2024 NHL Draft: Reader mailbag

Ary tries his best to answer your questions about the 2024 NHL Draft.

2024 NHL Draft: Reader mailbag
Photo by Klim Musalimov / Unsplash

For the first time ever, we decided to run a pre-draft reader mailbag to give you a chance to ask the questions you were most curious about before a potential franchise-changing weekend.

Most folks were interested in four broad themes, so I've done my best to answer them below – including the reader username when given. If you've got any additional questions, don't hesitate to put them in the comments and I'll try to answer them before the Senators make their first pick on Friday night!

What are your thoughts on drafting based on positional need? Should the Sens be targeting a RHD? Should the Sens consider trading up in order to get Levshunov?

There's an old adage when it comes to building a hockey team that goes like this: immediate needs are best addressed in free agency, not the draft. This is because most drafted players, outside of those who become superstars, will take 3-5 years to develop before making an impact on your NHL roster. As Sens fans know all too well, a lot can change in 3-5 years. For these reasons, I generally value drafting the best player available regardless of position.

Teams often talk about a number of factors that influence these decisions, such as their organizational depth chart, where they're at in their contending window, and their cap situation, among others. To me, though, the draft is about acquiring assets, and you want to have the most valuable ones period, not just the ones that are specifically valuable to your team.

For instance, collegiate players like Levshunov and European players like Silayev might be valued because they have the opportunity to turn pro right away, meaning that as a 19-year-old, they could play in the AHL; CHL players only have the opportunity to play in the NHL or back in the CHL until they reach 20. Hence, Parekh, Dickinson, and Yakemchuk are expected back at their junior teams unless they make the Sens out of camp, regardless if that's what's best for their individual development. To me, this adds value to Levshunov and Silayev, and is one of the reasons why both are expected to be drafted quite early.

Another example is handedness; there's a market premium on right-shot players because there's fewer of them in the player talent pool. If you have a left-handed defenceman and a right-handed defenceman rated equally, I'd consider an argument to add handedness into the tiebreaker calculus, but I'd generally think that there are more important differentiating factors to consider about the player's skillset. Just because Ottawa needs a right-handed player now doesn't mean that's what they might need in two or three years.

When it comes to trading up, it's important to remember how rare it is to have trades for a top-10 draft pick. In fact, in the last 10 seasons, there's only been seven trades for a top-10 pick. It's... wild that the Senators have been involved in four of them:

  • twice in 2022: Columbus selecting David Jiricek 6th overall after acquiring the pick in the Seth Jones trade; Chicago selecting Kevin Korchinski 7th overall in the Alex DeBrincat trade
  • once in 2021: Arizona selecting Dylan Guenther in the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade
  • once in 2020: Ottawa selecting Tim Stützle in the Erik Karlsson trade
  • once in 2019: Chicago selecting Bowen Byram in the Matt Duchene trade
  • once in 2017: New York selecting Lias Andersson in the Derek Stepan trade
  • once in 2014: Anaheim selecting Nick Ritchie in the Bobby Ryan trade

In all of these cases, the trades happened well before draft day and were for key NHL players, not a pick swap. Let's see if the Senators make it five of eight if they trade up or down on Friday night.

Which member of the organization do you think should wield the most influence at the Senators' table at the upcoming entry draft:

- The guy who signs the checks - Mr. Andlauer,
- The hardest working candy in town - Mr. Staios (he's got TWO jobs!),
- The guy who will eventually have to face the music - Coach Green
- The first-ever Senators exec fluent in MS Excel - Mr. Tierney

- Fisher's Man-Friend

Out of these four, it's Staios – he's ultimately responsible for roster construction, and I think the NHL is a GM-driven league as opposed to a coach-driven league like in other sports. Your mention of Sean Tierney, Ottawa's Director of Analytics, gives me an excuse to bring up this wonderful article on the Buffalo Sabres' pre-draft process:

Inside the Sabres’ pre-Draft analytics process | Buffalo Sabres
Sam Ventura, Domenic Galamini Jr., and Matt Barlowe explain how the organization uses statistics to inform decision making leading up to the draft.

It's a fascinating breakdown of what Ottawa's division rival is capable of, and while Ventura and co. are all newer to the organization – meaning it'll take time to see if their efforts pay off – their involvement in selecting Zach Benson has already resulted in 71 games of NHL action just one year post-draft, a feat that's rare for a draft pick outside of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall.

