It’s almost becoming comical at this point. On Thursday, the Ottawa Senators placed top-four defenseman Nikita Zaitsev in COVID Protocol, where he joined fellow defensemen Josh Brown, Victor Mete, and Nick Holden. Later that night, fellow top-four defender Artem Zub was knocked out of Ottawa’s match-up with the Los Angeles Kings with an upper-body injury. Now, just 24 hours later, TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that young defenseman Erik Brannstrom suffered a broken hand in last night’s game as well and is out indefinitely.
It was just the second game of the season for Brannstrom, 22, who has still been trying to carve out a role for himself with the Senators. It could explain why Brannstrom not only played the whole game on Sunday, but skated in an abnormally high 18:56, perhaps trying to impress his coaches who were already short on blue line options. Whether this had any impact on the extent of the injury remains unknown. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch follows up on Dreger’s report by adding that the Senators are currently waiting for a determination on whether Brannstrom will need surgery or not. He believes that the blue liner will miss at least two months. It’s a critical setback for the 2017 first-round pick, who has not yet played up to expectations despite ample opportunity in Ottawa.
It will be hard for the Senators and their fans to focus on the long-term damage of the Brannstrom injury though when the short-term impact is so immense. The loss of Brannstrom on top of Zub plus the current COVID absences leaves the Senators with just seven healthy defenseman in the pro ranks, only four of whom are currently in the NHL. Fortunately, workhorse No. 1 defenseman Thomas Chabot is among the living, but the depth falls off immensely behind him. Veteran utility defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who has played in just six games this season, is the next best option, while the other two healthy NHLers are Dillon Heatherington, who made his season debut on Thursday, and Lassi Thomson, who made his NHL debut on Thursday. In Belleville, top prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker is almost a guaranteed recall before the Senators game on Saturday and an unheralded player such as Jonathan Aspirot or Maxence Guenette will likely receive the call as well. In turn, Belleville will have to load up on loans and tryouts in order to get by without their own defenders. The entire Senators organization needs their defense to get healthy as soon as possible.