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Ottawa Senators 2021 Draft Profiles: Kent Johnson, Mason McTavish, and Chaz Lucius

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Looking at three high profile pivots that might be around when the Senators are on the clock at 10th overall.

2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championships - Final Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It’s time. Welcome to the start of the annual pre-draft rush on Silver Seven. Over the next 15 days, expect a bonanza of draft profiles to come your way.

As we discussed in May, readers preferred that I cover more players a briefer fashion, like our draft coverage from 2016 to 2019, as compared to the intense detail we provided in 2020. As a writer, I’m grateful. I can’t imagine two draft classes that are more different, with the public sphere having an abundance of information at our fingertips for 2020 while we wrestle with limited data and small sample sizes in 2021.

I tried my best to provide a mix of detail and brevity — splitting up the player profiles for the team’s first-round pick into interesting duos or trios to honour the pedigree that is a top-10 draft pick while trying to get through the immense range of players that have been projected by one source or another to be a candidate for 10th overall.

We’ll begin with the forwards who sit at the top of this echelon when you look at consolidated rankings.


Kent Johnson

Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C/LW University of Michigan NCAA (Big 10) 6'1" 165 lbs 10/18/2002 #9

Background

A member of the star-studded freshman class at the University of Michigan, North Vancouver’s Kent Johnson is here not because he lacks skill, but because he has a low floor to accompany his high ceiling — making him the most likely candidate of the consensus top forwards to drop to 10th overall.

A prolific scorer with the delightfully-named Trail Smoke Eaters in the BCHL, Johnson owns the league’s top points-per-game mark in modern history (since 2004-05) for a Draft-2 player (0.81) and Draft-1 player (1.94). That latter mark eclipses former Sens centre Kyle Turris’ 1.26 points-per-game mark and 2019 first-rounder Alex Newhook’s 1.47 by a wide margin. He’s won all the awards the BCHL and Canadian Junior Hockey League has to offer, including Most Sportsmanlike Player.

This season, Johnson lined up as a left winger alongside projected top-three pick Matthew Beniers on Michigan’s top line, earning all-rookie team honours in his conference while leading all draft-eligible NCAA skaters with 27 points (9G, 18A) in 26 games.

Scouting Report

No other skater in this class is capable of pulling off some of the jaw-dropping moves Johnson is able to pull off. He blends dynamic puck handling skill with strong hockey sense that enables him to create something out of nothing. Deception and manipulation is a key part of Johnson’s game. He’s able to use his hands and feet together and separately to manipulate the puck into space in transition or to pull defenders in order to open lanes. He’s uses cut plays often, adjusting at top speeds and making difficult plays in small areas in the offensive zone.

Reports usually bring up two key question marks in Johnson’s game:

  1. Will Johnson’s creativity be stymied at the pro level against teams or tactics that limit space and his hockey sense is no longer a distinguishing factor?
  2. Will he be able to push the pace of play at the NHL level?

Johnson currently relies on a dynamic posture and his edgework to be an elusive player. When he’s lined up on the wing, he doesn’t have the two-step acceleration needed to beat players wide, and he can be slow when trying to bring the puck off the wall and into the middle of the ice. If he’s closed down quickly and played tight, he can stay on the perimeter and overcomplicate plays.

Those issues certainly aren’t due to a lack of effort. Johnson needs to add strength to his frame, but it was rare to see reports of him being overwhelmed or overpowered in a battle. He’s also not a liability in his own end, both as a winger in the NCAA or as a centre in the BCHL, due to his sense and positioning. He’s a disciplined player, with only two minors in 26 NCAA games and 38 penalty minutes in 109 BCHL games.

Data

Johnson’s been blessed with regular PP1 time wherever he’s played, so taking a look at whether he can drive offence without the player advantage will be important if you’re utilizing a high first on him. The data is mixed: 20 of his 27 points game at even strength, but 14 of his 18 assists were secondary. At 2.05 shots-per-game, Johnson could work to utilize a deceptive wrist shot more often to open up more play options in the future.

We have two sets of tracking data to utilize: Mitch Brown’s dataset has 21 of his games and is scored relative to his peers, while Madeline Campbell tracked all of Michigan’s games this season. In Brown’s dataset, Johnson doesn’t stand out. He creates a fair amount of expected goals, but doesn’t excel in transition or on retrievals, lending evidence to the belief in scouting circles that Johnson can be a lot of flash for limited impact. In Campbell’s dataset, we see that Johnson attempted more zone entries than any other Michigan player at a success rate of 67%, 75% of which he did with possession. He had issues with zone exits, opting to dump out at higher rates than Beniers and Sharks second-rounder Thomas Bordeleau.

