Senators lose Lafreniere sweepstakes, but enticing draft options remain

Checkout one of the most dramatic NHL Draft Lotteries as a placeholder ends up with the number one pick.

The Ottawa Senators haven’t done a lot of winning in the past three years.

And they couldn’t land the big one on Draft Lottery night, either, losing out to one of those pesky “placeholder” teams.

Ottawa will have the third and fifth overall picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, after their own selection wound up fifth and they won the higher slot with San Jose’s pick, acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade. The Senators entered the draft lottery with the best chance, at 25 per cent, to get first overall and the ability to draft Alexis Lafreniere.

In the end, the NHL’s nightmare scenario emerged: a longshot placeholder team — one of the eight teams expected to take part in the play-in round this summer — won the first overall pick, meaning there will have to be a Phase 2 of the lottery once the play-in round is over. It marks the first time in Draft Lottery history that a team ranked higher than the bottom seven teams will land the first overall pick.

For the Senators, though, picks No. 3 and No. 5 are final. Things got real, even at the virtual lottery.

Knowing his team still had a shot at first overall, general manager Pierre Dorion had a deadpan look as his club’s logo was turned over by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly with the third pick, leaving the Los Angeles Kings at No. 2 and a mystery team as No. 1.

Yet, Dorion was smiling on his Zoom call with reporters afterward.

“We’re going to draft two players we know are going to be impactful players for the Senators for many years to come,” Dorion said. “So we’re really excited to have those two players join our organization when the draft comes. We’ve done our work, we’ve still got to keep doing our work for the next three months.”

Franchise owner Eugene Melnyk issued a statement afterward proclaiming an “exciting new chapter” for the Senators after landing “one of the coveted top three picks.”

Though Lafreniere will be gone by the time Ottawa selects, going third means the Senators can be assured of one of centre Quinton Byfield or centre/winger Tim Stutzle of Germany. They probably can’t go wrong with either elite forward. And they come back quickly with No. 5, which could be a spot to grab one of the two excellent defencemen available, either Jake Sanderson or Jamie Drysdale.

“With our group of scouts, led by Trent Mann, we know we’re going to take two really good hockey players,” Dorion said.

The GM said he had no issue with a mystery team winning the day.

“We understood the process. We understood it when the process started,” Dorion said. “That team will have lost in the play-in round, so won’t officially be in the playoffs. So it makes total sense for us that one of those teams will be picking No. 1.”

Dorion admitted the placeholder win may have been fitting for 2020, a different year “compared to every other year that I’ve been on the face of this earth.”

He repeated, though, that he knew this process could happen. And he’s thrilled to be one of only a handful of NHL teams to have two top five picks in the same draft. Ottawa has never had two inside the top five.

In their recent history, the Senators haven’t had a lot of high draft picks, a reflection of their competitive team from the late 1990s to 2008 or so. And then again after a 2011 mini-rebuild.

Ottawa selected Brady Tkachuk fourth overall in 2018. That was the highest pick since Jason Spezza, second overall in 2001. The last time the Senators had the first overall pick was for Chris Phillips in 1996.

In a strange coincidence, this bizarre lottery outcome happened on the 27th anniversary of Ottawa’s selection of Alexandre Daigle first overall on June 26, 1993.

Before the lottery, broadcast on Sportsnet, some Ottawa fans promised to donate money to charity — if the Senators could win the first pick. Others vowed good deeds for years to come. Superfan Tim McKee, a salesman for the two largest local newspapers, monitored the event from a regional hospital after suffering a cardiac event in the afternoon. This was a day to test nerves, stomach linings, heart valves and blood pressure.

In a year like no other, this was a draft lottery like none before it.

Along with the seven bottom teams, eight others that are to be part of the “play-in” format expected to take place this summer were also included in the draft lottery. As it happened, one of those placeholders gets to have their cake and eat it too.

Now that’s hockey.

Here’s a look at a handful of the selections that could be available to the Senators, drafting from slots No. 3 and No. 5. There is no doubt Lafreniere, the high-scoring forward from Rimouski, will be gone.

Some snapshots of several of the prospects beyond Lafreniere:

Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (OHL)

Born: Newmarket, On.

