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Ottawa Senators Draft Profiles: Pick #32 Defencemen

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Four defencemen the Sens could potentially take at pick #32.

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2018 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
Ottawa’s 2nd round pick from 2018 was defenceman Jonny Tychonick.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Last year, the Ottawa Senators selected Jonny Tychonick in the second round, after acquiring an extra pick from trading down in the first round. They possess two second round picks this year, picks #32 and #44, which they could possibly use to select a defenceman.

In this post, we’ve chosen four defenders who are on the first/second round fringe of most scouting lists, based on their expected draft range. Let’s begin!

Matthew Robertson (LD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Edmonton Oil Kings WHL 6'3" 200 lbs 22 - 36 26 (NA)

Matthew Robertson, no relation to Nicholas, is a big, skilled defenceman currently being coached by former Sens assistant Brad Lauer in Edmonton. His 0.63 points-per-game this season was second to Bowen Byram among first-time draft-eligible defencemen in the WHL, and its those two, along with Kelowna’s Kaedan Korczak, who have been the top defencemen in their age group for quite some time.

Robertson played in all-situations, and scouts unanimously note how he “skates well for a big man.” He utilizes his speed to both break up opposition attacks at his blue line, and to jump into attacks as a second layer when he sees the opportunity. He can still work on his puck skills and overall offensive toolkit, but he can move the puck to his supporting forwards with relative ease.

Defensively, as the Kournianos quote alludes to, Robertson is a rock. He’s played for Team Canada in both the U17s and the U18s, and while he wasn’t excellent in the latter, he was one of his team’s top players in the former. If he continues to ensure his agility isn’t affected by his size, and works on handling the puck a bit more, Robertson has a first-round skillset and projects as a top-four defenceman. In the Ottawa Senators system, he’d likely become the organization’s best defender in terms of his toolkit in his own zone, and his supporting offensive ability may be a quality modern compliment to Thomas Chabot or Erik Brännström. With just Christian Jaros, Max Lajoie, and potentially Jacob Bernard-Docker able to play the penalty kill with regularity, Robertson could add that dimension to the team’s growing blueline.

Highlights

Mikko Kokkonen (LD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Jukurit Liiga 5'11" 200 lbs 31 - 73 10 (Euro)

There were only three 17-year-old defencemen that played any games in Finland’s Liiga this year, so Mikko Kokkonen was a name that stood out just by virtue of playing in such a tough league for young players to crack. That fact makes his 56 games — first all-time — stand out; with his points-per-game mark of 0.34, the fifth highest mark ever (min. 10 GP), the icing on the cake. It doesn’t help that two of the names ahead of him, Ville Heinola and Anttoni Honka, are also in this draft class, but it’s impressive company for the young rearguard nonetheless.

Kokkonen averaged 17:25 minutes of ice-time a game on Jukurit, and has the hockey sense to play well defensively with strong gap control. He doesn’t shy away from staying close to defenders, and has a strong physical frame — despite his height — that allows him to make stops on attacking forwards. This is Kokkonen’s second year of playing against men, as he played 12 games in Liiga last year, and 29 in the tier-II Mestis, and he’s represented Finland in two straight U18 tournaments. Despite his point production, many analysts are questioning Kokkonen’s offensive ability, especially when compared to Honka and Heinola. He’s an average skater at best, and it’s what make some question their rankings of him after watching him struggle internationally against his peer group.

From Lassi Alanen, who had Kokkonen ranked 7th among Finnish prospects for the 2019 Draft:

Simple decisions can be effective most of the time, but it also leaves the question whether chooses to do things because it is the correct play or because he doesn’t have the skills to do anything else. Kokkonen has already maxed out his frame, and his improvement has been minor. His floor as a player might be pretty high, but his ceiling might not be. That’s why a player like Honka is ranked ahead of him on this list. Kokkonen’s chances to reach the NHL might be significantly higher, but Honka has more potential.

We’ve linked Finlay Sherratt’s work in these pieces a fair bit, and his tracking data — albeit only 7 games for Kokkonen — paints the picture of a player who could safely transition the puck into the offensive zone after he’s made a stop, but can struggle moving the puck on the zone exit if he’s being pressured in the defensive end. It’s a concern that makes sense given his skating concerns, but it’s also important to consider the relative quality of his teammates here as well — Jukurit barely avoided a last place finish.

Taking Kokkonen would give the Sens a mature player with a solid defensive skillset, and they could look to move bring him to North America sooner rather than later to see if he can improve on his skating and offensive ability on a stronger, more balanced Belleville squad.

Highlights

Anttoni Honka (RD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
JYP Liiga 5'11" 175 lbs 25 - 51 22 (Euro)

While the 2019 draft is a weaker one for defencemen, especially compared to 2018, Finland has put their best foot forward. We covered Ville Heinola earlier this week, and you just read about Mikko Kokkonen. Now I present to you the defenceman with the highest ceiling of the bunch: Anttoni Honka.