Fit with Ottawa

Sens fans will have to get over the player that Johnson likely reminds them of: the 11th overall pick in 2016, Logan Brown. Johnson doesn’t have Brown’s size and in my viewings, is quicker than Brown at his age, but they play a similar style of game: cerebral, utilizing strong anticipation and quick hands to generate dangerous opportunities. I’ll do my best to squash any fears now. First, Johnson doesn’t have Brown’s injury history — he’s been healthy for a significant majority of his last three seasons. Second, while Brown was a riser in 2016, Johnson’s been one of the top players in his age class for years. Third, while they both share concerns about how their game will translate, Johnson has always produced everywhere he’s gone, while Brown splashed onto the scene in Windsor and his issues with consistency likely contributed to his development stagnating in his post-draft campaigns until he got to the AHL.

Johnson’s listed among the centres in this class because it has been his primary position, but scouts appear mixed on whether he’ll be a left-winger or centre long-term. Johnson’s game suits being a pivot, but he’d need to add explosiveness to his skating and utilize his skillset more consistently in the defensive zone to give himself a chance at that.

Johnson has issues that would make me hesitant to use a top-five pick on him, but getting a player with his skillset at Ottawa’s slot is practically unheard of. Per The Athletic Vancouver’s Rick Dhaliwal, Johnson’s had multiple interviews with every team in the top-10 and for what it’s worth, when NHL.com’s Mike Morreale polled 10 NHL evaluators on who they’d pick between likely top-five pick Dylan Guenther and Johnson, and Johnson was picked eight times due to his potential. For a team like Ottawa that’s only missing some elite skill at the top of their prospect pool, adding a player like Johnson could be the piece that pushes them over the edge and allows the team to get value on his entry-level deal while they’re competing for a deep playoff spot. It’s a hard gamble to pass up.

Further reading, watching, and listening:


Mason McTavish

Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C/LW EHC Olten SL (Switzerland) 6'2" 207 lbs 01/30/2003 #11

Background

While I’m pretty certain that Nepean-born Brandt Clarke won’t be around for Ottawa’s pick, he’s not the only local kid with a shot at going in the top-10 in this year’s draft. Pembroke’s Mason McTavish has made the most of a cancelled OHL season after a 29-goal rookie season, playing in Switzerland’s second-tier professional league and starring as the captain of the Gold medal winning Team Canada squad at the U18s.

A consistent goal scorer at every level, McTavish led the local Ottawa Valley Titans to the 2018 All-Ontario Hockey Championship Tournament at the U15 level, before putting up 79 points (47G) as a 15-year-old in his pre-OHL Draft season. Those are record-setting totals for a player his age on a per-game basis for Hockey Eastern Ontario. He was subsequently drafted fifth overall in 2019, after Shane Wright, Clarke, likely first-rounder Brennan Othmann, and Kanata’s Connor Lockhart. His career has followed his father, Dale, in a remarkable way. The elder McTavish suited up for Pembroke and Peterborough, and had Mason when he was playing in the NLA — part of the reason why he was able to get a Swiss hockey license to play during the pandemic.

At 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, McTavish has a pro frame and needed to use it to his fullest advantage in Switzerland, where he was up against players much older and stronger than him on a nightly basis. While his 11 points in 13 games doesn’t look impressive, he had 7 points in 4 playoff games and ramped up his play as the games got tougher. Like Kent Johnson, McTavish is a natural centre who played wing this year — in part because he was playing older competition.

Scouting Report

McTavish’s shot is NHL-level, and he’s done his best to round out his 200-foot game to be ‘pro-ready’ in all forms. He drives the middle of the ice, is competitive in every puck battle, and boasted a more developed in-zone offensive toolkit this year — using his size, physicality, and awareness of his own body position to bump plays or fire off a shot on goal.

Like Johnson before him, the main detractors of his game usually point to two things:

  1. Will his skating be good enough to create separation at the NHL level?
  2. Will his puck skills and finish be good enough to compensate, especially at the centre ice position?

McTavish doesn’t have the deception of the other top players in the class, mainly relying on his hockey sense to get him into the right position at the right time so he can use his physicality to create space. Sens fans have seen this before with elite players like Mark Stone and Brady Tkachuk; neither are good skaters, but are ultra competitive and can pull plays off the wall and into the middle of the ice with regularity. Unlike Tkachuk, McTavish has a developed defensive game — competing for every puck and not cheating for offence. Scouts question how much of his improvement this season has been due to playing as a winger, a position that suits his physicality. Will that dry up as a pivot when he’s expected to handle more duties in transition on a full-time basis?

Data

McTavish only played 17 games in Switzerland alongside seven at the U18s, so he’s a player that lacks data given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world this past year.

Mitch Brown did track the U18s, and it illuminated some important areas of growth in McTavish’s game. Without the explosiveness in his skating, McTavish can be rendered ineffective on the rush. It’s key that he has wingers who can fly on entries and that his focus can be on getting them the puck reliably and responsibly, without turning it over. In Brown’s data at the U18s, we saw that play out, with McTavish leading the tournament in expected assists per 60 minutes and being reliable on retrievals and breakups in the defensive zone.

We can use Pick224’s invaluable dataset to look at McTavish’s rookie campaign in the OHL, and everything checks out: he led his peers in primary points per game, shots, and primary assists. He wasn’t a net positive in goals on a strong Petes team, but that seems to be moreso because of the Petes having a strong top line with older players, not because of McTavish.

