Although the Ottawa Senators are on track for a last-place finish in the North Division this season, they have seen no shortage of pleasant surprises from the hard-nosed youngsters that make up most of their roster. One particular standout player has been 21-year-old center Josh Norris, a University of Michigan product from Metro Detroit who has fashioned himself into a "viable candidate" for the Calder Trophy with skilled, mature play that has only grown more impressive as the season has gone on.
Norris hasn't been a Wolverine since he left college a couple of years ago, but he sure as heck still plays like one, particularly as his team picked up a point against the likely playoff-bound Canadiens on Saturday night. With the game scoreless midway through the second, Norris absorbed a hard hit from Alexander Romanov and then took part in his first-ever NHL fight, a spirited bout that saw the rookie Senator draw blood from his equally youthful opponent.
Norris, a first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2017, had his rights sent to Ottawa in 2018 as part of the package in the Erik Karlsson trade. In his rookie season, Norris has played in all 51 of the Sens' games, and he's made an immediate mark with 15 goals and 17 assists, ranking fourth on the team in both of those categories. Seven of Norris’s goals and six of his assists have come in the 13 games the Sens have played since April 5. Perhaps most intriguingly for such a young player, Norris has won 52.8 percent of his faceoffs—making him the only qualified rookie above 50 percent—and 336 faceoffs total, which ranks him first on the Senators by a wide margin, and tied for 33rd in the entire NHL.
"I work on it a lot and switch it up and not always do the same things every time," Norris said to NHL.com about his success in that area.
Senators head coach D.J. Smith credits something a little more intangible for Norris's major contributions to the team this year.
"He's a really competitive guy. If he has a bad night, you can see he wears it a little bit and that's part of being young, but he goes right back to work and works harder," he told NHL.com. "He's continued to get better but I would say it's his competitiveness that allows him to get better daily."
Norris seemed excited to receive that evaluation.
"I think that's fair to say and I appreciate him saying that and it's nice to hear that," he said. "I definitely consider myself a very competitive person. It's the work I put in every day and I try to bring that competitiveness every game."