2024 NHL Draft Coverage: Defenders of Note

A look at defencemen ranked in the top-100 of most outlets that could be options for the Senators in the first three rounds of the 2024 NHL Draft.

2024 NHL Draft Coverage: Defenders of Note
Photo by Pedro Bariak / Unsplash

With just two weeks to go until the 2024 NHL Draft, our team at Silver Seven will transition our coverage from detailed profiles on top players potentially available to the Senators at 7th overall, to briefer, quick hits on players who are likely to be available from the end of the first-round to the end of the third-round.

Our commitment is this: whoever the Senators do end up selecting will receive a detailed profile post-draft like we have done in 2021, 2022, and 2023. For now, here's something to get excited about and/or something to be wary of about players potentially available in the first 100 picks.

In this piece, we'll highlight defencemen.


There are three rearguards who catch my eye: Aron Kivijarju from HIFK and Veeti Väisänen from KooKoo in the men's Liiga and Sebastian Soini from KOOVEE in the men's second-tier Mestis.

Aron Kiviharju, LD – HIFK, Liiga

  • Why draft him? The pedigree. Kiviharju was once regarded as a first-overall pick selection in this year's draft class. Kiviharju played games in Finland's top U20 league as a 15-year-old, and his 30 points in 35 games is the all-time record for defencemen two years before their draft, higher than first-round picks Juuso Välimäki, Urho Vaakanainen, and Rasmus Ristolainen, and even more than forwards Sasha Barkov, Mikko Rantanen, and Anton Lundell. Next season, he became one of just 14 defenders to play more than 10 games in his Draft-1 season in the men's Liiga, and only the fifth since the 2004-05 lockout. All of this in addition to helping Finland to back-to-back Bronze medals at the World U-18s, being named a top-three player on his team in 2021-22 and 2022-23. If he hits, you're getting a puck-moving wizard who can jumpstart your transition play in a flash.
  • Why worry? Kiviharju's move from his boyhood club in TPS to HIFK was meant to kickstart his growth, but a knee injury seven games into the Liiga season derailed his season for six months. It's rare to see a 5-foot-10 defenceman make the NHL, let alone one without strong skating ability. There's a fair amount of public uncertainty about if he'll be able to improve his quickness and first few strides to make quicker decisions on retrievals and in the offensive zone; the hope is that Ottawa's medical staff would've been able to assess this.

Veeti Väisänen, LD – KooKoo, Liiga

  • Why draft him? It takes a ton of trust from your coaching staff to make your pro debut against men in your Draft-1 season, but that's exactly what happened to Väisänen, who suited up for two playoff contests to end his 2022-23 season. Väisänen is a mobile, physical rearguard who's skating ability allows him to lead on puck retrievals, stand up on opponents at his blueline, and activate down the half-wall in the offensive zone. It's a translatable game that should allow him to gain the trust of any coaching staff quickly, and should lead to NHL games sooner rather than later – which is a rarity for a player who's ranked in the third- or fourth-rounds by most outlets.
  • Why worry? I don't necessarily think there's a reason to – instead, the question becomes, is Väisänen the type of player you want to use a draft pick on? If you're a team who has graduated most of its players to the NHL or AHL, Väisänen's projectable game might be valuable. If you're a team that's shooting for high upside talent with your picks in the top-100, you might look elsewhere.

Sebastian Soini, RD – KOOVEE (on loan from Ilves), Mestis

  • Why draft him? Soini's 41 games of experience against men across Liiga (6 GP) and second-tier Mestis (3 GP last year, 32 this year) is of value for a right-shot blueliner, especially one as young as the June-born Soini. Only 22 draft-eligible defenders have ever played more than 10 games in Mestis, and though there aren't many NHLers to come out of that list, few boasted the combination Soini possesses. His first few steps allow him to use his feet in transition – navigating past opposing forecheckers on exits and gaining the offensive zone on entries. That tool, in combination with his frame, gives teams a lot to work with.
  • Why worry? Soini has very little international experience for Finland, with the U17s the only major tournament he's represented his country at. What's kept him out of the U18s and the Ivan Hlinka despite his pedigree? Scouts who have watched him extensively report he has a propensity to make a big error in judgment – a weak defensive read, a bad giveaway, or a poor decision in the offensive zone. Again, Soini's age and relative experience might mean that he can figure that out; or this just might be what he is.


