With the 2018 draft wrapped up, the Ottawa Senators walked away with eight new prospects. In total, they drafted five forwards, two defencemen and one goalie, making for their busiest draft since 2015. Below is a brief description of each of their new prospects, along with a little analysis of each pick.
Brady Tkachuk (C/LW), 4th overall
This could likely go down as the most controversial pick in Sens history. With top picks getting harder to possess due to the draft lottery, and the team owing a pick to 1st round pick to the Colorado Avalanche, the Senators were brave enough to not only keep a pick, but to take one of the hardest players to evaluate in the draft.
We profiled Tkachuk earlier in our prospect profiles, and although our evaluation didn’t come off as positive, there’s still a reason he was ranked as high as he was leading up to the draft. His playmaking abilities are outstanding, and he’s also a strong skater who likes to drive to the net. He can fend off opponents down low while bringing a gritty, physical edge. And as Pierre Dorion really hit hard on during his post-pick talk, his work ethic is impeccable. Tkachuk is instantly Ottawa’s best prospect, without question, and I’m excited to see what he can do in a Sens uniform.
Pick analysis: As good a player as Tkachuk may be, many fans were left disappointed with this pick, and for good reason. The context always needs to be taken into consideration, and in that sense, the Sens really messed up. Left on the board were players like Filip Zadina, who has the potential to be a top-six scorer next season with a significantly higher ceiling, and Quinn Hughes, who has scored above or equal to Tkachuk while playing for the same teams as a defenceman.
I’m not a fan of the Tkachuk pick not because of Tkachuk, but because the Sens were given the opportunity to do much better given their resources. It’s no secret that the draft is the way to build a contending team, so given the franchise’s tight budget, there should be no room for these types of inefficiencies.
As an aside, it turns out that Brady’s uncle is the agent of Erik Karlsson. Maybe it will be worth it after all.
Jacob Bernard-Docker (RD), 26th overall
The Sens’ second pick in the first round, Jacob Bernard-Docker, was drafted from the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers. Known as a smooth-skating, two-way defenceman, he was the league’s 4th highest scoring U18 player last season, with 41 points in 49 games, and an additional 14 points in 15 games in the playoffs. He can walk the blue line with ease, and reminds me somewhat of the Chabot pick in 2015 in that he’s a poised player at a young age. He’s committed to the University of North Dakota for next season, the same place as recent grad Christian Wolanin.
Pick analysis: Ary and I profiled Bernard-Docker, although it was in our post aimed at players we thought would surely be available outside the first round. This was definitely one of the most off-the-board picks of the draft’s first day (still not quite as much as Minnesota), and was also one of the ‘safer’ choices. As much as I like Bernard-Docker as a player, there were a tonne of fantastic players who ended up falling because of picks like these, including Joe Veleno and Jonatan Berggren. I think the Sens made a good decision to trade down (and they got some pretty great value for doing so), although even afterwards, Bernard-Docker would’ve been someone who very likely would’ve been available at pick #48.
Jonny Tychonick (LD), 48th overall
Tychonick was personally my favourite pick from the Sens in the 2018 draft. I had him nearly a full round ahead of Bernard-Docker on my personal draft board, which is why Ary and I decided to cover him as someone to potentially take with pick #22. Playing this past season in the BCHL for the Penticton Vees, Tychonick has put up some of the best numbers the league has seen since Duncan Keith. His 47 points in 48 regular season games was second on his team, and he turned it up a few more notches in the playoffs with 17 points in 11 games, first on his team.
As you can probably guess based on the stats, Tychonick has fantastic offensive awareness, with a great shot and even better vision. He likes to speed things up in the offensive zone to put the opposition on their heels. His defensive coverage could use some work, although with training he projects highly offensively. Even sweeter is that he’s also committed to the University of North Dakota for next season, as he’ll likely be developed as a pairing with Bernard-Docker. They’ve known each other since they were ten, and were a dynamite pair when playing at the World Junior A Challenge. The Sens’ side claims it was a coincidence, although Tychonick thinks otherwise (he’s also a fantastic interviewer, by the way).
Pick analysis: Count me a fan. While a falling Akil Thomas would’ve been my personal pick, I don’t think there is anyone else I would’ve taken over Tychonick. The Sens picked for the lower ceilings in the first round, so it was refreshing to see them go for the higher end player with their newest pick. To have both him and Bernard-Docker playing together at UND next season should make for a really interesting development story.
Johnny Gruden (LW), 95th overall
Hailing from USA’s development program, Gruden played for a strong team that involved the likes of Jack Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee. While the trio were dynamite on the first line, Gruden was quietly also quietly dominant scoring a nearly a point-per-game pace in 60 games for the USDP. Gruden’s style is a bit of a rarer breed as a two-way winger, often being a first forward back on the back check. He will also often act as a net front presence, with strong skating to help him get from one end to the other with ease. He may not be a flashy player, but Gruden certainly showed results in 2017-18. Gruden is committed to the University of Miami, Ohio next season, with a chance to start getting big minutes early on.
