The 2020 NHL Draft is the marquee event for Senators fan this fall and with their favourite team currently slated to pick third and fifth, speculating over who the organization may take with these early selections.
Barring a trade, it is commonly understood that the New York Rangers will select Alexis Lafrenière with the first overall selection, but there is much less clarity regarding who the Los Angeles Kings will take second overall.
Consensus indicates that Sudbury’s Quinton Byfield and Germany’s Tim Stützle have separated themselves from the next tier of prospects and that the Senators will simply take whomever the Kings pass on.
After this week’s ‘Headlines’ segment on Hockey Night in Canada however, Chris Johnston discussed the implications that the Covid-19 pandemic could have on this year’s draft.
“Well, the world’s upside down right now and one of the concerns that is out there is that some of the top European players may not be permitted to come over to the NHL in the 2020-21 season,” Johnston explained.
“Of course, those guys are already right now in training camps in Sweden and Finland and the draft isn’t until October. I think this is more important on Tim Stützle. He could go as high as number two. He plays for Mannheim in Germany. There will have to be a conversation between whatever NHL team drafts him and the German club to see if maybe they can wrestle him free. Otherwise, these top prospects are all going to wait a year before they can come over.”
Unfortunately for teams hoping to draft and inject their new young talent into the lineup right away, they may not have the luxury of being able to do that.
Will this wrinkle be enough influence their player selection?
I highly doubt it.
Most teams routinely convey the same generic messages at this time of year indicating that they are looking to add the best player who will help them win at some undisclosed point in the future.
Even in looking at the North American players frequently listed most prospect prognosticator top-10’s, there is no guarantee that Byfield, one of the youngest players available in this draft, will play next season or that Cole Perfetti or a defenceman like Jamie Drysdale can make the jump either.
Purely from a marketing perspective for the Ottawa Senators however, the prospect of having the top European prospects spend another season overseas has to be somewhat disappointing.
After ticket sales and the percentage of tickets sold last season sunk to the lowest level in this franchise’s modern existence, it was pretty clear how much fan confidence has eroded.
It has essentially reached the point wherein the only thing this organization can do for redemption is to hope that this rebuild culminates in a few young superstars who can help the Senators develop into a more competitive team as soon as possible.
The Senators had to be hoping that a Byfield, a Stützle or even a Lucas Raymond – who Senators scouts are reportedly high on per Bruce Garrioch’s latest — would be able to step right into the lineup, but now they have to brace for the possibility that anyone they select may not be available to them in 2020-21.
This pandemic has created some difficult challenges for the organization.
By the time that the 2020-21 season begins, it will essentially have been 10 months since the organization last played a regular season game.
The Senators desperately need to create and sustain a buzz.
The rebrand and the reintroduction of the 2D jerseys will be a welcomed change, but nice jerseys are simply window dressing until the team makes significant strides on and off the ice.
The graduation of key prospects like Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton and Erik Brannstrom from Belleville would spur some interest, but while these players are all very good prospects, none of these players will move the needle as much as whom the Senators draft with their two top-five picks.
Player Development Overseas
Although some of the prospects at the top of this year’s draft class may not be permitted to play in the NHL this season, that has not stopped NHL organizations from looking overseas to help player development for already drafted NHL prospects.
Thanks to the possibility of a stalled or cancelled 2020-21 AHL season, a few teams are reportedly considering loaning a few of their young players to European clubs to ensure that these prospects will not miss any extended development time.
Asnar Khan reports that the Detroit Red Wings are negotiating “terms of a loan agreement that would enable Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno to play in the Czech Republic for HC Ocelari Trinec.”
I mentioned earlier a number of the prospects who will likely graduate from Belleville and play in Ottawa in 2020-21, so it will be interesting to see how the Senators proceed.
A full 82-game NHL schedule is on the slate for next season, so maybe the Senators will prefer to keep their players in North America to ensure that they remain healthy and are not overworked as the team enters 2021.
Senators Will Not Package Picks Three and Five
According to the Bruce Garrioch Postmedia article that I referenced earlier in this piece, the Senators will not be packaging their third and fifth overall selections in an attempt to move up in the draft.
Since the New York Rangers won phase two of the NHL’s Draft Lottery, rumours have persisted that the Senators may be interested in packaging their picks to make a splash.
The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman recently looked at the New York Rangers’ situation and whether an opportunity could present itself to trade down. Like the Senators, the Rangers desperately could use a centre to bolster its first line, so theoretically by trading down to second or third, the Rangers could add a centre while bolstering its depth while stockpiling more high picks.
What really got people talking was a comment withing Dillman’s article made by Sportnet’s Brian Burke reflecting on some rumours.
“The speculation up here is that Ottawa is going to offer 3 and 5 for No. 1. But I wouldn’t do that.”
Well, fortunately, the Senators won’t be doing that either according to its owner, Eugene Melnyk.
“The idea of trading our 3rd and 5th picks for the No. 1 pick is nonsensical,” Melnyk informed Garrioch. “We’re very excited to welcome our many new Ottawa Senators that will come to us via the upcoming draft.”
From a value perspective, it does not make sense to package three and five for the opportunity to select Lafrenière. For as good a prospect as he is, the separation from him to the others isn’t as significant as it would be if the draft class was headlined by a generational player. And by the same token, there simply is no guarantee that whomever the Senators select at three or five won’t surpass Lafrenière’s contributions within a few years.
For me, making that move would reek of strictly being an attempt to make a marketing splash and not the best hockey-related decision.
Unfortunately, Garrioch’s article never really broached the topic of whether the Senators would be interested in packaging one of their two top picks to move up, but it sounds like the organization is content to stay remain where they are with their top picks. Such confidence in the kind of players who should be available to select is a really positive sign.