplish what we want to accomplish, we faced that adversity, faced the tough times, and got better because of it.”
Tkachuk believes Sanderson will be a huge factor.
“Sky’s the limit for him, excited to see the potential,” he said. “And even more excited for the people that don’t know and are shocked at his contract to see what he’s all about.”
Tkachuk was asked about the trade of forward Alex DeBrincat to the Detroit Red Wings — an Atlantic Division rival — in July after just one season in the nation’s capital.
The high-scoring winger was a restricted free agent after getting dealt to Ottawa from the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 2022, but made it clear he wasn’t going to sign long-term. The Senators got back a package from Detroit that included forward Dominik Kubalik and a conditional first-round pick.
“Big part of our team last year,” Tkachuk said of DeBrincat. “Somebody I got close with … sucks to see him go.
“Excited for the future division battles.”
HUGHES ON HUGHES
The Vancouver Canucks named defenceman Quinn Hughes as their captain this week, much to his younger brother’s delight.
“Really well-deserving,” New Jersey Devils centre Jack Hughes said of the 23-year-old. “He’s only going to continue to get better and better. Everyone knows how big of a part he is to the Canucks.
“Probably the pillar of that organization. He’s gonna be a great captain.”
KADRI SETTLED IN COWTOWN
Calgary Flames centre Nazem Kadri was one of the new guys last year after signing on in free agency.
Heading into his second training camp in southern Alberta, he’s already on his second head coach and second general manager.
Darryl Sutter was fired in May after three seasons behind the bench, while Brad Treliving, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs, left the organization following nine years as GM.
Craig Conroy was promoted from assistant GM to the top job before hiring Ryan Huska as the team’s new coach.
But that’s really where the major changes end, which Kadri sees as a positive for a group that played well below expectations in 2022-23.
“We’re a little further along, which is nice, because all that change came from a management and coaching perspective,” Kadri said. “Very similar dressing room. It’s nice to be familiar with everybody.
“We can skip that part that we had to do last year.”
Kadri said he’s been impressed with Huska.
“Love his vision,” said the 32-year-old. “He wants to win now, which is something I can appreciate. He’s kind of in that new-school genre where he wants everybody’s input and ideas.”
Kadri didn’t want to leave the Colorado Avalanche after winning the Stanley Cup in 2022.
The dollars didn’t work to stay in the Mile High City, which opened the door for Calgary.
Kadri now couldn’t be happier in his new home.
“I’ve kind of become a local,” said the London, Ont., product. “I’ve been to the Stampede and got my first cowboy hat, my first boots.
“Once you get the hang of it and you start to figure out your life situation and get your family settled, you really start to enjoy being out there.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press