Senators GM talks NHL Draft prospects: ‘The top 20 is really outstanding’

Pierre Dorion broke down where the drop-offs occur in the upcoming NHL draft, and how he thinks the Senators will fare based on the talent available.

The tables of fortune have seemingly turned in favour of the Ottawa Senators.

This is a team that gave up a first-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche to acquire Matt Duchene in November of 2017, only to trade him 15 months later for Columbus’ first-round pick, which they used to take Lassi Thomson 19th overall last June.

The problem, of course, was that the pick Ottawa ultimately sent to Colorado was fourth overall in 2019, and the Avalanche used it to grab Bowen Byram. The entirety of last season was basically spent worrying that Ottawa was giving up Jack Hughes to the Avalanche — and while they did finish 31st in the standings, lottery “luck” bumped them out of the top three.

But this season the shoe is on the other foot. Sure, the Senators are again struggling and currently sit 30th in the standings, but at least they have their own pick. They also have San Jose’s first from the Erik Karlsson trade, and if the season ended today, that pick would have the sixth-best odds to win the draft lottery and be first overall.

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Alexis Lafreniere in Ottawa? You could say that would speed up the rebuild.

“Obviously a lot of people feel there’s a clearcut No. 1. He’d look great in a Senators uniform next year,” Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion told Sportsnet’s panel at the CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game Thursday night.

For some time, teams have been looking forward to this year’s draft because it’s regarded as being especially deep in high-end skill. Lafreniere, a winger, is the top-ranked player right now and will likely finish there, but six-foot-four, 215-pound centre Quinton Byfield has been loosely compared to Jean Beliveau or Eric Lindros in the past and is no slouch at No. 2.

When asked about how many tiers Dorion sees at the top of the 2020 draft, and where the drop-offs are in terms of long-term potential, he said there is a clear top two or three (“that’s up for debate”) but that teams should be coming away happy with what they get well beyond those picks.

“From what I’ve seen…there’s probably another drop off around 20 and from there I’d have to tell you from about 20 to 60 it’s a very good draft,” Dorion said. “It’s one of the better drafts, our scouts feel, in a long time and we’re fortunate enough to probably have six picks in the first 60 or so, or 65, so we feel we’re going to have a pretty good draft this year.”

Beyond holding their own first and San Jose’s, Dorion’s Senators also hold three second-round picks — their own, Columbus’ and Dallas’. They also own their own third-round pick. And remember, the lottery can only change the order of the first round — the remaining six are ordered by standings finish only.

If Ottawa does finish the season in 30th place, it’d be guaranteed at least a top five pick, where it should land an impact player for the future. Sometimes when teams hold more than one first-round pick it’s a luxury that could allow them to take a chance on a high-ceiling prospect who may also come with question marks and considerable downside. It’s a risky proposition that pays off handsomely if it works, but could also end up as a massive failure.

Dorion was asked about taking this approach in 2020 since he’s holding so many early picks, but suggested this group of prospects was not the one you wanted to get risky with.

“In this year’s draft, we feel the top 20 is really outstanding, that if you’re sure you’re going to get a star I don’t think you can make that gamble,” he said. “There are certain years that if you have a pick between 20 and 31 that you probably can make that gamble. But this year is probably a year where there’s too many good players that you probably can’t afford to make that high-risk pick.”

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