As the play-in round of the NHL season continues to go off without a hitch, we simultaneously draw closer and closer to a more important event for Ottawa Senators fans
aside from the long-awaited sale of the team: the franchise-defining 2020 NHL Entry Draft. I’ve talked way too much about the picks at this point, what’s important is what the team does with them. That, of course, falls on the shoulders of the group led by Chief Amateur Scout Trent Mann.
Since joining the organization as a full-time scout in the summer of 2014, Mann has participated in five NHL drafts, the previous three as Chief Amateur Scout. It seems that he’s had a positive impact on the team’s drafting, as it was rather unimpressive in the years prior to his hiring.
The foundation of the Senators’ rebuild is made almost entirely of drafted players and acquired prospects from the 2015 draft and onward; we’ll look at how the Senators did in each year during Mann’s tenure. Ideally, a good scouting team should be able to consistently bring in NHL players of varying quality with their first-and second-round picks, as well as the occasional steal in the later rounds. We’ll start with the bar raised high: the 2015 class.
Of the eight picks Ottawa made in the 2015 draft, six of them have panned out. Of course the poster boy for this draft is Thomas Chabot, whom we all know is an elite defenceman in the NHL, incredible value for the 18th overall pick. Three spots later is Colin White, a decent middle-six forward with a second-line ceiling. Second-round forward Filip Chlapik, fourth-round defenceman Christian Wolanin, fifth-round defenceman Christian Jaros and seventh-round goaltender Joel Daccord form a solid supporting cast to round out this draft class very nicely for Ottawa.
Moving on to the 2016 draft, the team’s five picks that year have materialized into three prospects still with the team (excluding sixth-rounder Markus Nurmi, who’s likely to spend his career in Finland). 11th-overall pick Logan Brown has been progressing slowly compared to his peers. The potential to develop into a top-six centre is still there, though he’ll be passed on the depth chart soon by Josh Norris if he isn’t careful. Fourth-round forward Todd Burgess has one more year of college eligibility, but he needs to put in a monster season to earn a contract at this point. Finally, fifth-round defenceman Max Lajoie has shown signs of brilliance during his NHL stint in the 2018-19 campaign, and is still a prospect worth keeping an eye on despite his struggles this season. Should Brown and Lajoie pan out, I’d say the scouting team did their job with the little they had to work with.
Among other things, the price of that memorable playoff run in 2017 was the minimal draft capital the team had that year. Even so, two of the four picks turned into second-rounder Alex Formenton and fourth-rounder Drake Batherson, two of the organization’s top prospects. Batherson in particular was a major steal, as evidenced by his point-per-game rookie campaign in the 2018-19 AHL season. Additionally, while they weren’t drafted by the team, two players from the 2017 class were signed as undrafted free agents: forward Parker Kelly and defenceman Jonathan Aspirot.
Moving on to the 2018 draft, the nay-sayers have been proven wrong many times over about Brady Tkachuk, but there are a few more sources of intrigue among the eight selections that year. 26th-overall pick Jacob Bernard-Docker is projecting as Thomas Chabot’s future partner on defence, while forwards Angus Crookshank and Jakov Novak are producing well for players drafted in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively. There’s also the QMJHL’s best goalie this season, Kevin Mandolese, who fellow staff writer Brandon Maki was fortunate enough to recently interview. So far, a sixth-round pick well spent.
During the 2019 draft, GM Pierre Dorion and co. reached on multiple picks, though as far as the targeted players go, defenceman Lassi Thomson (19th overall) and forward Shane Pinto (32nd overall) have impressed thus far. As for the other four players - Mads Søgaard, Viktor Lodin, Mark Kastelic and Maxence Guenette - it’s too early to tell if they’ll amount to anything more than AHL-caliber players. The jury’s still out on this class, it looks alright at this point.
Over the last five drafts, the Senators have made fourteen selections in the first two rounds. Three of them are bona fide NHL players (Chabot, White, Tkachuk), six are legitimate prospects in the system (Chlapik, Brown, Formenton, JBD, Thomson, Pinto), one can be labeled as a bust (Gabriel Gagné), and two were traded away (Shane Bowers and Jonathan Dahlen). The remaining two, we’ll call “works in progress” (Jonny Tychonick and Søgaard).
When supplemented by Wolanin, Batherson and other late-round steals, you’ve got an impressive group of young players, albeit with a lack of star power. That’s where the 2020 draft comes in. Given the team’s recent history, it’s a safe bet that of the seven picks in the first two rounds, at least four will pan out, which is most definitely a low-ball given the strength of this year’s class. The Senators may reach on a few picks, they might move up unnecessarily in certain instances, but with the quality at the top of the draft, it’s near-impossible to go wrong with 3rd and 5th overall. We’re in good hands with Trent Mann.