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Senators' Tkachuk: Sanderson is 'the most underrated player' in the NHL

Andrea Cardin/Freestyle Photo / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Jake Sanderson's accomplishments in his rookie campaign didn't go unnoticed by his captain, with Brady Tkachuk tabbing the young Ottawa Senators defenseman "the most underrated player" in the league.

"I think (Sanderson's) first pro season, what he did for our team and ... right from Game 1, how much he made our team better, coming out of college," Tkachuk said during a recent appearance on the "Dropping the Gloves" podcast. "The impact he had, the minutes he played, I just couldn't believe he wasn't even in the run for (the Calder Trophy).

"I was like, 'This guy is one of the most important players on our team' and it went unnoticed. His speed, his hockey sense, but his work ethic is second to none. I haven't seen a guy work like he did throughout the year. It was quite impressive. ... I'm excited to see what he's going to do for us this year because he's going to be an awesome player for us."

Sanderson put up four goals and 32 points in 77 matchups in 2022-23 while averaging 21:55 minutes per contest, good for the second-most playing time on the Senators. He also led the entire rookie class with 147 blocks.

It wasn't like the Senators sheltered the 21-year-old, either. He spent the bulk of his ice time matching up against opponents' top lines, played a team-high 3:17 shorthanded minutes every game, and started just 42.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Sanderson finished sixth in Calder Trophy voting as a result of his efforts, behind Dallas Stars scorer Wyatt Johnston, Arizona Coyotes playmaker Matias Maccelli, and the three finalists: Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner, Buffalo Sabres blue-liner Owen Power, and Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers.

Tkachuk also pointed to Tim Stutzle as one of the NHL's more unheralded players. The German forward posted a career-high 39 goals and 90 points in 78 games last season, but Tkachuk emphasized that Stutzle grew beyond the scoresheet, too.

"What I like most about it is, he's stepping up into a leadership role every single day," Tkachuk said. "He's working on the ice, leading by example, but also being a leader off the ice and being there for guys. He's fiery, too, so he'll stick up for anybody in little scrums and battles as well."

The Senators finished six points behind the Florida Panthers for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season. There were signs of growth, though, with Ottawa claiming its highest win and point totals (39 and 86, respectively) since 2016-17.

The puck drops on the Senators' 2023-24 campaign on Oct. 11 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

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