There are four defencemen who played in Sweden this past year that look intriguing as either potential first- or second-round picks: Czech-born Dominik Badinka from Malmö in the men's SHL, and Alfons Freij (Växjö), Leo Sahlin Wallenius (Växjö), and Noel Fransén (Färjestad) from Sweden's top U20 league, the J20 Nationell.

Dominik Badinka, RD – Malmö, SHL

  • Why draft him? An SHL veteran of 33 games, Badinka has all the tools of a top-four blueliner – a rare profile to find once you're into players projected to be picked in the second-round. He's played in three different countries over the last three years, outgrowing his peers in Czechia as a 15-year-old in their U17 and U20 leagues, and even Finland's U20 league as a 16-year-old with Jokerit. Badinka played regular minutes against men with Malmö, averaging 14:43 per game through an efficient, simple style of hockey: using his body and his feet to buy himself enough time to beat the first forechecker and move his squad up the ice. While his four points in 33 games won't shock anyone, it was actually the highest mark of the 16 draft-eligible skaters to suit up for a SHL game, and his numbers against his peers indicate that there's more under the surface in terms of his offensive game.

Alfons Freij, LD – Växjö, J20 Nationell

  • Why draft him? The skating ability, deception on zone exits (see #86 in this clip), his slip-passing ability in the offensive zone, the Karlsson-esque fake before the wrist-shot, and his edge control paired with puck handling skills. There just aren't many players with the offensive toolkit he has, and his ability to deceive opponents through multiple means – weight transfers, skating, quick hands, and passing – means he has a plethora of ways to provide value at the next level. With 33 points in 40 games at the J20 level and a standout U18s, Freij is off to Björklöven in the second-tier Allsvenskan to play against men next season – a good landing spot.
  • Why worry? Like many offensively gifted blueliners, Freij's moves dazzle when they work and... result in giveaways when they don't. Scouts worry about the way he forces plays instead of taking what's in front of him, and he'll have to make decisions quicker on in-zone coverage and retrievals to get playing time against men.

Leo Sahlin Wallenius, LD – Växjö, J20 Nationell

  • Why draft him? Leo's been in a competition with his countryman and teammate, Freij, all season long. If Freij's offensive tools are what's exciting, Sahlin Wallenius' calling card is his defence... and he still managed to outscore Freij (and lead his team) with 42 points in 43 games. He uses his strong four-way mobility to contain opposing skaters, protect the puck in both zones, and transition the puck. In the offensive zone, while he doesn't have the deception of Freij, you can see his game translating easier – with well-timed pinches to shrink the zone, solid puck control, and constant scanning for the open player.
  • Why worry? At 6-foot-0, there's a worry that Sahlin Wallenius might struggle with the NHL's physicality and one of his calling cards – his puck protection ability – might be harder to utilize. His consistency is a strength, but scouts haven't been "wow'd" by any of his individual tools.

Noel Fransén, LD – Färjestad, J20 Nationell

  • Why draft him? Take a look at #65 in this clip and tell me what iconic play in Senators history it reminds you of. The number he's wearing is a hint. By my money, his passing ability rivals the best of this draft class and will be an asset in any role at the NHL level. When you layer that skill with Fransén's acceleration, you get a weapon that allows him to drive offence, connect with his teammates, and stymie opposing attackers. It was Fransén, not Freij or Sahlin Wallenius, that led all defencemen in scoring this season in the J20 Nationell.
  • Why worry? Will his vision and skating be enough to play his type of game at the NHL level? Against the best of the best, a puck-moving defender needs multiple tools and while Fransén's two current ones are assets, he might need more to be a big point producer, and I wonder about his in-zone defensive play.

Czechia & Switzerland

I'm always happy to see hockey get more international, and as I was doing my pre-draft research, I was pleasantly surprised to come across three unique defenders who have remained in their country of origin and are playing against men at the highest level: Czechia's Tomas Galvas, and Switzerland's Leon Muggli and Daniil Ustinkov. Norway's Stian Solberg would've also been featured, but the expectation is that he's drafted earlier than where Ottawa's second first-round pick is currently located.

