SNAPSHOTS: An expansion draft decision in goal will be a difficult one for the Senators ... Connor Brown needs one more goal to tie a career-high

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There will be no shortage of eyes on the Ottawa Senators crowded crease in the off-season.

After signing backup Anton Forsberg to a one-year contract extension Wednesday, the Senators have five goalies under contract for next season including start Matt Murray along with Joey Daccord, Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese while Filip Gustavsson and Marcus Hogberg are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

Hogberg likely won’t be back and will continue his career in Sweden.

Of course, the biggest decision will come down to which goalie the Senators will protect in the expansion draft. Normally, the top choice would be Murray, but given his struggles in his first year with the club and the fact he has three years left on his deal at $6.25 million per-season he’s not likely to get touched by the Seattle Kraken.

Between now the expansion draft scheduled for July 21 you’re going to hear plenty of predictions and speculation on who the Senators will protect. General manager Pierre Dorion, assistant Peter MacTavish, chief scout Trent Mann, coach D.J. Smith and the rest of the staff have a big decision to make here.

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The talk will centre around whether it will be the Daccord or Gustavsson. Yes, people are fretting that whichever goalie is left unprotected will be picked up by the Kraken, but you have to look at the big picture and there will plenty of options available for Seattle so maybe they’ll opt look elsewhere on Ottawa’s depth chart.

The good news is the Senators have an abundance of talent in this area and that bodes well for the future even if they do lose a goalie. The club also has Finnish prospect Leevi Merilainen.

“We have reason to be excited and optimistic about the future,” goalie coach Zac Bierk said Thursday in his first Zoom call with the local media. “We’ve got a lot of different skill sets and a lot of different qualities. Justin Peters has done a great job in the development role working with the guys in Belleville.

“I think we’ve seen that with guys like Daccord and Gustavsson and with a small sample size with Sogaard. That’s an important role for (Peters) and I to be in good communication to make sure there’s some consistency in the message the goalies are getting.”

A BIG SEASON

Winger Connor Brown can accomplish something in only 56 games that he hasn’t done since his first full season in the NHL in 2016-17.

With a goal in the club’s final three games, Brown, 27, can reach the 20-goal plateau for only the second time in his career. But, what’s impressive about this is the 19 goals he’s scored to date have come in only 53 games. The last time he scored 20 goals with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he did it in an 82-game season.

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People forget Brown was a prolific scorer in junior but when he arrived in the trade from the Leafs on July 1, 2019, Smith wanted him in the deal because he could play a bigger role in Ottawa than he was getting at the time in Toronto. Brown had 45 goals and 128 points in 2013-14 with the OHL’s Erie Otters.

“I watched him tear apart the OHL, I watched him lead the Marlies in scoring (in the AHL and then I watched him have a good streak in Toronto but then he got relegated down the lineup with all the depth we had,” said Smith. “This is probably the best he’s played. He’s skating, he’s working and he’s thinking the game.

“He’s at that point in the NHL where he’s thinking he can do things on a more constant basis and he’s proved that he can so far.”

OFF THE GLASS

After scoring his first NHL goal Wednesday, centre Shane Pinto had a sigh of relief and it will help him focus on getting ready for camp next year. “That was a big reason why I left North Dakota was to get these games in and see what I’m up against and see what I need to work on this summer,” Pinto said. “It’s going to be good for me, definitely have a big summer, and come in confident and hopefully we have a good year.” … After suiting up for his first NHL game Wednesday, defenceman Olle Alsing had some friends back home in Sweden who had watched the game that he planned to speak with after the skills session Thursday. “It was my first game and I felt good about it,” Alsing said. He was partnered with Jacob Bernard-Docker and they both played just over 12 minutes. “We both like to play the puck and we had a really good talk on the bench so I think it worked out well,” said Alsing … Blueliner Erik Brannstrom had his first multi-point game of his NHL career with a three assists in the 5-1 victory over the Habs. With 22:32 of the ice time because injuries to Thomas Chabot and Josh Brown, Brannstrom will get a chance to play a big role in the final three games. “When you play more you get more confidence,” said Brannstrom. “I was pretty happy with my game and it was nice to get the win. It’s good for me and with only three games left we’ve just go to try to win those three.” … It was only a skills skate Thursday so we’ll have to wait until Friday for changes as the Senators prepare their final road trip of the season. Ottawa will face the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night to start this two-game trip with a stop in Calgary Sunday.

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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