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Ottawa Senators Draft Profiles: Top Defencemen

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Which star blueliners could potentially be putting on a Sens jersey on draft day?

London Knights v Windsor Spitfires
Could Evan Bouchard rise up the draft board to pick #4?
Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

We’re back with more draft profiles! On Monday, we looked at potential forwards to select with the 4th overall pick, and today we shift towards the defencemen. The 2018 draft class is reminiscent of those from 2012 and 2008, in that there’s no shortage of top blueliners available. It’s fitting that a defenceman will almost certainly be chosen first overall in Rasmus Dahlin, as this has the potential to be the most defence-heavy first round the NHL has seen in a while. We’ve chosen three players, who according to scouting reports have a chance of being selected by the Sens with their 4th overall pick.

Every analyst evaluates prospects slightly differently, and since these profiles are being written by our two prospect gurus Colin Cudmore and Ary Maharaj, we’ve decided to give you some insight into their process for evaluating defencemen. If you want to hop right to the prospect stuff, it’s just a few paragraphs below.

Colin:

The NHL is becoming faster and faster, so I look for defencemen who can both think and act quickly. I look for defensive poise, which to me loosely translates to having confidence with the puck on their stick. That includes skating the puck out of the zone and making the first pass, not being afraid to occasionally skate the puck into the offensive zone instead of automatically dumping it, and being able to confidently read plays from the blue line.

I value size more in defencemen than I do in forwards, although style of play is heavily taken into account. Marks are only docked if the player’s style of play requires more of a physical presence to defend the blue line. Offensive contributors receive exceptions.

Ary:

First and foremost, if a defencemen isn’t smart — if they can’t read and react to the play, position themselves accordingly, and know when to take risks — I don’t think they can succeed in today’s NHL. I value those that can transition the puck out of the zone with possession, either through strong passing ability or a willingness to move their feet and skate the puck out of the zone. I see defending your own blueline as a more systems-level trait, but smart physicality is something that I’ve learned to appreciate. This doesn’t have to be the heavy hitter, but defencemen who know how to leverage their size to separate attacking players from the puck. All of this together means that I tend to value skilled, point producing defencemen, and find it harder to get a read on defencemen who can’t produce against their age class (an important consideration especially for defencemen playing against men in Europe — I don’t have the same expectations on them to produce).

Evan Bouchard (RD)

Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Evan Bouchard 17 7 6 11 9 15 5 9 8 7 10 6 8 4 (NA)

Although Evan Bouchard is more likely to be picked around picks 5-10, there is still a very real possibility the Ottawa Senators will consider taking him 4th overall. Even before looking at his skillset, he has a couple things going for him. The Sens have definitely seen him a bunch, as he spent the year playing with Alex Formenton on the London Knights. Playing for the Knights has also become a boost for prospects heading into the draft, as the team has built up a strong reputation for pumping out NHLers, including defencemen John Carlson, Olli Maatta and Victor Mete.

With so many great defencemen available in this year’s draft, what makes Bouchard stand out from the rest is his unparalleled scoring rates. Playing 67 games in his third OHL season, he racked up an incredible 87 points, leading all OHL defencemen. In fact, it’s the second highest total amongst U19 defencemen since 1996, only two behind junior hockey phenom Ryan Ellis. Bouchard was an absolute workhorse for the Knights, often playing over 30 minutes a night including time on both the penalty kill and power play.

Just to illustrate how well he did, the following chart shows 5v5 time on ice per game on the x-axis and primary points (i.e. goals and first assists) per 60 minutes on the y-axis, for U19 defencemen in the OHL. With the somewhat-close company of Ryan Merkley, Evan Bouchard is on an island far ahead of the rest.

Let’s talk about the power play for a second. Roughly 30% of his points came with the man advantage, as he manned the right point for the Knights. This is where he excelled most with his playmaking and fantastic vision, although that didn’t stop him from using his booming shot, which notched him ten power play goals.

The one area where some scouts become a bit concerned about Bouchard is his skating. He’s a lanky player at 6’2”, and doesn’t have as powerful a stride that matches up with guys like Boqvist or Hughes. That said, he’s not a slow player by any means, and ranked as the second best backwards skater at the combine for the 2018 CHL top prospects game.

