Runners up: Tyler Boucher (12%), Oliver Johansson (6%), Carson Latimer (4%)
Zack Ostapchuk had a regular season that in the moment never seemed exceptional but in retrospect probably foretold of his eventual postseason breakout. Based on regular season numbers alone, I would have had a very difficult time voting for Ostapchuk over Oliver Johansson or Carson Latimer who also played decently, but the postseason made the difference for Ostapchuk’s case here as neither Johansson or Latimer had much playoff success this year.
To get everyone on the same page, the Vancouver Giants drafted Ostapchuk 12th overall in the WHL Bantam draft. He had a modest rookie season and then in his sophomore year he won the team’s most improved player award. The Senators drafted Ostapchuk 39th overall, signed him to an entry level contract out of camp, and the Giants made him their captain. Ostapchuk set personal bests in goals (26), assists (17), and shots (184) in 60 regular season games with the Giants. He ended the regular season especially strongly with eight points in his last six games and multiple shots in each of his last ten regular season matches.
Among Giants, Ostapchuk ranked first in regular season goals, second in shots, and third in points. Thanks in no small part to the contributions of their captain, the Giants qualified for the postseason as an eighth seed in the western conference. In the postseason, Ostapchuk had seven goals, 16 assists, and 30 shots in twelve games as the Giants upset first-seed Everett in the first round and took second-seed Kamloops to six games in round two.
Along the way, Ostapchuk had five multi-point games and recorded multiple shots in each of his last ten postseason games. Again among Giants, Ostapchuk ranked first in postseason points and second in goals and assists, respectively. At the league level, Ostapchuk ranked second on playoff points per game and third in postseason assists. On a per-game basis, Ostapchuk had one of the better WHL playoff performances of the past decade (small sample size noted).
So what happens next for Ostapchuk? I expect him to have another good camp in Ottawa. On top of his offensive instincts, Ostapchuk has a big frame and likes to throw his weight around (this naturally endeared him to Ottawa’s management). He still needs to fill out like any 18-year-old prospect and I would imagine the team instructed him first and foremost to work on his skating in the offseason as he still needs to find that next gear before he can go pro.
As much as I know Sens fans will hate the comparison, Ostapchuk reminds me a lot of Logan Brown given his combination of size and skill. Of course, Ostapchuk engages physically in a way that Brown didn’t seem inclined to and has those intangibles like grit and leadership that the organization also looks for when drafting. It also bodes well for Ostapchuk that unlike Brown, no one in Ottawa expects him to become a number-one centre. Ostapchuk projects as a second- or third-line centre at his ceiling, and with Tim Stützle, Josh Norris, and Shane Pinto ahead of him on the depth chart that works out just fine for player and team alike.