Fit with Ottawa

The creative, elusive Tim Stützle seems like a perfect winger for the smart, power game that McTavish possesses. It’s easy to imagine McTavish being reliable on zone exits, popping the puck to Stützle to fly up the wing, while McTavish tries to find open areas of the ice around the net to receive a pass or pop in a rebound. It’s easy to imagine him in Ottawa because he’s a quintessential Sens pick — hockey in his family, local, advanced physically, smart, and competitive.

Most reports don’t see McTavish having the consistent puck skills or skill to be a first-line pivot, so the hope is that he’s able to crush second-line minutes, suit up on the powerplay, and contribute defensive value on the penalty kill; somewhere in between Josh Norris and Shane Pinto.

Further reading, watching, and listening:


Chaz Lucius

Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
Pos Team League Height Weight Date of Birth EliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C/RW USDP USHL 6'0" 172 lbs 05/02/2003 #12

Background

A favourite of some of our staff writers given his game (I’ll let you guess who), Lucius brings more than just meme-worthy potential when he’s on the ice. He’s the player competing with Mason McTavish to be the goal-scoring centre at the top of this year’s draft class, and there’s a decent case if not for his injuries this season, that he would’ve cemented the position he held coming into the year.

We know that the Senators pay attention to the U.S. National Team Development Program, and Lucius was their bellwether in 2019-20 — leading the U17s in scoring with 50 points (31 goals) in 46 games. At the U17 World Hockey Challenge, he led the tournament in scoring with 10 points (7G) in six games, helping the U.S. pick up a Silver medal.

This past season, Lucius missed much of the year due to needing arthroscopic surgery to deal with a bone lesion in his left knee — cause by an injury to the growth plate when he was hit by a puck two years prior. It’s a fluke injury, one with no real long-term implications, but prevented him from playing in a game until February 19th, nearly a full year after his last ice-time. While it would’ve been normal to expect a bit of rust, Lucius performed from the get-go, scoring 26 goals and 38 points in 25 games — a rate that would’ve led his team in scoring. Lucius missed the U18s due to COVID-19 protocol, coming down with a fever right before the tournament deadline in April. Unlike Johnson and McTavish, Lucius played centre this season.

Scouting Report

An elite one-on-one player, Lucius can drive offence and generates a plethora of chances from in tight. While McTavish likely has the better shot from distance, Lucius creates more volume, thriving in front of the net. Sens fans will be familiar with this because of Brady Tkachuk; with Lucius also possessing the smarts and the bravery required to occupy that area of the ice and utilize proper timing to get the goals to fall.

As a centre, Lucius’ vision is underrated. He’s capable of drawing pressure and popping a puck into space, has good off-puck movement in the offensive zone, and can consistently generate rebound opportunities for his teammates because of his propensity to not miss the net. In this way, he’s got a more refined offensive toolkit than his peers. He can problem solve to push play up the ice with consistency, and has the puck skills to beat an initial defender with his hands alone and open up a seam to find a teammate.

Like the other two players profiled in this article, Lucius’ skating is a concern, and unlike McTavish, his knee injury prevented him from showing growth in his draft year. He lacks separation, and it can impact his defensive responsibilities if he isn’t back in time to pressure opposing puck carriers or lead to him relying on his puck skills to compensate for pace. It’s hard to know how much of these concerns are because he lacks conditioning and wasn’t able to take advantage of a crucial development period due to injury. The skill is there, alongside legitimate question marks for his projection moving forward.

Data

Mitch Brown’s dataset has seven of Lucius’ games included, and he grades out as above-average in every category with no standout skill. In Pick224’s dataset of last year’s metrics, Lucius led all players suiting up for the National Team Development Program as the primary driver of even-strength offence. Went I went back and tried to compare Lucius to previous cohorts of players from 2016 onward, only Cole Caufield and Jack Hughes had better production in their Draft-1 seasons.

Fit with Ottawa

Like McTavish, a goal-scoring centre with the propensity to get to the net but struggles with speed sounds like a fit with the wingers currently in the organization. Lucius’ handedness is an advantage, too, as if he moves to the wing, a goal-scoring option on the right side looks appetizing as a recipient of Stützle’s crisp passing.

A team like Ottawa can also afford to give Lucius time to develop given that the organization has a pro-heavy system right now. Lucius is going to a premier collegiate program in the University of Minnesota and will have ample opportunity to get time in the gym to work on his conditioning, explosiveness, and complete game. That he can do so much already with these limitations only gets me excited about the possibility of a determined player who knows he should’ve been an earlier draft pick and is out there to prove doubters wrong. As he showed with his return-from-injury this season, the skill and production is there in spades. I don’t mind making bets on players with Lucius’ history to figure out a way to translate their game to the pro level.

Further reading, watching, and listening:


What do you think about the first three players we’ve profiled in the 2021 class? Who would you select?