A strange thing happened in the weeks leading up to the 2021 NHL draft lottery.
The Ottawa Senators played themselves out of a higher pick. And here’s the odd part — their fans were OK with that.
For the first time in years, thoughts of the Senators are turning to their play on the ice instead of their moves off it. The draft tank has been replaced by a push for higher standings rank.
Just eight months ago, following weeks of anticipatory hype about the expectation of two picks — potentially inside of the top three — Ottawa fell slightly but still set themselves up for years to come: selecting forward Tim Stützle third overall and defenceman Jake Sanderson, fifth overall.
Heading into Wednesday’s lottery, almost a forgotten event for Ottawa this year, the Senators had just a 4.5 per cent chance of landing the first overall pick. Led by their young guns, the Sens leapt over several teams down the stretch of the 2020-21 season, to slot in at No. 10 in the lottery, which is precisely where they wound up.
It was all rather predictable, and the NHL is quite OK with that.
After a one-off, much-criticized 2020 draft in which the “placeholder” New York Rangers won the draft after qualifying as a play-in team, the league was quite happy with predictable.
As the teams were walked down from No. 15 to 1, it was as though they were subject to “no-movement” clauses. There was no deviation from the draft list until the final three picks when the expansion Seattle Kraken moved to No. 2 from No. 3, swapping places with the Anaheim Ducks.
The favoured Buffalo Sabres won the lottery and will select first overall in the NHL draft July 23-24.
By most accounts, this is not as strong a draft as 2020, but Ottawa expects to get a good player at 10th overall, which is the third highest selection the Senators have drawn since getting franchise player Brady Tkachuk at fourth overall in 2018.
The Senators are much deeper in young talent than they were then, which makes it intriguing to think about what position the organization will address with this pick. Historically, the Sens have been a “best player available” kind of team at the draft, but with their prospect depth at defence and the goaltender position, they could be looking at a skilled forward with this pick.
Ottawa’s blueline of the near future should include the likes of Thomas Chabot, Sanderson, Lassi Thomson, Jacob-Bernard-Docker, Erik Brannstrom and Tyler Kleven, along with recent additions Artem Zub and Victor Mete.
In goal, the Senators should be set with one or more of Matt Murray, Mads Sogaard, Joey Daccord and Filip Gustavsson, among others for the next several years. Ottawa usually drafts a goalie every year, but it seems unlikely they would use a top-ten, first round pick at the position.
While the Senators have some terrific forwards in the pipeline with Tkachuk, Stützle, Shane Pinto, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson etc. they could use one of the skilled forwards available from the North American and European draft rankings.
Sportsnet’s draft guru Sam Cosentino feels the draft pool is strong on defencemen, especially at the top end of the selections. Here’s his first round ranking of draft prospects:
Will two U of Michigan teammates go back-to-back in the 2021 #NHLDraft?
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 13, 2021
Who might be available to Ottawa at No. 10? Here’s a few names that general manager Pierre Dorion and chief scout Trent Mann may be considering, depending on how the first nine picks shake out ahead of the Senators:
Kent Johnson, C, University of Michigan
With defenceman Owen Power and centre Matthew Beniers up high on nearly every list, Michigan is well represented. Johnson may not be available by the time Ottawa gets called, but if he is, this skilled playmaker who can line up at centre or left wing would be a great addition. Johnson, who hails from North Vancouver, had 18 assists and 27 points in 26 NCAA games this season. Cosentino has Johnson ranked 6th. McKeen’s Hockey rates him 11th overall.
Mason McTavish, C Peterborough Petes OHL
McTavish was a beast for the Canada U-18 world championship squad this spring and the Senators should consider themselves fortunate if he is still available at No. 10. McTavish is known around Ottawa minor hockey circles as he played for the Ottawa Valley Titans and then the CCHL Pembroke Lumber Kings. Having been born in Zurich, McTavish took advantage of an opportunity to play pro in Switzerland this season (EHC Olten) when the OHL was shut down. McTavish took the U-18 tournament by storm, using his size to effect while scoring five goals and 11 points in seven games, solidifying his draft status in a year when prospects had difficulty getting seen.
Fedor Svechkov, C Togliatti, RUS
If the Senators are looking for a responsible two-way centre who also brings a ton of skill to the mix, Svechkov could fit the bill. Svechkov was one of Russia’s best at the U-18 tournament, which came down to a Canada-Russia final. He produced 10 points in seven games.
Cole Sillinger, C Sioux Falls USHL
The Senators love to draft the sons of ex-pros, believing they have a leg up on the competition. And Sillinger, of course, is the son of longtime NHL centre Mike Sillinger, who actually played for the Senators briefly among his many NHL stops. Sillinger had 46 points in 31 games in the USHL after getting his release from the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers so he could play hockey during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, Sillinger has good hockey sense like his tenacious father. Most draft lists have Sillinger slotted beyond 10th, so he should be available if Ottawa is interested.
William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden, SHL
Eklund will likely be gone before the 10th pick — EliteProspects.com has him as high as No. 2 and Cosentino has him seventh. But if he should fall because other teams are addressing specific needs, or if defencemen dominate the early picks, Eklund would be a slick pick. Though small at five-foot-10, 172 pounds, Eklund was a consistent performer in the SHL with 23 points in 40 games.
We will have a closer look at these and other potential picks for the Senators as the draft gets closer.