The Ottawa Senators‘ off-season is off to a rocky start, with the Mike Hoffman controversy forcing them into a no-win trade situation, while the future of their franchise defenceman remains very much up in the air.
But Friday’s NHL draft, provided at least a brief reprieve from the negativity and a dose of optimism that things will eventually get back on track.
The Senators didn’t do anything big or bold on Friday. Erik Karlsson is still in town, now a week away from being eligible to sign a contract extension. And they kept the fourth overall pick instead of handing it over to Colorado to complete the Matt Duchene trade. Though there is some risk in that decision as Colorado now owns their 2019 first round pick, the player they added Friday should provide them with many years of tough, exciting hockey.
At No. 4, Ottawa selected Brady Tkachuk, a power forward who plays with an edge and has scoring upside — perhaps even more than his older brother Matthew, who has 37 goals and 97 points in 144 NHL games with Calgary.
“They got a potential top line scoring winger,” Matthew said of his brother.
Matthew knows his brother’s potential as well as anyone. The two brothers were combative as siblings, which helped the younger brother become the player he is now.
“It’s always nice they had each other growing up and Matthew didn’t take any shortcuts on him. He had to earn it and I think that’s helped Brady along the way,” father Keith told Sportsnet at the Draft. “He looks up to Matthew and he’s seen the success Matthew has and he wants the same thing.”
At No. 4, Brady becomes the highest-picked Tkachuk in the draft. The question now is whether he’ll leave Boston University, or return as a sophomore.
Brady was the highest-scoring draft eligible player in the NCAA this season, with eight goals and 31 points in 40 games, totals similar to 2017 first-round NHL picks Shane Bowers and Ryan Poehling. He also had the most penalty minutes among any under-20 player in U.S. college hockey, which is exactly what you’d expect from a Tkachuk.
“Obviously a Canadian market is something you dream of playing (in) because they’ve got a great fan base, they love their hockey, and you’re treated like a celebrity,” Brady told Sportsnet. “It’s only fitting that my dad went to Winnipeg and Matthew went to Calgary.”
Brady also has a relationship with Logan Brown, another highly-regarded Senators prospect. Brown is a centre who could be on the team in 2018-19. Brown, the 11th overall pick in 2016, is two years older than Brady, but played with him on occasion as a youth when Tkachuk got a call up to join the older players.
Ottawa entered the draft Friday with a second first round pick (No. 22) they acquired from Pittsburgh earlier this year in the Derick Brassard deal. But on the draft floor the Senators sent that pick to the New York Rangers for picks Nos. 26 and 48. Considering the Toronto Maple Leafs also traded down four spots and got a third-rounder back, Ottawa did well to move into the second round.
With pick No. 26 the Senators went off the board with AJHL defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker, the Canadian Junior Hockey League defenceman of the year and a North Dakota commit whose style of game projects favourably in today’s NHL.
“This is a defenceman who really skates well — a new-age type of defenceman,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said of the 6-foot, 187-pound player.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) June 23, 2018
The risk in Ottawa’s actions Friday are in what they left on the table. Filip Zadina, once in the running to go second overall, and the highest-scoring QMJHL rookie, fell all the way to Detroit at No. 6. And by keeping the No .4 pick, Ottawa must now surrender its 2019 first-round pick to Colorado, a pick that could end being No. 1 overall should Ottawa find itself back in the lottery.
This is why the coming days are vital to Dorion and the Senators. If Karlsson is traded it’s hard to imagine the Senators returning with an improved on-ice product next season. Goaltender Craig Anderson has reportedly asked for trade while Duchene, whose acquisition has helped put the Sens in this mess, is one year away from unrestricted free agency.
There’s a lot to like about what the Senators walked away with from Round 1. But with so much uncertainty still surrounding them, Friday was the easy part of this puzzle.
The most difficult work still lies ahead.