Tomas Galvas, LD – Bílí Tygři Liberec, Czech Extraliga

  • Why draft him? His skating is elite enough to take advantage of his 5-foot-10 frame and still manipulate the opposition at the NHL level, just like he's done at all levels this season: Czechia's U20 league, their men's league; the U18s, U20s, and Ivan Hlinka. Whether it's his ability to pivot on a dime and seize the middle of the ice or to apply his hockey sense to anticipate plays, Galvas has the skills to create goals for himself and his teammates.
  • Why worry? There aren't many successful exemplars to go off of, but honestly, his ice-time across multiple leagues, tournaments, and therefore, coaches are indication of his intelligent defensive ability. Remember, even an Erik Brännström-type in the second-round has immense value for an organization. You might even be able to trade one for Mark Stone!

Leon Muggli, LD – Zug, National League

  • Why draft him? There haven't been many top NHLers playing their draft season in Switzerland, but when your peers are David Reinbacher, Roman Josi, and Mark Streit, you're doing something right. Muggli's balanced defensive toolkit is what helped him progress against men, and it's his ability on breakouts paired with strong agility that can make him a valued contributor to a NHL team's blueline. Muggli captained Switzerland at the U18s and Ivan Hlinka, while also suiting up at the U20s. His 12 points in 42 games for Zug are second all-time, after Reinbacher, among draft-eligible defencemen. He's one of the younger players of his draft class, as a July 2006 birthday.
  • Why worry? A theme, perhaps? Muggli's 6-foot-0 frame means he'll be among the smaller NHL defencemen if he does make it, so the hope is that he's able to develop more tools to provide value in transition over the bigger, stronger, faster players at the next level.

Daniil Ustinkov, LD – ZSC Lions, National League

  • Why draft him? Ustinkov has been playing against U20 players since he was 15, and against men since he was 16. Hence, when he's against his age group, he oozes confidence, with flashes of smooth skating and adept puck handling ability. His skating also helps him lean into defensive pressure, stay patient when defending the rush, and quickly sprint back to retrieve the puck on breakouts. Again: Switzerland is a burgeoning hockey nation and it's rare to see players of Ustinkov's ilk gaining ice-time against men from such a young age.
  • Why worry? Like Aron Kiviharju, Ustinkov's potential coming into the season led many to have higher expectations, and the lack of growth – his U18 performance in 2022-23 was better than his equivalent in 2023-24 – is worrying. While his skating is a plus on transition and he's shown the ability to be deceptive, he'll need to show more to move up a level. Ustinkov is a player I'd love to see picked in the CHL Import Draft for 2024-25.

United States Hockey League & National Team Development Program

Between Lincoln's Adam Kleber, and the NTDP's Cole Hutson and EJ Emery, this year's American standouts offer variety on how they can impact the game at the NHL level.

Adam Kleber, RD – Lincoln, USHL; committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth

  • Why draft him? A 6-foot-5, right-shot defender whose skating is his calling card, you've heard this script before, Sens fans. While Kleber's shutdown play is likely what gets him drafted, it's his passing ability and willingness to get involved in the offence that makes me excited. Kleber's a more patient defender than Tyler Kleven, avoiding penalty trouble and letting his mobility, body positioning, or stick play do the talking. He shows strong positioning in the offensive zone, hinting at some offensive tools that could be further unlocked in college.
  • Why worry? Kleber doesn't project as a creator of offence in the offensive zone nor in transition, moreso profiling as a second-layer or supportive piece, which currently minimizes his upside for a player ranked at the end of the first-round. While I'm all for players wanting to properly identify risks and taking care of their own zone first, Kleber can be tentative with the puck – almost like he's waiting to confirm its safety, before trying to push an offensive play. While that works now, making decisions quickly will become paramount in helping him move the puck at the NHL level.

Cole Hutson, LD – USNTDP; committed to Boston University

  • Why draft him? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Like his brother, Lane, Cole is an offensive dynamo with high-end puck skills and hockey sense. A magnet with the puck, there aren't many players, let alone defencemen, who possess the deception of Hutson, the off-puck sense to know when to jump into the play as a second or third layer of offence, and the passing ability in transition. It would also be hilarious to see the Hutson brothers face off against each other anytime Ottawa plays Montréal.
  • Why worry? The usual with smaller, offensive players. Compared to Lane, Cole's attention to detail in the defensive zone has developed later – but it is coming along, so...

