Just two years ago, the Ottawa Senators were all about their high draft picks — with two selections among the top five.
Who would they take? Tim Stützle and Jake Sanderson, it turned out.
This time around, the question is less about who Ottawa might pick versus — will they keep the pick?
In the days leading up to Thursday’s NHL draft in Montreal there has been plenty of speculation that the Senators could package their top pick (seventh overall) with another prospect to acquire a player to step into the lineup this fall. There is just as much talk that the Senators will pursue one or both of their targets — a top four-defenceman and a top six forward — through free agency.
With the picks that they do use, look for the Senators to draft a broad mix of forwards and defencemen, and possibly a goalie since they didn’t draft one last year.
In all, the Senators hold 11 picks, including five in the first three rounds.
Ottawa 2022 draft picks: Rd 1 (7), Rd 2 (39, 64), Rd 3 (72, 87), Rd 4 (104), Rd 5 (136, 143, 151) Rd 6 (168), Rd 7 (206).
Potential Round 1 targets
RW Joakim Kemell, JYP (SM Liiga)
5-10, 185 lbs
GP G A PTS PIM
39 15 8 23 2
Kemell is not the biggest player in the top 10, but he is one of the most skilled. The native of Jyvaskyla, Finland had a good finish to his season in Liiga, scoring 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games. A strong skater and energetic player, Kemell has the kind of offensive tools that can quarterback a power play. Many scouts see Kemell as a top six NHL winger as he reaches his potential.
C Matthew Savoie, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
GP G A PTS PIM
65 35 55 90 32
The only other Canadian in the top 10 other than Shane Wright, Savoie is among the top three centres of the draft and just might be the most dynamic. Some analysts compare him to Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like Point, Savoie is an explosive skater, with great hands and an ability to get to the scoring areas despite his small stature. Depending on how the first six picks go, Savoie could be a nice pickup at No. 7. The Senators have depth at centre with Josh Norris, Stützle and Shane Pinto but Savoie could also slot in on the right side. Savoie had 34 points on the power play.
D David Jirícek, HC Plzen (Czechia)
6-3, 190 lbs.
GP G A PTS PIM
29 5 6 11 49
We are going to assume that Šimon Nemec, the top-rated defenceman in the draft, is gone by the time the Sens pick at No. 7. If so, and they are looking for a D-man with the pick, Jirícek would be a strong choice. Three inches taller than the smooth-skating Nemec, Jirícek is more of a shutdown-type defenceman and has a heavy shot. Jirícek missed some time with a knee injury this season, and got a boost from returning to play for Czechia in the world championship. Could project to a top-four defenceman in the NHL.
Last year’s first round pick: RW Tyler Boucher, 10th overall
The Senators have taken some heat from their fans for selecting Boucher this high in the 2021 draft, passing over the likes of Cole Sillinger, picked 12th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Sillinger put up 39 points as a true NHL rookie last season while Boucher was trying to find his footing between Boston University and the OHL 67’s.
When I mention the controversy over Boucher to Ottawa’s chief amateur scout Trent Mann (promoted last week to assistant general manager), Mann makes a couple of points.
One. Don’t give up on Boucher. He experienced injuries to his shoulder and knee and was set back by contracting COVID-19 last season.
Two. Mann likes the power-forward potential of Boucher, who had 22 penalty minutes to go with his 14 points in 24 games with the 67’s, after leaving Boston U in mid-season.
Time will tell. The 6-1, 205 pound Boucher is a big hitter with a strong shot. But he has some catching up to do with some of his 2021 draft mates.
As we mentioned off the top, the Senators are in the market for one impact forward and another on defence. And these priority items are not something they feel they can address directly in this draft, but in conjunction with it, possibly trading a pick or picks to improve the team now.
Mann views this draft as decent, but not as talented and top-heavy as some, meaning that a team might consider dropping back in the draft to take advantage of the depth of picks available. In other words, a team might do just as well later on in a more homogenous draft, and could swap out a higher pick for a current player or prospect.
The overriding consideration for the Senators is that they no longer see themselves as the rebuilding team tapping into high draft picks, but rather a club further along the curve trying to find those important complementary pieces to go with a strong core led by Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Josh Norris and Stützle etc.
After missing the playoffs for each of the past five seasons, the Sens have a goal of at least contending for a post-season position in 2023.