Like Hughes and Tkachuk, it’s again worth taking into consideration Bouchard’s older age (born October 20th 1999), so an adjustment should be made when comparing him to a younger player like Ryan Merkley and Boqvist. However, Bouchard’s offensive dominance was second-to-none in the CHL last season, and tacking on his leadership, where he captained a rebuilding Knights team to a playoff position, it’s easy to see why he’s rocketed up so many draft boards.

Highlights

Adam Boqvist (RD)

Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Adam Boqvist 7 6 5 5 8 4 6 12 5 9 11 9 7 2 (Euro)

Adam Boqvist has at least one thing in common with all of us: he adores Erik Karlsson. One of the most popular answers from defencemen at the combine for the umpteenth year was answering “Erik Karlsson” as a player they admire, and Boqvist is one — due to his heritage and playing style — who may have more similarities than others.

One of just five (!) U18 defencemen to play 10+ games in Sweden’s top league, the SHL, this year, Boqvist has come through the Brynäs system and his offensive prowess has been touted for quite some time. Like Karlsson, he’s been a top scorer at the U16 and U18 levels, winning the Best U18 Defenceman award that features recipients like Anaheim’s Jacob Larsson, Columbus’ Gabriel Carlsson, and Toronto’s Timothy Liljegren. He starred at Sweden’s annual U15 tournament, the TV-Pucken, and as a 16 year old in 2016-17, played all of Sweden’s games at the U17 and U18 World Championships.

This past year, Boqvist followed Karlsson in winning the U18 WJC Best Defenceman award after leading all blueliners in scoring with 6 points in 6 games (with 29 shots on goal!) and also finished second in scoring among all skaters at the Ivan Hlinka tournament with 8 points in 5 games. Splitting his regular season between Sweden’s top U20 league, the SuperElit, and the SHL, Boqvist led all regular defencemen in points-per-game (0.96). Karlsson, by the way, had 37 points in 38 games for Frolunda in the SuperElit (0.97 points per game) and one point in seven SHL games. As a late, August 2000 birthday, the right-shot Boqvist has all of the qualities to be named the top EU skater in most years, but has been in the shadow of fellow Swedish phenom Rasmus Dahlin since he was a child.

Offensively, this quote from defence partner Adam Ginning has all you need to know: “Give him the puck and watch the highlights.” Boqvist has top-of-the-class worthy puck skills and passing ability, able to process the game at high speeds and use his tools to drive play in his team’s favour. Swedish national team coach Torgny Bendelin notes, “We coach him when he’s on defence. On offence, he needs no coaching. He has to grow, get stronger and he also has to be a little bit smarter in the defensive zone.”

These concerns aren’t new for a 17 year old defenceman with Boqvist’s size. The fact that he got even a taste of the SHL at his age is rare, and a strong indicator of his pedigree. His production, 1 point and 4 shots on goal in 15 games, shouldn’t concern a team thinking of drafting him seeing as he only played 7:27 a night, and if anything, his SHL time just helps show the difference between where he is compared to a generational talent like Dahlin. Just like young players transitioning from the AHL to the NHL, it’s natural for many to not feel secure, like they can play their game and instead, shift to mistake-free hockey to try and please their coaches.

Brother of Devils’ forward Jesper Boqvist, Adam’s CHL rights are owned by Evan Bouchard and Alex Formenton’s London Knights, so it’ll be interesting to see if he chooses to cross the pond a bit earlier — especially with a family member close by — if he doesn’t like the minutes he’s getting in Sweden. Ottawa’s lack of right-shot defencemen is well-reported and a constant nag by both Colin and I — Boqvist will give the team an elite option to groom for top-four minutes. I’m not going to say anything, other than this, about Boqvist replacing Karlsson. Instead, it’d be incredible to have Karlsson mentor him — with the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights

Quinn Hughes (LD)

Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Quinn Hughes 5 4 4 3 4 10 9 6 9 6 9 7 6 6 (NA)

We covered Quinn Hughes already, as he was our selection in SB Nation’s annual NHL Mock Draft. Not to brag or anything, but our recent track record has come with a fair amount of success, as we selected OHL All-Star Jason Robertson with the 28th overall pick last year, Mikhail Sergachev 12th in 2016, and Oliver Kylington 18th in 2015 (okay, maybe we missed a little bit on that one). Point being, we took Hughes because we believe him to be the best player available outside of the Big Three.