EJ Emery, RD – USNTDP; committed to the University of North Dakota

  • Why draft him? An elite rush defender, EJ Emery has handled all the tough defensive duties for the NTDP and Team USA at the U18s. He blends a 6-foot-3 frame with high-end skating, possessing the ability to erase attackers with his body positioning or his reach. For the Senators, Emery going to NoDak will serve their staff well – they're clearly comfortable with the program and its ability to develop defenders for the organization.
  • Why worry? There's very little offence coming out of Emery – who scored 0 goals in his draft year and just four the year prior. Like Sanderson and Kleven, there is a chance that once he's out of the highly-skilled NTDP environment, he'll have more space to allow an offensive game to flourish, but usually we're able to see flashes of that at the junior level – like both aforementioned Senators prospects showed – and it just hasn't come for Emery. Does it change whether or not he plays NHL games? Not really... players with Emery's defensive structure project well. But, it does mean that his impact might be limited compared to other players ranked around the slot – 20th to 40th overall – he's expected to be drafted at.

Ontario Hockey League

As is the case every year, there were multiple defenders worth considering from the Senators' home province of Ontario. It's a league I'm going to pay special attention to this year given that it's not only the stomping grounds of chief scout Don Boyd, but also that of owner Michael Andlauer, many members of the extended ownership group, and GM Steve Staios. Here's a look at Ottawa's Henry Mews, Oshawa's Ben Danford, and Sarnia's Lukas Fischer. Some honourable mentions are in order to Mississauga's Jakub Fibigr and Windsor's Anthony Cristoforo.

Henry Mews, RD – Ottawa 67s

  • Why draft him? A consensus second-round pick, Mews is a smooth-skating, high upside player who is always in a position to activate forward and drive play. He played his best hockey alongside the world's elite talents at the U18s, where he put up a point-per-game, and his ability to create space helps him generate offence and is a skill that can be applied in transition. Defensively, he has the skating ability to guide players to the outside on the rush, keep close gaps, and backtrack with pressure despite his 6-foot frame.
  • Why worry? Mews' rankings have been up and down all year as scouts try to ascertain: as a player newer to defence, are some of his defensive reads due to his rawness or does he lack the hockey sense to learn to apply his skills effectively in his own end? When it goes poorly for Mews, the puck is usually in the back of his net – he can pinch aggressively, cheat in the defensive zone, and get pushed around as a smaller player. If he puts it together defensively, there aren't many other rearguards with his creativity. If he doesn't, he's likely a player bobbling between the NHL and AHL.

Ben Danford, RD – Oshawa Generals

  • Why draft him? A massive part of Oshawa's run to the OHL finals, Danford blends easy mobility with detailed defensive zone play and quick decision-making – a nasty combination that got him named the top defensive defender in the Eastern Conference, one of the league's hardest workers, and one of the league's best shot blockers by OHL coaches. Importantly, while Danford doesn't have Mews' offence, 0.51 points-per-game for a draft-eligible isn't anything to scoff at, and he was able to maintain the production even in the playoffs. P.S. as a local to the Belleville area, Danford might know or be aware of the Senators development staff already!
  • Why worry? Thus far, he's been more effective on zone exits than providing added value on entries, and given where he's likely to be taken – near the start of the second round – a team might be leaving players with significant offensive upside on the board. I think Danford's shown enough hints with his skating and hockey sense that could blossom into further puck-moving ability, and it's relieving to know that when you're projecting him, coaches will innately trust his defence – thus giving him more runway to try to figure things out.

Lukas Fischer, LD – Sarnia Sting

  • Why draft him? The 6-foot-4 defender was born on September 9th, 2006 – just days before being eligible for the 2025 NHL Draft – and flashes upside in every way. He's still growing into his frame, but is expected to be 6-foot-5; he was thrown into the fire on a struggling Sarnia squad and developed offensive skills as his year progressed; and he has breakaway speed that can surprise his opposition. Anyone drafting him is getting a player who might require more work from a development perspective, but could blossom into a unique, three-zone talent. For example, if he becomes more comfortable in his body and that turns into added puck protection ability, it becomes an additional tool to support his team in transition that could increase his upside.
  • Why worry? More reward also means more risk, in this case. It's hard to separate Fischer's struggles from his team, as Sarnia was often a mess and it's hard to display NHL-level details in that environment. He can be passive when reacting to players in-zone, is inconsistent with using his size, and can struggle with getting his timing right in the offensive zone. In Fischer's case, you're betting on his tools having more space to be refined as Sarnia (or his future team) gets better.

