We made it.
The 2020 NHL Draft is here.
Today is essentially the culmination of the organization’s decision to gut the roster that reached the 2017 Eastern Conference Final.
I have exhausted the factors and circumstances that put the team on this path to rebuild, so I’m not going to delve into that here, but today represents an opportunity for the organization to add some dynamic and game-breaking talent at the top of the draft for the first time since Jason Spezza was drafted second overall in 2001.
Today has the opportunity to bring so much unrestrained optimism to a fan base that desperately could use it. Even the most disenfranchised of fans who have grown distrustful of ownership have to admit that today is a day to be excited about.
Adding Brady Tkachuk as a cornerstone was the first major piece and after today, the Senators currently have the chance to make three first-round selections (third, fifth, 28th) tonight.
Possessing the second and fifth picks is a game-changer and can swing the momentum of this rebuild into high gear.
Having two picks in the top-five is a rare occurrence.
The last time an organization had two top-five picks in the NHL Draft was 20 years ago when the New York Islanders selected Rick DiPietro (1st) and Raffi Torres (5th). The year before, the Vancouver Canucks drafted the Sedin twins with the second and third picks and in 1997, the Islanders drafted Roberto Luongo (4th) and Eric Brewer (5th).
Considering the magnitude of this event and what’s arguably one of the most important drafts in the franchise’s history, it feels weird to recognize that there is still quite a bit of uncertainty as to what the Senators are going to do.
With the third and fifth overall selections, the only thing that is clear is that general manager Pierre Dorion has acknowledged the fact that he’s resigned to the position of picking whomever is left of the big three once New York and Los Angeles have made their selections.
“I don’t think we’d be misleading our fans,” Dorion told Steve Lloyd and Graham Creech on TSN 1200’s ‘In the Box’. “I think everyone knows what we’re going to do at three depending on what (Los Angeles) does and the Rangers do at one and two.”
Ultimately, it will come down between Quinton Byfield or Tim Stützle with the third selection, but no one is truly certain of who Los Angeles prefers at number two.
In his seven-round mock draft that was published recently on The Athletic, Corey Pronman tried to shed some light on who will likely be available to the Senators at pick three.
“Team sources around the league by about a 65-to-35 split think the Kings will take Stützle over Quinton Byfield. What’s been interesting in this debate is the passion of those who feel one way or the other. There are a lot of people in the NHL who feel Stützle is clearly better, and a lot who feel Byfield is clearly better.”
Whether those percentages hold up remains to be seen, but there is far less certainty over which direction the Senators will go in.
The only thing that seems clear is that the Senators are likely to keep the pick.
On the ’31 Thoughts Podcast’, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek indicated that there is a belief coming out of Ottawa that the team’s scouts are split into one of three camps. One camp has a preference that the team draft a defenceman and Jake Sanderson. The second group wants to draft a right winger in Jack Quinn to address what is arguably the thinnest position in the team’s farm system and the third group believes that the team should draft Yaroslav Askarov to be the team’s goaltender of the future.
Rumours are circulating that Jake Sanderson is fourth on the Senators’ draft board, but former Sportsnet Hockey Central hosts Nick Kypreos and Doug MacLean recently indicated that Eugene Melnyk was the one pushing for the Senators to draft the Russian goaltender.
Whether any of these rumours are true remains to be seen, but if the Senators use the fifth overall selection on Quinn, Askarov or Sanderson, it would likely be perceived as a somewhat of a reach.
Drafting for need or succumbing to industry groupthink can sometimes plague or paralyze an approach, but with some combination of highly-regarded offensive talents like Lucas Raymond, Cole Perfetti, Marco Rossi and Alexander Holtz being available at five, it would be interesting to see the organization pass over that kind of talent to draft an alternative without exhausting every effort to trade down first.
Regardless of whom the Senators take at five, here are a few words of wisdom.
You can have a preference of who you want to see the Senators take at three and five. That’s totally fine.
Personally, I’d love to see the organization land Quinton Byfield and one of Marco Rossi, Lucas Raymond or Cole Perfetti.
Although the Senators have a lot of depth at essentially every position on the roster, they lack high-end offensive talent and above all else, they lack a safely projectable number one centre.
Quinton Byfield has a chance to be that number one centre and the blend of his size, skill and youth (relative to the rest of the draft class) is pretty damn intriguing. And while Tim Stützle has a chance to be a centre as well, the concerns about playing on the perimeter and the risk that he could wind up being a left winger, have me leaning towards Byfield as the safer alternative who hits a lot of the checkboxes that the Senators need.
In looking around the NHL, it’s hard to ignore the reality that most Cup contenders tend to have an elite centre anchoring their forward corps.
None of that is a knock to Tim Stützle’s status. He very well may end up being a more dynamic offensive player who can stick at the centre position. If he’s available at three and he becomes the Senators’ selection, hopefully he fulfills his vast potential and becomes the number one centre that this team needs.
With the fifth overall selection, things are a bit more muddied.
There are arguments to be made that the Senators could use a high-end right defenceman like Jamie Drysdale, a puck-moving left defenceman with excellent skating and gap control like Jake Sanderson or even another goaltending prospect like Yaroslav Askarov.
Unfortunately, it is more difficult to safely project goaltenders and defencemen in the first round and given the quality of offensive talent near the top of the draft coupled with the fact that the Senators need more elite offensive talent, I would prefer to see the organization draft another forward with the fifth pick before looking to address the blue line with the 28th overall selection or in the second round with one of their four picks.
I would rather see the organization continue to invest in dynamic offensive players, exceptional two-way talents or players who can provide a little bit of both.
That is how I’d like to see it unfold, but if doesn’t, I’m not going to be critical because it does not mean that the selections Ottawa made are bad ones. (Caveat, if the Senators draft Askarov and we learn it was due to any duress put on Dorion’s staff by the owner, that qualifies as grounds to be disappointed.)
Having endured the Erik Karlsson is a “garbage pick” moment or seeing 67’s fans complain about the Senators selecting Marian Hossa instead of Matt Zultek, Ottawa should know better by now.
Hell, we are just two years removed past the Brady Tkachuk versus Filip Zadina debates, so be better.
The simple lesson here is that irrespective of who the Senators select, it is going to take time to understand how well the organization drafted here.
Fortunately, this does not feel like the 2015 NHL Draft when the Bruins overlooked Mathew Barzal, Thomas Chabot and Kyle Connor to select on Jakub Zboril, Jake Debrusk and Zach Senyshyn.
Enjoy the draft tonight, Ottawa and inject that optimism right into your veins.
After hearing that the league is looking tentatively at starting its next season sometime in the new year, it could be the only bit of Senators excitement and positivity that we’ll experience for the next few months.