Size: Six-foot-four, 215 pounds

Shoots: Left

Statistics: 45 games played │ 32 goals │ 50 assists │ 82 points

Teams looking for an imposing centre will have to consider Byfield, a huge presence in the OHL. Still 17 (he turns 18 in August), Byfield could be a wild card in this year’s draft. Having generally held down the No. 2 spot for most of the season, some analysts have dropped him a place or two.

Byfield was slowed by a wrist injury following the world juniors and some scouts wonder if he can be as dominant in the NHL, where his size won’t be as big a factor. But he remains a highly rated centre and could have huge upside considering he is a late-year birth.

Byfield’s potential to grow and mature, physically and mentally, is enticing.

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Tim Stutzle, LW/C, Mannheim (DEL)

Born: Viersen, Germany

Size: Six-foot-one, 187 pounds

Shoots: Left

Statistics: 41 games played │ 7 goals │ 27 assists │ 34 points

Stutzle has sparked a lot of pre-draft buzz with his versatility and talent. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino loves the playmaking ability of Stutzle — “He’s light, agile and has great vision,” Cosentino said in a recent interview with Caroline Cameron.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Stutzle as a top draft selection: he has played mostly left wing against men in the German League, but slotted in at centre during the world juniors — giving scouts an opportunity to see Stutzle play against his age peers in a different position.

NHL teams will be able to consider using Stutzle down the middle or on the wing as they see fit, or as his blossoming talents best suit.

Jake Sanderson, D, USNTDP (USHL)

Born: Whitefish, Mt.

Size: Six-foot-two, 185 pounds

Shoots: Left

Statistics: 19 games played │ 2 goals │ 12 assists │ 14 points

Sanderson fits the mould of the smooth-skating defenceman that every team wants. Voted the No. 2 skater behind Jean-Luc Foudy on the scouts poll, Sanderson was named the best defensive defenceman on the same poll, just ahead of Jamie Drysdale.

Scouts cited Sanderson’s aggressive gap control and strong one-on-one defending. Sanderson is one of the younger top draft picks as he doesn’t turn 18 until July.

Cole Perfetti, C/LW, Saginaw (OHL)

Born: Whitby, ON.

Size: Five-foot-11, 177 pounds

Shoots: Left

Statistics: 37 games played │ 37 goals │74 assists │ 111 points

The man with the hands — Perfetti was named best playmaker on the Recrutes poll. An exceptional passer, Perfetti has the potential to be a big point producer in the NHL. He’s no slouch as a shooter, either, as his 37 goals would attest.

Perfetti has a knack for drawing a crowd, and then finding the open man to create a scoring opportunity.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa (OHL)

Born: Feldkirch, Austria

Size: Five-foot-nine, 187 pounds

Shoots: Left

Statistics: 56 games played │ 39 goals │ 81 assists │ 120 points

Compact but determined, Rossi’s hockey sense is exceptional and he racked up the points with the 67’s as he distributed pucks to his wingers.

Rossi’s comfort level in the game, even after moving to Canada before his 17th birthday, is rooted in his background. Rossi’s father, Michael Rossi, was a professional defenceman in Austria. Sportsnet’s Cosentino had Rossi slotted fifth overall in his March 4 ranking.

Lucas Raymond, LW/RW, Frolunda (SHL), SuperElit J20

Born: Gothenburg, Sweden

Size: Five-foot-10, 165 pounds

Shoots: Right

Statistics: 42 games played │ 7 goals │ 17 assists │ 24 points

Raymond has been turning heads in Europe, having first played in the men’s league in Sweden at age 16, and this past season spending almost the entire season in the SHL. His numbers above are combined from the junior ranks and SHL. He had 10 points in 33 games playing against men.

What impresses most is Raymond’s skating. He is fast and smooth, but needs to get physically stronger.

Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa (OHL)

Born: Cobden, ON.

Size: Six-foot, 176 pounds

Shoots: Right

Statistics: 62 games played │ 52 goals │ 37 assists │ 89 points

A responsible winger with a great scoring touch, Quinn blossomed into an all-around strong player for the OHL’s best team, the Ottawa 67’s. This 50-goal scorer was killing penalties as the season evolved, such was the trust he earned with head coach Andre Tourigny.

Recrutes listed him fourth in the “best shot” category. Quinn turns 19 in September, and whoever drafts him will be getting a mature, hard-working player.

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