When it comes to the Ottawa Senators lately, nothing is seemingly without controversy, including last night’s draft selection that saw the team pick Brady Tkachuk fourth overall.
After Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov predictably went first and and second overall, the Montreal Canadiens shook up the draft board by selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi earlier than some had anticipated.
While the Finnish centre’s stock rose as the draft approach, there was also a suspicion that the Canadiens wanted to fill a positional need fuelling rumours that Marc Bergevin could trade down and recoup some additional picks.
When the Canadiens selected Kotkaniemi with their third overall selection, it paved the way for the Senators to make a decision between the highly skilled Filip Zadina or the gritty two-way forward in Brady Tkachuk.
According to the consolidated draft rankings captured by CanucksArmy.com, there was no consensus pick at that spot. Zadina came out slightly ahead of Tkachuk in many of the rankings, but Tkachuk was ranked as high as second overall by at least one publication.
The son of Keith and the brother of Matthew, Tkachuk’s bloodlines, character, size and physicality have helped endear him to scouts.
The Athletic‘s Corey Pronman ranked Tkachuk as the draft’s ninth best skater, but he was effusive in his praise for elements of Tkachuk’s game.
“He was a possession beast for Boston University and towards the end of the season became one of the team’s better playmakers. He has one of the best physical games in the draft. He’s a strong 6-foot-3 forward who wins battles and bulldozes his way to the net as well as any teenager I’ve seen in the college ranks. Any scout I talk to will immediately heap praise on his competitiveness and the edge in his game.”
In Pronman’s live pick-by-pick analysis of the draft last night, he wrote:
“In Tkachuk, Ottawa gets one of the hardest working players and most physically dominant players in this draft class. On a scale of 0-10, his effort level is an 11. He could be a top line forward who is dominant down low and in front of the net. Ottawa left some skill on the table, but Tkachuk is a highly intelligent and skilled player in his own right. He instantly becomes their top prospect and is probably a year away.”
Whether it’s at the collegiate or world junior stage, Tkachuk has developed a reputation for becoming one of the most important players on whatever team he plays on. Using the charts of CanucksArmy.com‘s Jeremy Davis, it’s easy to see why.
When Tkachuk is on the ice, his teammates tend to perform better from a shot and goal differential standpoint.
On the traditional 20-80 scouting scale that is commonplace in baseball circles (you can read more about over at Fangraphs), Corey Pronman grades out Tkachuk’s skill set as follows:
Puck Skills: 55
Physical Game: 65
Hockey sense: 60
What’s polarizing about Tkachuk’s game is the production. Eight goals and 31 points in NCAA 40 games don’t jump off the page relative to his peers.
Shane Bowers, Tkachuk’s teammate and the Senators’ 2017 first round selection, is only 49 days older than Tkachuk, but they put up similar college numbers.
Bowers was eventually moved to the Colorado Avalanche in the Matt Duchene trade, but the knock on Bowers was his offensive upside. If the most optimistic of Bowers’ projections believes that he’s a second or third line centre at his best because the production is not safely projectable, the risk for the Senators with Tkachuk is that they passed on the opportunity to add more safely projectable skill to their mix.
As Jackson McDonald outlined, the risk with Tkachuk is that “there isn’t a meaningful (offensive) statistical category where Tkachuk has separated himself from the pack. When viewed through the lens of draft analytics, Tkachuk ranks in the bottom half of the first round or lower in expected likelihood of success; expected production; expected value; and situation, era, age, and league adjusted scoring.”
Another concern with Tkachuk is that he was moved to the wing during his freshman year at Boston University. Tkachuk would carry a lot more value moving forward if he safely projects as a centre, but it remains to be seen where he will play positionally this season.
Pierre Dorion spent a significant chunk of his media availability Thursday optimistically playing up the likelihood that the team’s fourth overall pick would be a regular in the team’s lineup next season, but there’s no guarantee that Tkachuk will pass up the opportunity to go back to school for his sophomore season.
In Scott Wheeler’s article detailing the Brady Tkachuk selection, Keith Tkachuk discussed his son’s plans for the immediate future.
