Senators GM Dorion on high hopes for draft, impact of pause on prospects

Pierre Dorion says he runs a draft simulator every morning until the Ottawa Senators get the number one and two picks, based on the good chance of having two picks in the top five this year.

Ottawa Senators fans aren’t the only ones endlessly playing the draft lottery simulator in the hope of a first-overall pick.

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion also tests the simulator daily, knowing he has two lottery picks and three first-round selections to work with in the upcoming 2020 draft.

“Every morning it’s part of my routine,” Dorion said on a video conference call Tuesday. “When we get 1-2 (first and second overall), then I stop. So, sometimes it takes a few minutes longer.”

Wherever the Senators pick, in whatever draft lottery format is decided upon with the NHL currently on a coronavirus pause, Dorion says he knows the Senators are going to get “three great players in the first round — especially two, hopefully, in the top five.”

On the topic of the draft lottery, amid speculation the NHL could alter the format because the regular season has not been completed — Dorion told reporters the Senators have sent three proposals to the league regarding the three elements in question — resumption of the regular season (or cancellation), the format of the draft lottery and the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With the regular season nearly complete, and Ottawa currently in second-last place overall, the Senators want to ensure they are fairly represented in the draft lottery. If they hold their current 30th place, Ottawa would have a 13.5 per cent chance at first overall compared to last-place Detroit’s 18.5 per cent. But the Senators also have San Jose’s first pick, currently 11.5 per cent odds, giving Ottawa a combined 25 per cent shot at drafting first, according to current NHL standings.

“We want to make sure we have a voice in this,” Dorion said. “We’re going about our business probably more quietly than some other teams that have leaked it out. But we feel it’s important to go through the proper channels and have a voice as to what could possibly happen.”

Dorion said the proposals were sent by owner Eugene Melnyk to commissioner Gary Bettman, and the GM feels confident Bettman will handle the draft lottery and season resumption issues with great integrity.

Concerning the deep pool of talent in 2020, Dorion believes the first 20 or so players selected are going to be strong NHL players, while the first three rounds will contain solid “regular” NHL players.

If the draft has to be conducted remotely, Dorion said he would likely be in a war room with AGM Peter MacTavish and chief amateur scout Trent Mann, “six feet apart,” to conduct business. A lot of the draft groundwork is done weeks in advance, Dorion noted, and instead of speaking to rival GMs on the floor, face-to-face, trades would be done by phone.

“We’ll make sure we make all the trades and selections we could have made (at a regular draft), Dorion said.

Like every NHL team, the Senators had to forego spring scouting in Europe and North America due to COVID-19. MacTavish was on the road scouting and had to return home, while Dorion was about to go on another trip. Instead, the club will enhance the scouting work already put in throughout the season with some video study of draft prospects.

“It’s good for us because when you have seen the players play and you add the video element, which is what the scouts are doing, I think it will prepare us even better for the upcoming draft,” Dorion said.

Dorion echoed head coach D.J. Smith’s comments last week that the five players and one staff member of the Senators who contracted COVID-19 over the past few weeks are all doing well and that all the symptoms were relatively mild.

Calling the health and safety of his players and staff his greatest priority since the game shut down, Dorion reiterated the importance for everyone to adhere to protocols.

“A bit of short-term pain will give us a lot of long term gains, as a team and as a society with everything that we’re trying to live for,” Dorion said.

Interestingly, Dorion noted his biggest disappointment with hockey’s temporary blackout was the interruption of the American Hockey League schedule, with the Belleville Senators about to head into a playoff run of undetermined length. With one of the youngest teams in the AHL, Dorion finds it a bitter pill to have to swallow, if the AHL playoffs get cancelled and those young prospects miss a development opportunity.

“As an organization you look at it as the loss of Josh Norris going through a playoff, Alex Formenton going through a playoff, Drake Batherson… Vitaly Abramov. Filip Gustavsson. Erik Brannstrom,” Dorion said, firing off a list of his young AHL talent.

The Ottawa Senators had no immediate playoff future, but their kids did, whether for one round or right on to a Calder Cup final.

“That hurts our organization more than anything going on right now,” Dorion said.

Regarding the business aspects of hockey operations, including his pending UFA and RFA players, Dorion said he is waiting to hear back from certain agents on some players, especially his unrestricted free agents. There is nothing imminent, except perhaps with Russian defenceman Artyom Zub, whose KHL contract expires at the end of the month.

The Senators are one of the finalists in a push to bring the right-shot defenceman to the NHL.

“Peter and I saw him play, Peter before Christmas and me, after,” Dorion said.

“Our scouts really like this player. We feel he’s NHL ready. We hope he signs with us — but until he decides whether to stay in the KHL or come to North America we’re going to wait for him.”

Nilsson, Borowiecki, Anisimov improving

Dorion provided an update on the health of goaltender Anders Nilsson (concussion), defenceman Mark Borowiecki (ankle) and Artem Anisimov (concussion). Nilsson has passed his neuro-psych test and just needs to get back on the ice, Dorion said. Anisimov has been symptom-free for four weeks and just needs to take the neuro-psych test. And Borowiecki would be ready to go if the NHL were ready to re-start.

Mandolese, Aspirot and Kastelic signed

In recent days, Dorion has rewarded three young players with three-year, entry-level contracts: Cape Breton goalie Kevin Mandolese (sixth-round pick, 2018), Calgary centre Mark Kastelic (fifth-round choice, 2019) and defenceman Jonathan Aspirot, an undrafted player who signed with Belleville last summer as a free agent.
Dorion sees Kastelic as a solid two-way centre down the road, while Mandolese has great pro potential and is coming off a stellar season in the QMJHL. Aspirot impressed the organization with his steady play in Belleville, earning a regular spot on a very good B-Sens club.

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