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Ottawa Senators Draft Profiles: Other Interesting Defencemen

Smart, mobile defenders who can transition the puck are always in need. Here are four who could be available in the later rounds of the 2019 NHL Draft.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs
Max Lajoie has surprised since being a late round pick in 2016.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

After profiling four forwards the Senators can target in the mid-to-late rounds of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft yesterday, the defencemen are up today.

You’ll notice a trend: three of the four players are right-shots, which wasn’t really intentional when we created our lists, but would surely help the organization fill a need in the weakest area of the system at the moment. Like previous posts, we’ve selected a variety of players: two who played this past season in Finland, one from the WHL, and one from the QMJHL. While the Sens haven’t drafted a European-born defenceman since Christian Jaros in 2015, they haven’t been afraid to do it in the past, and tend to favour players who have suited up for their teams at the international level. The latter two, Fairbrother and Spence, are throwbacks to past picks in Maxime Lajoie and Drake Batherson, and are two players who could provide high upside if all aspects of their game turnout.

Let’s begin!

Antti Tuomisto (RD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Ässät U20 Jr. A SM-liiga 6'5" 193 lbs 47 - 91 15 (Euro)

Antti Tuomisto is a player who appeals to a wide demographic of scouts — his size and defensive play appeal to the more old-school crowd, but he also has some raw skills that could potentially vault him into a top-four role in the NHL.

It’s hard not to notice Tuomisto on the ice, if only because he stands at almost 6’5”. He’s still very lanky and needs to fill out his frame, but he uses his size well. His long reach really helps him defensively, and he naturally has an excellent slap shot which landed him consistent power play time. He also uses his size effectively as a utilitarian hitter, meaning he doesn’t hit just for the sake of making a hit, but to strip his opponents of the puck. He’s also effective at clearing the front of the net. It lands him in the penalty box more often than average, though, as he received 29 penalty minutes in five games at the World Under-18s.

What separates Tuomisto from the pack is that he isn’t just a one-dimensional defensive player. He skates fast for a player his size, although lacks some lateral mobility. He’s also quite poised with the puck, and can set up plays in the offensive zone. In the Finnish U20 league, he had nine goals and 35 points in 45 games, good for fourth in points-per-game amongst all defencemen.

There’s of course still room for improvement in his game. He can still stand to improve his defence off a rush, which ties into his lack of lateral movement. There’s also room for offensive improvement, and given his size, he still has plenty of bulking up to do to reach the defensive level required in the NHL.

Tuomisto’s looking to take a bit of an unorthodox route to the NHL. His goal is to eventually move to the NCAA for the 2020-21 season — he went as far as denying a Liiga tryout to preserve his eligibility. His plans next season are unclear, as to whether he’ll stay with Ässät’s U20 team or move to the USHL. But Tuomisto is expected to be in North America in due time.

Highlights

Martin Hugo Has (RD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Tappara U20 Jr. A SM-liiga 6'4" 194 lbs Late round 38 (Euro)

A top talent among Czech defenders for quite some time, Hugo Has is a big (6-foot-4, 194 pounds), smart, right-shot defenceman who can move the puck with consistency. Coming out of his country’s top junior club — HC Sparta Praha — Hugo Has won back-to-back league championships as a 14- and 15-year-old in an U16 league, and then decided to move to Finland’s top junior league for further development. This season, he finished fourth in points-per-game among U18 defencemen.

Many expected Hugo Has to be the top draft-eligible defender in the Jr. A SM-Liiga this season, so the fact that he wasn’t (and Antti Tuomisto was) disappointed many. Most are concerned with this lack of progression from year-to-year and his skating ability, with some scouts calling his stride “heavy” or lacking power. Defensively, he mainly uses his reach to keep stick-on-puck, but if a crafty forward can get by him, he can have some issues pivoting to recover.

That being said, he’s been a strong defender internationally for the Czech Republic, playing in back-to-back U18 Championships — including once as a 16-year-old — and was invited to the team’s U20 camp this past season. His hockey sense and vision are strong tools, and he’s got a hard shot that allows him to be used on the powerplay where appropriate. While you’ll hear the opposite in the next profile, with 28 picks over the next three drafts, the Sens can afford to take some risks on players with the ceiling of a top-four defenceman (or top-six forward) over players with safer projections. Hugo Has may be a long-term project, but could eventually add value for an organization that’s especially thin on the right-side.

Highlights

Gianni Fairbrother (LD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Everett Silvertips WHL 6'0" 183 lbs Late round 50 (NA)

So far in this series, we’ve covered a lot of players that have a high upside but come with some risks. We take a break from that with Gianni Fairbrother, who although didn’t post eye-popping point totals on the strong Everett Silvertips, was a reliable player who grew his skillset as the season went on. He received two separate shout-outs as a late-round standout on the Cost Per Pointcast, so I had to check him out.

There isn’t anything elite about Fairbrother. His skating won’t wow you, but it’s still really good. He’s solid positionally in the defensive end. His offensive toolkit is also strong, as he showed a lot more willingness to pinch in the second half of the season. He can be feisty as well, getting into a handful of fights. He’s a very well-rounded prospect, so while the upside is low, his floor is high.

One thing that stood out to me when looking at his numbers was that his relative goals-for-percentage was negative, at -9.91. Digging deeper, though, it appears it was just a matter of the rest of his team being really great, and not getting much of a chance to play with Everett’s top players like Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter. In fact, his most common partner, Ian Walker, saw his results improve with Fairbrother compared to when he was with other teammates.

While I generally prefer when teams roll the dice on high upside at the draft table, the reason I include Fairbrother here is that he’s a candidate to fall pretty far down the draft board. While his skillset would normally warrant somewhere in the realm of a third round pick, many scouts have yet to pick up on his better second half. It’s a situation very reminiscent of Max Lajoie in 2016, who slipped to Ottawa in the fifth round after a pretty similar season. If Fairbrother is still on the board in the late rounds, he may be worth a shot.

Highlights

Jordan Spence (RD)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Moncton Wildcats QMJHL 5'10" 177 lbs 46 - 84 59 (NA)

Although he’s slight in stature, 17-year-old Jordan Spence broke onto the scene this season in style, winning QMJHL Rookie of the Year after putting up 6 goals and 43 assists for 49 points in 68 games for the Moncton Wildcats. Spence isn’t new to recognition, having previously won “Rookie of the Year” or “Top Defenceman” honours in his local leagues, but wasn’t given a shot in major junior until this past year. Spence rode the wave all the way to the U18s for Team Canada, where he was one of the team’s better players.

Playing under ex-Quenneville assistant John Torchetti, Spence played top-pair minutes and received first powerplay time, giving him ample opportunity to show off his hockey sense, vision, and lateral agility. He’s able to break the puck out of his own zone with regularity, including under duress, and as his skating continues to improve to give him extra separation speed, Spence might be able to do even more with the puck. The Sens have hit on late bloomers from the QMJHL before with Drake Batherson, and while Spence may not get the growth spurt that Drake did, his game could continue to grow with more seasons of development in a similar fashion.

Mitch Brown was able to track 12 of Spence’s games, and the data corroborated his ability as a passer with strong zone exit ability:

Spence clearly needs to work on his strength, adding more muscle to his frame to help him with his in-zone defence and power to add another gear to his skating stride. Opposing attackers chose to enter the zone on his side more often than not, which hints that he needs to improve on his gap. What excites me about Spence is that the elements of his game that needs improvement are fixable, and that he was able to have so much success just with his current toolkit. If he improves, he may end up providing immense value relative to his draft slot, making him a player I would look to target in the fourth round.

Highlights


MORE DRAFT COVERAGE

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