No player has had his rankings more dispersed this season than Honka, who some have ranked in their top 20, and others have ranked outside their top 100. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more boom-or-bust prospect in this draft, but with high risk comes high reward. And personally, picking Honka is a risk I would not hesitate to make.

Honka’s draft stock was very high at the end of 2017-18, after he exploded for nine points in 20 games in his draft-minus-one season. Very few players manage to play at that level so early, as his season was the highest point-per-game rate amongst U18 defencemen since 1981, ahead of guys like Miro Heiskanen and Rasmus Ristolainen. Expectations dwindled as his most recent season went on, though, as although he still excelled with eight points in 27 games on two bad teams in a men’s league, it wasn’t an improvement on last year. He was loaned to Finland’s second division, Mestis, for the end of the season, where he was electric in the playoffs en route to a second place finish.

With scoring rates this good, it’s no surprise that Honka’s offensive game is at a very high level, with elite puck handling, smart creativity, and the ability to process plays at a very high speed. He’s also an excellent skater, which allows him to act with such versatility.

The two teams he split time between this season, JYP and Jukurit, finished 10th and 14th respectively (in a 15 team league), both with sub-par possession metrics. When Honka hit the ice, however, his teams immediately rose to having well over 50% of the on-ice shots. Honka’s also a master at neutral zone transitions, as evidenced by the chart below (percentages are his percentile within the league, higher = better).

Finlay Sherratt

The catch with Honka is that he leaves a lot to be desired defensively. He can act passive floating towards the puck carrier, and with his minuscule stature, he rarely brings a physical presence. He showed little to no improvement in this area this past season either, and given that he’s on the older side of the draft class (born October 5th), there is legitimate reason to be concerned that it will hold him back for the foreseeable future.

This has led to his relationship with coaches being shaky at best. If his team is losing in the final minute, you can bet that Honka will be out there trying to score the tying goal. His skillset also lends extremely well to the powerplay, which is how he racked up a lot of his Liiga points in 2017-18. But in any type of defensive scenario, Honka is the last one to hit the ice. At the U20 World Junior Championships, even though Finland won the tournament, he was benched for the entire third period of the gold medal game. And in the Mestis final, it was a bad turnover by Honka that led to the opposition scoring in overtime. His defensive decision making can be very suspect.

The obvious comparison is Ryan Merkley (drafted 21st by San Jose in 2018), and while the two are very similar in their offence-only playing style, Merkley’s offensive game is on a whole other level of elite. Merkley also came with deeper concerns for his future improvement, making him even more of a high-risk/high-reward pick. Honka is also the younger brother to the slowly-developing Julius Honka, although the two play very different playing styles despite their relation.

Honka’s offensive style is perfect for the modern NHL, and he’s already proven that he has the capacity to dominate against older competition. The lack of high-upside defencemen in this draft could see him go earlier than expected, too. His elite toolkit still comes with a hefty amount of risk, though, which is why he’s in the pick #32 post and not the one for pick #19.

Highlights

Tobias Björnfot (LD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Djugårdens IF J20 SuperElit 6'1" 193 lbs 24 - 45 7 (Euro)

Before the start of the 2018-19 season, Tobias Björnfot was thought to be one of the draft class’ top defenceman, after an incredible year in the U20 SuperElit league as a 16-year-old. And while his stock has fallen since then (he only matched his point total in three less games), Björnfot has solidified himself as one of this draft class’ most reliable two-way players.

Playing for a Djurgårdens team that boasted a slew of solid young defencemen, Björnfot quickly stood out as their #1 guy, playing upwards of 20 minutes a night at even strength by the end of the season. He was relied upon in all situations, playing steady minutes on both the top power play and penalty kill units. He received a short tryout in the SHL too, appearing in seven regular season games and four more in the playoffs.

While he may not be an electric offensive player like Anttoni Honka, Björnfot’s defensive acumen is well beyond his years. He’ll almost always go for the conservative play, which although makes him one of this draft’s safer prospects, the skillset he possesses is rare to find in a defenceman of his age. As discussed on the Cost Per Pointcast, he’s a very “clean” player, and a big part of that has to do with his excellent skating.

It’s not like he’s an offensive slump either, which Sens fans may recall was a concern with Andreas Englund. He finished third in SuperElit points per game amongst U18 defencemen, and was named the SuperElit defenceman of the year.

What scouts also love about Björnfot are his leadership skills. He captained Sweden to their first ever gold medal at the World U18s, and to a strong second place finish at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He leads by example, not by playing flashy, but by making the right two-way decisions.

Even though Björnfot ended up falling in the rankings, some scouts still have him pegged in the late first round. He shoots left, like many of the defencemen already in the Sens’ system, but could still be a potential option to be selected at pick #32.

Highlights


MORE DRAFT COVERAGE

Pick #19 Forwards
Pick #19 Defencemen
Pick #32 Forwards
Other Interesting Forwards
Other Interesting Defencemen
Goalies