After the week that was, the staff has gathered one again around our table to discuss the Ottawa Senators’ draft choices. There were so many other things that happened around the draft and free agency, that we’ve divided our conversation into two parts. Look for part 2 tomorrow, where we talk about some of the trades, and other free agency decisions.
What part of the Sens’ 2020 draft makes you the most excited? Was there anything that you found disappointing?
Spencer: What excites me most is, unsurprisingly, Tim Stützle. From everything you hear, see and read about this player, he has all the marks of someone who’s going to be extra special; possibly the most special player this franchise has ever seen. On the disappointing end, I’m very much a wait and see kind of guy (or at least I try to be) when it comes to prospects but Ottawa packaging two decent picks to move up and pick Kleven has me worried. I feel he would’ve been there has they waited and, even if they didn’t, I don’t see his profile as something to trade up to get.
Ross: Tim Stützle is the most exciting. I was disappointed with picking overagers, and going very offboard with a few selections. I also think that other than Stützle and Roby Järventie, they drafted safe. I’d like to see more Mike Hoffman or Mark Stone style late draft picks.
Shaan: I agree with Spencer on both points, Stützle is a dynamic forward who plays with a ton of energy both offensively and defensively, which is a fantastic combination. As for Tyler Kleven, it’s hard to see why the Senators moved up to draft a large, physically imposing, defensive defenceman when they’ve had so much success with guys like Chabot, Wolanin, even Max Lajoie who’s still played a lot more than the average fifth-rounder.
Brandon: Man, how can you not be just giddy about Tim Stützle? He is easily the best pure offensive talent that the Senators have drafted since Jason Spezza, and hearing everything about how excited he is to play in this market is just incredible. This fanbase has deserved a reason to be relentlessly optimistic for years now, and I think they finally have it.
In terms of disappointment; no, not really. I know some of the picks they made were a little bit off the wall, but such is life in Ottawa, and I’ll reserve judgement until we see what these players truly are. A small gripe I may have would be trading up for Tyler Kleven. I think he’s a nice defender, but I’m not sure he wouldn’t have fallen to the Senators regardless, so I wasn’t thrilled about giving up two valuable picks for him.
Colin: In agreement with everyone, by far I’m most excited for seeing Tim Stützle suit up in a Senators jersey. His skillset is not only exciting as a potential force to be reckoned with, but he’s just so fun to watch with the way he can embarrass defenders. I don’t expect him to be a world-beater right away, but I have little doubt that he’ll one day be the best forward out of the Senators’ current group.
The list of disappointments is much longer, unfortunately, but overall I think I’m most disappointed that the scouting stuff stuck to their guns by drafting extremely safe, further revealing their limitations by way of reaching for size, grit and player connections over smart, skilled and high-ceiling players. I’ve lost nearly all confidence in their staff to make ideal picks going forward, which doesn’t bode well to building a perennial contender.
thedaigle1: I wish I could say something different, but yeah, Tim Stützle all day for most exciting and Tyler Kleven (for two second-round picks!) for biggest disappointment. There are reasons why most of us are all saying the same things.
N_Dew: It is most certainly Tim Stützle, it’s exciting to see such an electrifying player be part of the Sens future. I hope I regret this sooner than later, but I am still disappointed about the Sanderson pick. Not as much as the day of but it still doesn’t feel great.
nkb: I cannot convey how excited I am for Stützle. There hasn’t been a Sens forward prospect this promising since Jason Spezza, and I think a Spezza-like impact is very much within the realm of possibility for the young German. He plays the game with such tremendous pace and creativity, I’m almost gleeful right now just thinking about it. He’s going to be so good, and he’s going to be so much fun.
After Stützle, I was at least mildly disappointed with the approach the Sens took to the rest of their picks. Clearly the team has placed a premium on size, something which by itself doesn’t bother me but with such a dire need for elite skill up front it feels like a missed opportunity.
The Sens used their fifth overall selection to take Jake Sanderson, and appear to be focusing on building from the back-end. Where do you see Sanderson, who is a left shot, fitting in on the team’s depth chart? Will we see him in Ottawa after this upcoming year at the University of North Dakota?
Spencer: I do like the focus on the back end. Sanderson, for me, ends up as the second best left shot defender in Ottawa after Chabot. He’s not going to pile up points but he’s going to be an important piece, anchoring the second pair. I don’t think we see him until he’s completed at least two NCAA seasons, though.
