Senators chief scout on 2020 NHL Draft, Byfield vs. Stutzle and brotherly love

From naming D.J. Smith as their next head coach, to Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk continuing their progression, to stockpiling many young prospects and picks, the Ottawa Senators used the 2019-20 season to lay the foundation for the future.

Trent Mann doesn’t doubt the Ottawa Senators will draft a good hockey player at third and fifth overall in next week’s NHL draft.

But he’d like to also make a scout’s case for Ottawa’s four picks in the second round.

Mann, the Senators' chief amateur scout and the quarterback of Ottawa’s draft on Oct. 6-7, offers a gentle reminder to general manager Pierre Dorion that there will be solid talent available beyond No. 3 and No. 5 to No. 28 in the late first round and four second-round picks -- at Nos. 33, 52, 59 and 61.

It’s Dorion’s job to listen to rival offers for those picks -- the Senators have 13 picks in all -- but in true scouting fashion, Mann stood up for his amateur staff during a pre-draft Zoom call with reporters.

“I’ve let Pierre know for a while now that in that second round, we’re still going to get some solid players there. We feel strongly about that and there’s going to be a number of them still on the board at that point in time,” Mann said from his home in New Brunswick.

“So, while I understand if he has a deal to make, fine, equally I want him to know that if it’s not something he feels immediately helps us, we can pick a player who will help us down the road for sure.”

Mann provided insights on the draft and the strategies involved, relaying how the staff will use mock drafts to practice shifting gears, should a trade happen and Ottawa moves out of its current draft slots.

Asked about the club’s thinking at Nos. 3 and 5, Mann smiled.

“I think Pierre has been pretty clear what the plan is at [No. 3],” he said, a reference to the widely held view that Ottawa would draft whichever forward does not get selected second overall by the Los Angeles Kings -- either Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle. Consensus No. 1 Alexis Lafreniere is expected to go first overall to the New York Rangers, unless they move the pick.

“At [No.5], I think it’s going to depend on what happens ahead of us,” Mann said. “We have to be ready for a number of different things, including a scenario where maybe somebody wants to move up and take [No. 5] as well, so what does that give us?”

It is expected to be a busy draft, with a lot of movement. There are teams desperate for picks, and to move salary because they are squeezed by the flat salary cap in a year that has been hard on NHL revenues.

If the Senators opt for a forward at No. 5, Mann says there are a number of strong scoring wingers, including Lucas Raymond, who has the advantage of showcasing his game in Europe with Frolunda.

“Lucas Raymond, we have watched quite a bit lately because he is playing,” Mann says. “That’s a bonus for us, and I guess him as well. We have seen the growth in him over the last six or seven months and playing in the men’s league last year and this year.”

A scout’s view on Byfield vs. Stutzle

Mann gave us a thorough breakdown on the merits of Byfield, the massive, six-foot-four, OHL centre and Stutzle, the flashy C/LW from Germany, including which one is more NHL-ready at this point.

“Two very good hockey players,” Mann said. “Very different players. Obviously, Quinton has the big physical presence, that is very noticeable right off the hop. He’s a genuine kid who works extremely hard, competes extremely hard day-to-day and brings a skill-set that a lot of big players don’t necessarily have.

“Tim Stutzle, if you interviewed both kids, there is a bit more maturity with Stutzle right now based on the fact he has lived with men the past year and a half. Being around men, ex-NHL guys, his maturity level is a bit further along.

“He brings speed and skill where Byfield, while he moves well for a bigger guy, brings more power. Two completely different players but two very good kids.”

It’s worth noting again, Byfield just turned 18 and so is a full seven months younger than Stutzle.

“Stutzle is probably closer to being (NHL) ready based on the fact he has played in the DEL and has been around those men, where Quinton, you have to wait and see,” Mann says.

Mann feels it wouldn’t hurt Byfield’s development to spend another season in junior, with Sudbury, while Stutzle has the advantage of being eligible to play in the AHL next season.

“The options are more in Tim’s favour but Quinton is ready to battle for a spot,” Mann says.

Centre or wing for Stutzle?

Scouts just love to talk hockey minutiae, and so Mann grins when he says that his staff carry out lively debates “in every meeting” about whether Stutzle is better suited to centre, which he played as a junior, or wing, which he plays in the German League (DEL).

“Some believe for sure he can play C and we have some who feel he’d be more productive on the wing,” Mann says. “The debate is still going on.

“Whether he plays centre or wing, I’m not worried about that. I think he’s going to be a productive player in either spot. Ideally would it be centre? Yes, but I have no concerns from a productivity standpoint -- if he’s on the wing he’s still going to be a productive player.”

Like Dorion, Mann is disappointed that all the amateur scouts can’t be together in one room for the draft due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. However, the staff is getting adept at communicating via laptop, so much so that Mann jokes he is approaching “death by Zoom,” the same way that school administrators used to talk of “death by meetings.”

The Zoom calls do allow for longer interviews with prospects, but Mann laments the loss of medical and physical tests that would normally be possible in a combine. COVID strikes again.

With Yaroslav Askarov an interesting storyline as a goaltender with Round 1 potential, Mann said his view is he would be confident taking any player, a goalie included, if he feels it’s right for the organization. That led him to comment on the Senators fourth overall-pick in 2018... a kid who wasn’t named Filip Zadina.

“A couple of years back, we took a kid named Brady Tkachuk who wasn’t exactly -- I’ll be perfectly honest,  we took a little heat for that. But we felt at the time he was the best player suited for the Senators and what we wanted to do.”

No regrets on that one.

“It’s not about position. It’s about the player who lets you move forward with the roster or the organization as far as winning,” he says.

Brotherly love... to a point

It is well-known in Ottawa, but less so elsewhere, that Trent Mann’s brother, Troy, happens to be the head coach of the AHL's Belleville Senators, Ottawa’s top farm team.

Asked if they talk shop much, in season or out, Trent Mann said the brothers know their boundaries.

“I try to stay out of his business, and he tries to stay out of my business,” Mann said.

“The only thing I can say, we have tried to make it ‘mandated’ (no pun intended) within the staff to spend more time in Belleville ... just to see what is happening, and so can we see the development path to help us make a better pick or continue to make good picks moving forward.”

While Troy Mann did a terrific job in Belleville last season, there is no need, his brother says, to “pat him on the back,” because his work speaks for itself.

“It’s all pretty positive,” Mann says. “Troy and his staff do a wonderful job preparing those players and the feedback helps prepare us for making picks moving forward.”

On Monday, a day before show time, Ottawa’s draft staff will be going through mock drafts, while testing online input, Zoom-to-Zoom, from out-of-town scouts.

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