Québec Major Junior Hockey League

Spencer Gill, RD – Rimouski Océanic

  • Why draft him? A 6-foot-3, right-shot defender with a late birthday (August, 2006), Spencer Gill saw tremendous growth across his draft season – recording 0 goals and four points in 41 games last year to 12 goals and 46 points in 65 games this year. He displays high-end passing ability, capable of stretch passes to beat neutral zone traps and the deceptiveness required to play at the top of the umbrella on a powerplay, like he did for Team Canada's second unit as the extra defender at the U18s. It's meaningful that the aspects of his game he needs to improve on are his strength and skating – understandable traits given he's still growing into his ever-changing body – not his defensive sense or ability.

Western Hockey League

We'll end this piece with a look at three rearguards from the WHL: Brandon's Charlie Elick, Kamloops' Harrison Brunicke, and Everett's Tarin Smith.

Charlie Elick, RD – Brandon Wheat Kings

  • Why draft him? A neutral zone punisher with some of the draft's best physical tools, 6-foot-3 Elick plays similarly to a 2020 draft-eligible WHL rearguard Colin and I paid a lot of attention to, the New York Rangers' Braeden Schneider. Elick is happy to use his high-end mobility to disrupt opponents on the rush, pivot quickly on retrievals, and to line up thundering body checks. There's plenty of room in the NHL for just that skillset – meaning that Elick's likely to hit and become an NHLer for years and years to come.
  • Why worry? Elick gets credit for trying to create with the puck – recording 27 points in 65 WHL games, three assists in seven U18 games, and two in five games at the Hlinka – but as he is right now, his puck handling disappears when faced with pressure. The positive is that he's a quick decision maker, so when he moves the puck quickly on breakouts, he's generally selected the right option for high-value offence. The in-zone offence, though, might limit his on-ice impact for a player who will likely get a lot of minutes.

Harrison Brunicke, RD – Kamloops Blazers

  • Why draft him? If you just combined Charlie Elick and Harrison Brunicke into one player, you'd have an elite #1 defenceman. Despite their similarities in league and frame – Brunicke's also a 6-foot-3 right-handed blueliner – their toolkit is quite different, albeit complementary. Brunicke's calling card is in transition, where he's adept at skating past the first forechecker, beating him with a pass, or stretching the zone on a quick-up. Brunicke's creativity extends to the offensive zone, where he utilizes weight transfers, smooth edgework, and a versatile passing repertoire to keep opponents guessing and create space for his teammates. That didn't always result in points because of the quality of his teammates – Kamloops finished last in the WHL's Western Conference – but it wasn't for Brunicke's lack of trying.
  • Why worry? He's got similar physical gifts as Elick but doesn't apply them consistently, meaning that it might be harder for coaches to put him on the ice to allow his wizardry to shine.

Tarin Smith, LD – Everett Silvertips

  • Why draft him? A high-upside blueliner, Smith led all draft-eligible WHL defenders in scoring with 44 points in 67 games. He's among the best in his draft class with the puck, constantly manipulating opposing defenders with his hands, weight shifts, lateral movement, and body positioning. That Smith was able to display this much skill despite losing nearly all of his Draft-1 season to injury is an indication of his upside.
  • Why worry? He currently doesn't have the feet to match his brain, which can lead to him being overly reactive in the defensive zone instead of proactive. He's got the hockey sense to become a breakout wizard if his feet allows him the time to do a thorough scan; to me, picking him over the other second-round defenders means that you're confident about his physical tools developing to a point where he can be trusted in all three zones.

Among the plethora of options the Senators will have available to them at the end of the first-round and throughout the top-100, who's your favourite? What blend of risk and reward do you prefer to see when projecting NHL ability? Let us know in the comments!

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