Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith wants growth from his core players, specifically on the mental side of the game.
"Whether we play this year or next, our mentality has to change," Smith told Sportsnet's Wayne Scanlan. "It's time for us to take a step. How big a step that is, we're going to find out. But we certainly need to take a step mentally, with the Tkachuks, Chabot, and Whites, etc."
Thomas Chabot, 23, signed an eight-year, $64-million extension in September. Colin White, also 23, inked a six-year, $28.5-million contract in August. Besides those two players, only Nikita Zaitsev and Bobby Ryan are signed beyond next season. Brady Tkachuk, 20, probably won't take long to join them; he's eligible for an extension on July 1 - or whenever the new league year begins.
Smith believes the best way for his team to progress is to create an internal belief that this group can contend.
"You watch the best teams, the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals, for example, when they come to the arena they expect to win every night," Smith continued. "I think every team wants to win every night - there's a difference between wanting to and knowing that you can win every night."
The Senators did not do much winning this season. With most preseason prognosticators expecting a dead-last finish, they ranked 30th out of 31 teams when play came to a halt on March 12.
But it's still early in the rebuilding process, and Smith will likely have more youngsters to groom next season. Ottawa projects to have the second and third overall picks in the upcoming draft, so it's possible the Sens' roster will feature another teenager or two in 2020-21. With fresh faces coming in, Tkachuk, Chabot, and White will be further counted upon as leaders - even if they're young in their own right.