“We’ll determine that. It’s up to Brady. He’s going to have a good summer. He has moved up to Toronto to work out with Gary Roberts and we’re going to discuss it, but he’s most likely going to go back and we’ll see what happens,’ Keith said, while also acknowledging the Senators’ turbulent month.
“It wasn’t great, the stuff coming out, but the people there are going to straighten things out. It’s tough, because I wasn’t there, but Brady’s a character kid and stuff like that won’t bother him. Hopefully, down the road when he’s ready to play, everything will be good and they can move on and make the playoffs. We had a brief conversation before the draft, but it was all good. It’s a business. He’s got to do what’s best for his franchise and we’ll do what’s best for Brady. We’re all really happy. It’s nice that he beat his brother.”
In his media scrum Thursday, general manager Pierre Dorion seemed pretty optimistic about this year’s fourth overall pick becoming a regular in the lineup next season.
Considering Dorion’s acknowledgement that the dressing room is broken, maybe it would be better to keep Tkachuk away for the time being and afford him to develop his offensive game without the pressures and expectations he’ll face as a top pick.
If there’s hope for Tkachuk’s offensive talent, it lies in some potential regression in his shooting percentage. Some scouting reports have praised his hands and wrist shot, but if he can improve upon his 6.1 all-situations shooting percentage, it could help quell concerns.
If Tkachuk’s offensive numbers improve and his two-way play and physicality continue and allow Tkachuk to become an imposing figure at the game’s highest level, it could be a fantastic add for the Senators.
If the offence never arrives however, the decision to use their highest pick since drafting Jason Spezza with the second overall pick in 2001 on Tkachuk could haunt the Senators for years.
It’s incredibly difficult to acquire elite skill and the Senators passed on that opportunity. With Zadina’s selection by the divison rival Red Wings, the risk of revisionist history is very real.
Later in the first round, the Senators dealt their 22nd overall pick — acquired at this year’s trade deadline from Pittsburgh in the Derrick Brassard deal — to the New York Rangers for their 26th overall selection and the 46th overall pick.
It was a shrewd move by the Senators to move back just four slots and add a second rounder to their mix.
With the 26th overall selection, the Senators picked defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker out of the AJHL where he was named as the league’s most outstanding defenceman last season. (As an aside, Chris Phillips received the same honour for his 1994-95 season. Other notables include Cole Makar and the exceptionally mustached Dave Babych.)
In 49 games for Okotoks, the right-shooting defenceman tallied 20 goals and 41 points.
Bernard-Docker was Pronman’s 72nd ranked skater.
“Despite his great numbers, I wouldn’t describe him as a dynamic offensive defenseman, but he does a lot well around the puck. JDB moves the puck well. He’s very smart and composed making clean zone exits. His skill is solid too, and he can evade a check or two with his decent feet and hands to create space. When his team is on the attack, he’s not afraid to jump in, and he has a big point shot too. He’s got a decent physical game and, while he could get better defensively, he’s hard on his checks and is reasonably smart in his own end.”
Using the 20-80 scouting scale that I referred to earlier, here are Pronman’s grades:
Puck Skills: 55
Physical Game: 45
Hockey sense: 55
Pronman wrote the following in his pick-by-pick analysis of the first round:
“Bernard-Docker is a very solid two-way defenseman who was very good in the AJHL this past season, but he’s not a real upside pick. He’s a good kid, plays a reliable game, can move the puck, but I don’t think he’s going to be an impact guy.”
Apparently Pierre Dorion was interested in moving the pick to acquire even more assets, but chief amateur scout Trent Mann convinced the general manager to take Bernard-Docker instead.
Like the Tkachuk pick, there is the potential for revisionism after the Senators moved down in the draft. Over the next few years, fans will inevitably weigh what the Senators passed up on at their original 22nd slot against Bernard-Docker and whomever the Senators add with their second rounder today.
Overall, it’s great that the Senators added a defenceman and a forward to their prospect pool. Even if the Senators may have played it a bit safe with their selections, hopefully these choices allow the Senators to roll the dice and swing for the fences with some upside plays on day two.