Pick analysis: At this point in the fourth round, lots of the talent is grouped so closely together that it’s hard to judge whether or not the pick was a good decision. Most scouting services had him ranked around picks 50-90, so seeing him taken at 95 is a positive sign that the Sens got good value for their pick.
Angus Crookshank (LW), 126th overall
The Sens opted for another BCHL player at #126, choosing one of the draft’s best names in Angus Crookshank. Crookshank is technically an overager (born October 2nd, 1999), although he would’ve been one of the youngest players in last year’s draft. From what we know about Crookshank, he’s is a strong skater who often makes drives towards the net. Despite being the smallest player the Sens took this year at 5’11”, he’s been described as having strong lower body strength, and being difficult to knock off the puck.
Pick analysis: This was a bit of an odd pick, as the Sens went off the board to select someone who had decent, albeit not excellent production in the BCHL. While Crookshank was the second leading scorer on his team, his teammate Brendan Budy surprisingly went undrafted, despite scoring at a higher rate and this being his first eligible draft year.
Kevin Mandolese (G), 157th overall
Ottawa’s annual late goalie pickup, Mandolese was one of the higher rated goalies going into the draft, ranked second amongst North American ‘tenders by Central Scouting. Mandolese has a bit of an Ottawa connection, living in the city until he was six and then continuing to grow up as a Sens fan. Playing for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (former team of Drake Batherson), he put up a save percentage of .884, while sharing the crease with QMJHL veteran Kyle Jessiman. With Jessiman dealt to Baie-Comeau for a second round pick, the crease belongs to Mandolese for his third QMJHL season.
Mandolese is a tall goalie at 6’4”, and was also one of the draft’s younger players (born August 22nd, 2000). He uses his height to his advantage and is quick on his pads for a tall player, although his gloves could still be a bit quicker, as could his puck-tracking. Cat Silverman had an extensive profile on him at The Athletic (paywall).
Pick analysis: Round six is a good time to take a goalie — they’re not taking a big gamble by using a top-50 pick, and he was one of the higher ranked netminders of the draft. The Sens continued to show their affinity towards tall goalies, with their last drafted goalies being 6’4”, 6’2”, 6’5” and 6’4”. That said, Mandolese still has some good upside, and hopefully we can see him make big strides in the next few seasons.
Jakov Novak (C/LW), 188th overall
Luke Loheit (RW), 194th overall
This is the point in the draft where players are getting drafted that I don’t think I’ve heard about once. The Sens opted for two more college bound players in Novak and Loheit in round seven, each with a bit of upside.
Novak was in his third year of draft eligibility. As one of only two NAHL players to be drafted this year, the league doesn’t have all that great a track record of producing NHL talent. This also makes him the second NAHL-drafted player for the Sens in the last three years taking Todd Burgess in 2016. That said, Novak was the league’s leading scorer this season, with 32 goals and 73 points in 56 games. Standing at 6’3”, he also plays with an edge, racking up 131 penalty minutes (10th league-wide). He’s committed to Bentley University for next season.
Loheit, meanwhile, is significantly younger having yet to turn 18. Playing high school hockey for Minnetonka, he served as their captain while scoring 30 points in 24 games. He’s committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for the 2019-20 season, and will play for the Penticton Vees (Tychonick’s team) next season.
Pick analysis: There’s not much to be said here — at this point in the draft most of these picks are gambles on players who you hope to see have major improvements. While there were still some solid CHLers falling, and I was screaming at the TV for someone to take Marcus Westfalt, you can’t really fault the Sens for either of their picks this late in the draft.
- This was the second year in a row that Ottawa’s drafted solely North American players. Say what you will about the players available, but I think this solely comes down to the scouting department. With only two scouts assigned to cover all of Europe, it doesn’t allow for them to get much of an idea of the players available. With less information, it makes for much more uncertainty when making a pick — something a GM never wants to feel.
- Somewhat to that point, Ottawa is now the team with the longest running streak of not drafting a Russian (the title was previously held by Carolina who picked Andrei Svechnikov). With the last Russian being Ruslan Bashkirov in 2007, one has to wonder why it’s been so long. The previous point of not having scouts is probably most of it, and I’m sure the KHL factor is also at play. But this also includes Russian players who have made the early transition to North America, which is becoming an increasingly popular route. The KHL fear must run really deep in the Sens’ organization, while they look on at teams like Tampa Bay and Washington take full advantage to their profit.
- Every single player drafted this year except for one will be taking the college route. This seems to be a place of increased interest for the Sens in the past few drafts, and with the addition of two part-time scouts to cover the USA, it really showed in this class. The positives are evident, as it allows the prospects a longer development timeline before turning pro. Unlike the CHL where the max age is 20, NCAA players can stay until after their senior year at around 23. While this could be viewed as yet another way to send Melnyk some cash, this is definitely a good thing for both team and prospect flexibility, which is why the route is gaining more and more popularity amongst young players.