Get familiar with the Hughes family, as not only is Quinn a phenomenal player, but his younger brother Jack appears to be to be the consensus #1 pick for the 2019 entry draft. Quinn hails from the non-traditional hockey market of Orlando, Florida, and moved to Toronto really early in his life as his father worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs up until 2015. Instead of taking the typical Toronto prospect route through the CHL (he was even drafted by Sarnia in 2015), he opted instead to take the college route, enrolling in the U.S. National Team Development Program for the start of the 2015-16 season. It was in his two seasons there where he made significant strides as a prospect. In 2016-17 he led all USHL defencemen in points-per-game, and tied Josh Norris for the team scoring lead, ahead of players like Brady Tkachuk, Grant Mismash, Joel Farabee and Oliver Wahlstrom.

Similar to Tkachuk, who we did an in-depth review of on Monday, Hughes is also a late birthday, being born October 14th, 1999. It’s given him an edge over other prospects in the same draft class, and allowed him to enter the NCAA instead of spending another year in the USHL. With the University of Michigan, he immediately turned into their #1 defenceman, as his team made it all the way to the NCAA’s Frozen Four along with teammates Cooper Marody (junior) and Tony Calderone (senior). They ultimately lost by a single goal to Notre Dame, although that wasn’t the end of the season for Hughes. He was invited to play for Team USA at the World Championships, where despite playing a minimal role, put up two points in ten games en route to a bronze medal finish. Toss in another bronze medal with Team USA at the World Junior Championships in January, and count this season a success for Hughes.

If you’d like to know more about Hughes’ style, I highly recommend reading our piece on him from last week. In short: he’s a proto-typical new-age defenceman, who despite having a size limitation, is one of the draft’s fastest skaters and best a moving the puck down the ice. We also compared him to Brady Tkachuk in Monday’s profiles, although we haven’t yet compared him to another defenceman.

There aren’t really any close comparables to Hughes like there is for Tkachuk, and the closest we can get is Cale Makar, the 4th overall pick in the 2017 draft who plays for UMass Amherst. Although Makar is nearly a full year older than Hughes, they both just finished their freshman year in the NCAA. Makar, who’s known for his offensive instincts, scored 0.62 points per game, while piling on 3.29 shots per game. While Hughes didn’t pile on quite as many shots at 2.51 per game, he still scored at a higher rate of 0.78 points per game. It’s also worth considering that Hughes played on an overall stronger team than Makar. Although, to be playing in the realm of a 4th overall pick a year older than him who’s known for his being an offensive defenceman, I’d say that’s a pretty good indication of a great prospect.

Looking at a some data, the IIHF rolled out a bunch of new technology at the World Championship to track all kinds of cool stuff (full details can be found here). Hughes made an interesting appearance, as of all players in the tournament he ranked third in passing efficiency, at 70.83%. While the IIHF hasn’t given us a hard glossary to go by, it’s fair to assume that the stat is a simple formula to calculate the amount of successful passes over total attempted passes, which would also explain why everyone listed in the top ten is a defenceman. However, while playing against some of the world’s top players, it’s interesting to know that in this sample size Hughes was near the top. Knowing his playing style, it makes sense that this is the category where he makes an appearance, and is again a strong sign.

One final thing to consider with Hughes is his handedness. Unlike the other two defencemen profiled on our list, Hughes plays on the left side, which is a position that’s become pretty competitive around the Sens’ quarters. With Chabot, Wolanin, Borowiecki, Claesson, Harpur and Englund all in the mix for roster spots in the next couple seasons, it could be tough to potentially fit Hughes in a role that would best suit his development. That said, choosing the best player available this high in the draft is the way to go 99.9% of the time, and Hughes has all the right tools to warrant being picked this high.

Highlights


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