I wrote last October about what a "best-in-class front office" would look like, and concluded with this:

In summary, this league-wide analysis has illuminated some key gaps for Andlauer, Staios, and co. to address in the Senators hockey operations department: 1) additional hires focusing on data analysis and engineering as Ottawa builds out a robust hockey research and strategy department; 2) potentially an additional assistant general manager (or two), focusing on salary cap, CBA, contracts, scouting, and (potentially) analytics; 3) senior advisors to support Staios as he finds his feet in the NHL, compared to his vast OHL experience; 4) defined leadership among their player development team; additions in Europe and to their skills and strength squad focused on prospects; 5) leadership in sports science and player rehabilitation; 6) Daniel Alfredsson

While #3 (Dave Poulin), #5 (Matt Nichol), and #6 (Alfie) have been accounted for, and potentially Rob DiMaio's addition helping with #2, I'd still like to see additional hires focused on data gathering, engineering, and analysis, and an expanded player development portfolio to support their prospects. Maybe then, we'll see data science play a bigger role in influencing what the Senators do at the draft table.

What exactly is Yakemchuk's defensive weakness that doesn't have him in most top 10 rankings? Hockey IQ? On paper he'd seem perfect for us. I was thinking d-zone awareness is teachable, but then watching the Oilers' Bouchard and thinking about Chychrun and Jared Cowen, it has occurred to me that some D are just hopeless in their own zone and nothing can change that.

I hope that our piece on CHL defencemen helped answer this question, but in case folks didn't see it, the combination of hockey sense and misused physicality is a damning one for Carter Yakemchuk. If Ottawa trades down to, let's say, 12th and still want a defenceman, Yakemchuk will give the development team a lot to work with, but I think Sens fans should expect to be very patient relative to the teams who drafted one of the earlier blueliners in this class.

Who's your pick for the Sens at #7? Any ideas on a trade up or down?

I think I'd pick Zeev Buium, Zayne Parekh, Tij Iginla, or Berkly Catton (in that order). They're all consensus options ranked in the 4 to 14 range.

I mentioned earlier my thoughts on trading up, so let's tackle the trade down scenarios now. To me, the top-end of the draft is about 15 players deep – you can view the names on the link above from Draftlytics, and read more about these players in our player profiles – so it'd be difficult to get me to trade back farther than that. If the goal is to acquire more assets, I'd aim to replenish the team's depleted prospect pool so when we look at teams with multiple first- or second-round picks, two organizations come to mind: Calgary and Philadelphia.

Using PuckPedia's Perri Pick Value Calculator, I'd consider the following trades fair value:

Calgary possesses 9th overall, 28th overall (via Vancouver), 41st overall, and 62nd overall (via Dallas), while Philadelphia owns 12th overall, 32nd overall (via Florida), and 51st overall. That means that if the Senators' trade with Calgary nets them 28th overall OR 41st & 62nd – that's a big win. Ditto if Philadelphia adds 51st overall to the 32nd overall pick.

Are there any storylines that you're following closely for Staios and Andlauer's first draft at the helm of the Sens?

An under-reported story I'll be following, especially if the Sens take Parekh or Oshawa's Beckett Sennecke, is how the team's new ownership structure plays a role – if at all – in their draft selections. Remember, not only is Hamilton's Michael Andlauer is Ottawa's majority owner, but four other OHL teams are involved with small stakes in the club: John Savage, Stephen Savage, and Brian Schwab from the Windsor Spitfires; Rocco Tullio from the Oshawa Generals; Joel Feldberg and Jeffrey Bly from the Guelph Storm; and Richard Garber from the Saginaw Spirit. As Tullio mentioned in this article from the Windsor Star's Jim Parker:

“Basically, Michael will do most of the heavy lifting, but if we have something to add, we just pick up the phone and call him,” said Tullio, who bought controlling interest of the Generals in 2008. “Everybody’s been in hockey long enough. You know the needs of a hockey team and you know the good people in hockey and can identify what your needs are in a hockey team. Everyone brings something to the table.”

It's a rare, and possibly the only situation, like this in the league, and the Senators have generally been unsuccessful with drafting out of the OHL – Alex Formenton is their last NHLer and he was drafted in 2017. If the team suddenly produces NHLers from the OHL on a regular basis, it'd be a bonus... and something that could also get the rest of the NHL's ownership group pissed off.

It seems like the Sens like to draft at least one goalie a year. Who should they consider this year?

Well, dear reader, you might be onto something! While Pierre Dorion and Trent Mann are no longer in charge of the draft table, the rest of the scouting staff is still in place. Since 2017 – their first year in charge – the Senators have drafted one goalie every year outside of 2021: Jordan Hollett (WHL; 6th round, 2017), Kevin Mandolese (QMJHL; 6th round, 2018), Mads Søgaard (WHL; 2nd round, 2019), Leevi Meriläinen (Finland; 3rd round, 2020), Kevin Reidler (Sweden; 5th round, 2022), Vladimir Nikitin (Kazakhstan; 7th round, 2023).

I'll write up a detailed profile of whatever goaltender they do select this year, but names to watch on my list include:

Thank you so much for your questions!

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