The 2020 NHL draft is supremely important to the Ottawa Senators and their fans, and not just because the market is starved for hockey and hockey news in the throes of a pandemic.
The Senators have been targeting this draft for a couple of years, acquiring draft picks as part of a major rebuild. As the draft of Oct. 6-7 approaches, Ottawa steps in with 13 selections: a top-heavy three in the first round, four in round two and two in round three.
It marks the first time in franchise history that the Senators have had two selections in the top five, and they arrived here by owning the San Jose Sharks pick, which slotted in at No. 3 and their own at No. 5. The aim is to acquire two impact players with these two picks, filling a franchise need for top end talent to augment their two existing pillars, Brady Tkachuk (drafted fourth overall in 2018) and Thomas Chabot (18th overall in 2015).
Ottawa has never drafted 13 players before and may not use all their picks this time, either. The late first round pick, and especially the four picks in the second round, could be in play as the Senators address their need to acquire some veteran talent for what is a very young roster -- and getting younger, with last week’s buyout of winger Bobby Ryan and the pending departures as free agents of veteran goaltender Craig Anderson and defenceman Mark Borowiecki.
Round 1: 3, 5, 28
Round 2: 33, 52, 59, 61
Round 3: 64, 71
Round 4: 95
Round 5: 155
Round 6: 158, 181
Potential Round 1 Targets
With three picks in the first round, the Senators will try to make them all count, but clearly the first two picks -- 3 and 5 -- are huge.
No. 3: F Quinton Byfield or F Tim Stutzle.
With consensus No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere expected to be taken by the New York Rangers, the Senators will wait to see which direction the Los Angeles Kings go with the No. 2 pick. Ottawa probably can’t go wrong, whichever of these two quality forwards falls
to third overall.
Byfield is perhaps the more natural centre, an imposing figure at six-foot-four, 215 pounds. He just turned 18 in August, so has lots of upside. Byfield would be expected to evolve into the club’s No. 1 centre and provide a robust tandem on a top line with the physical winger, Tkachuk.
Stutzle is a highly-skilled player, originally a centre but displayed more recently on the wing, bringing experience against men in the German League (DEL). At six feet and 187 pounds, Stutzle doesn’t have Byfield’s size but is quick and creative, an energetic force rated the top European prospect in the draft.
For the sake of argument, let’s give swift, dynamic Swedish F Lucas Raymond the ‘placeholder’ status here, but the fifth-overall pick could be one of a number of players. Ottawa’s selection at No. 5 will be discussed and analyzed for years to come (no pressure!) as the draft group from about 4-8 could shake out any number of ways.
F Cole Perfetti, a brilliant setup man and stickhandler from Saginaw of the OHL could be available, if the Detroit Red Wings don’t select him at No. 4. The Senators also have two intriguing options from their own backyard -- a playmaker in centre Marco Rossi and a scorer in F Jack Quinn, both standouts for the OHL's Ottawa 67’s.
A pure scorer from Europe, F Alexander Holtz of Djurgadens, is another option. And if the Senators want to add a building block on the back end, they could opt for defenceman Jake Sanderson, an all-around, two-way D-man from the U.S. national development system. Interestingly, Sanderson is committed to play at the University of North Dakota alongside Senators prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker, creating potential synergy there.
This late first-round pick from the New York Islanders is a bit more of a crapshoot. Depending on how many teams go “off the board” with picks, Ottawa could have an array of choices at 28.
If head coach D. J. Smith has any input, he might like a rugged Canadian forward at this spot, the likes of a Tyson Foerster of OHL Barrie or Jake Neighbours of WHL Edmonton. Foerster is a big, physical right winger with a heavy shot. Neighbours is a bulldog at left wing, preferring to go through, rather than around, opponents.
There could be an interesting defenceman from Sweden available here. William Wallinder of MoDo is a big, six-foot-four, 195-pound raw D-man who skates well for his size. Helge Grans, a right-shot D from Malmo, is the more offensively gifted of the two, a power-play quarterback who had 27 points in as many games in the Swedish U20 SuperElit League.
A glance back: Ottawa’s 2019 Round 1 pick
A year ago, the Senators had just one pick in the first round, and it wasn’t their own. That pick, at No. 4, went to the Colorado Avalanche while Ottawa selected at 19th, with the first-rounder of the Columbus Blue Jackets (acquired in the Matt Duchene trade).
The Senators went off the board somewhat, taking Finnish defenceman Lassi Thomson, a slight, six-foot, 190-pounder with an outsized shot.
After one season with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets in 2018-19, Thomson returned to Finland last season and had some growing pains with Ilves Tampere playing with and against men. Thomson started strong, with two power-play goals in his first game, and finished with seven goals and six assists in 39 games -- not bad for a 19-year-old in a good European pro league. He loves to shoot the puck, and averaged more than three shots per game.
Thomson was named captain of Finland’s U20 team at the world juniors and contributed three assists in seven games while the Finns finished fourth in the tournament.
Originally expected to be in AHL Belleville for the upcoming season, due to the fallout from COVID-19, Thomson has been temporarily loaned back to Ilves, at least for the start of the 2020-21 European hockey season.
He’s just 19, so it is difficult to project Thomson’s future role with the Senators. It will depend on his progress this season as well as that of fellow prospects in the system, like Erik Brannstrom, Christian Wolanin and Bernard-Docker. Thomson has top-four potential and at the very least should have a future as a power-play, right-shot quarterback.
Take your pick. As a bottom feeder team the past three seasons, the Senators have holes to fill throughout the lineup, yet have a high number of prospects in the system, especially at AHL Belleville, where the B-Sens were a dynamic, high-scoring team in 2019-20.
There is depth in goal, with four prospects in the system, as well as on defence and at forward. But at the NHL level, there is a lack of top-end talent at centre and on defence. In goal, Ottawa has a desperate need for experience as Anderson’s heir-apparent, Anders Nilsson, largely a career backup to this point, is recovering from a concussion suffered in December.
While general manager Pierre Dorion has said he believes Nilsson will be ready to start the season, whenever that might be, the club is expected to seek some goalie help through trade or free agency.
Behind Nilsson is Marcus Hogberg, who played well for Ottawa last season but has just 28 games of NHL experience.