The Ottawa Senators are going to be at the bottom of the standings this year when all is said and done. They have definitely surprised this year with their effort and some of their on-ice results, but the reality is this is a team destined for the basement, and that will become even more true when the inevitable trade deadline sell-off. The upside for fans, is that the 2020 draft is being touted as one of the best in recent memory, and the top two prospects have fans of bad teams salivating.
Alexis Lafreniere is probably the best player to come out of the QMJHL since Sidney Crosby. He makes everyone around him better, puts up points in bunches, and if the Sens draft him, people will walk to Kanata for a chance to see this kid play. Lafreniere lining up with Drake Batherson would provide the Sens with an amazing young line that would dominate for years.
Quinton Byfield would be a number 1 pick in most other years, and he could provide the Sens with a legitimate top-line centre. He is being called the Canadian Malkin, and I think Sens fans would be thrilled to have a Malkin of any nationality on this team. Byfield in the lineup takes a lot of pressure off of players like Brown and Norris, and lets them slide into more natural roles as the team's second and third line centres and lets DJ Smith or whoever is coaching in a few years, role a deeper offensive unit than the team has had in a long time.
But what if, after the lottery is drawn, the Senators find themselves without a top-2 pick in this draft? I mean there's a chance that one of these two players falls out of the top-2, but it doesn't seem likely right now. In this scenario, who should the team pick? This is a deep draft, especially in terms of forwards, but grabbing a forward no matter where the team is drafting feels like a mistake.
While the Sens have an obvious need for top-end offensive skill, they will have a chance to grab some really talented forwards with their picks at the bottom of the first and top of the second round. If the team misses the chance to grab Lafreniere or Byfield, I think the team should pick either Jamie Drysdale or Yaroslav Askarov with their first pick in this draft.
The Case for Drysdale
Now I know what the Sens fans are thinking: "Really? Another defenceman in the first round?" Your collective eye rolls are burning into my very soul, but hear me out. Drysdale is an amazing talent on the backend. Not only is he averaging more than a point-per-game in the OHL right now, but he has been in on about one third of his team's goals so far this season. He is on pace to cruise past his point totals from last year sometime in January, and that's even if he makes the cut for Team Canada. The kid drives the play from his own end and is as smooth skating as you could hope for an 18 year-old defenceman.
Of course, the Sens have spent a lot of draft and trade capital over the past couple seasons building up a stable of young defenceman. With Chabot and Brannstrom on the left and JBD and Thomson on the right, the Sens have high hopes that they have their Top-4 of the future already in the system. I think there's every reason for Sens fans to be optimistic about these four, but just because it is already a strength is no reason to pass on a player like Drysdale.
If the Sens fall out of the top-2 and snap up Drysdale, they will have five top-end defensive prospects in the system, and a future where you could trade one of them to bring in veteran help for a young team. I think a future tandem of Chabot and Drysdale would give other teams nightmares, and allow the Sens to build for success in much the same way the Predators have.
The Case for Askarov
I know that drafting a goalie with what will likely be a top-5 pick is hard to imagine, but when that goalies is Yaroslav Askarov, you do it. Askarov is big, he moves well, and all he does is win. So far he's only played one game at the KHL-level, but in every other league he's been dominant. He is the type of goalie that will be able to cover over the mistakes that a young team is bound to make, and once that team is experienced and able to defend well in front of him, look out.
Once again I'm suggesting drafting a player in what is considered an area of strength for the team. The team has five strong young goalies in the system, and at least one of them is bound to become a solid pro going forward. But you don't draft a player like Askarov to shore up a weakness in the system, you draft him because he might be the best player in the draft.
Anyone who remembers the 2005-2006 Senators and how they dominated the league that year, will remember what it was like to have an otherworldly talent in the net. Hasek was as much a part of that dominance as the Pizza Line was, and Askarov is going to be that type of goalie. He's going to help bad teams make the playoffs when they shouldn't and he's going to take great teams to the next level. Many fans will remember how the Sens' Cup hopes in '06 were dashed not in the second round against Buffalo, but in Turin when Hasek went down with an adductor injury. Imagine if we had another goalie like that, but who was just starting out, rather than winding down, his career.
But what about forwards???
The Sens could, and probably will, take a forward with their top pick, even if Byfield and Lafreniere are off the board, but I don't think any of the other forwards move the dial as much for future success as Drysdale or Askarov could. The Sens will likely have two more firsts (assuming they add one at the deadline) towards the end of the first round and a bunch of seconds to play with as well. With these picks, they could add a host of young forwards, or even trade up to grab someone like Marco Rossi. The team needs offence badly, but with that top pick they need to pick a difference-maker regardless of position, and that's why they should pick players even if they play a position that is an organizational strength.