Ross: I think he slots behind Chabot, Brännstrom, and Wolanin, but ahead of Thomson and JBD. I think the Sens are scared of having three offensively-minded pairings, and are hoping Sanderson and maybe Jacob Bernard-Docker can form a Phillips-Volchenkov-type duo. I think he’ll leave UND with JBD, and they’ll turn pro together in a year.
Shaan: I don’t think Sanderson was the pick to be made at 5th overall, but having him in our system definitely puts the left side of the blueline over the top. We don’t often see two top defencemen on the same side, like Roman Josi and Matthias Ekholm in Nashville, so it’s going to be fun to watch in the coming years.
Brandon: I think Thomas Chabot is going to be firmly entrenched at the top of the depth chart for the foreseeable future, but I see Jake Sanderson as a VERY close second. I really love this pick, Sanderson is such a well-rounded defender. The way he manages angles in his own end is clinical stuff, and his stickwork is impressive to say the least. He’s an excellent skater, and will serve as the transition defender that this team truly needs. He’ll be one of the guys playing 28+ minutes in playoff games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a two left-hander pairing of Chabot and Sanderson at some point.
I think with how well-rounded his game is, and how close he is size-wise, we’ll see Sanderson playing in Ottawa in some capacity in 2021-2022. A year at UND with Jacob Bernard-Docker and co. will be beneficial for him down the line.
Colin: I’ll be curious to see how well Sanderson’s game translates to the NCAA, but as of now I feel he safely projects as a second-pairing transitional defenceman behind Chabot. There’s a chance he falls flat and ends up spending most of the time in his own zone like he did in the first half of last season, or maybe he plays more like the second half and becomes a high-end puck-moving NHLer. It’ll probably be somewhere in the middle, but the uncertainty needs to be considered.
He’ll likely spend at least next season at North Dakota, and knowing the Sens’ recent history with top picks they’ll probably try to get their top pick in the NHL as soon as possible. Whether that’ll be the right choice remains to be seen.
thedaigle1: The Sanderson pick really re-enforced, for me, how badly I need to divest from handedness when looking at depth charts. It’s always been an obsession of mine and I think it’s clearly pretty unrealistic to expect the Sens to ice a group of six with three lefties and three righties. Plus, we know at least Erik Brännstrom and Christian Wolanin will play on their off-hand if needed. Sanderson definitely plays one season in the NCAA before coming to Ottawa, and after that I think covid-logistics will influence, as much as Sanderson’s play, if he makes the jump at the same time as JBD and/or Pinto.
N_Dew: I don’t see him being on the top pair but knowing the Sens, they’ll make sure he gets as many minutes as they possible can give him when he makes the team. He will most certainly play the next season at UND and his performance will probably dictate where he goes to next but as a much debated #5 pick, I expect the Sens to rush him a bit to showcase his abilities.
nkb: Sanderson was not my first choice at #5, but like everyone else I expect him to be at the very least be an NHL defenceman. I’ll be fascinated to see how his development progresses at UND, and I think eventually he’ll slot in comfortably anchoring the Sens’ second pair. In a perfect world, he’ll eventually be the guy you throw over the boards in the last minute of the third to close out a one goal game.
Ottawa continued something of a recent trend by selecting over-ager Egor Sokolov with their 61st overall selection. The large winger impressed in his final season in the CHL, notching 92 points in 52 games. What are your expectations for Sokolov?
Spencer: I expect Sokolov to step right in and be an impact scorer for the Belleville Senators. Long term, however, I think he caps out as a big third line winger. More likely we’ll see him as a depth forward on the fourth line.
Ross: <50 total games in the NHL. I’m skeptical of overagers, and with Drake Batherson and Christian Wolanin working out well, the Sens are due for some regression in this area.
Shaan: I actually see some similarity between Sokolov and Drake Batherson, both are big wingers who had breakout seasons in their fourth year with Cape Breton. I’m not really sure how to project Sokolov, it all depends on that first year in the AHL. If he can match Batherson’s production then we’d be over the moon. He should be a capable middle-six player who can produce on a second-line, perhaps with Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris?
Brandon: I LOVE this pick. I remember watching Egor Sokolov at the World Juniors last year, and he was a man among boys. People are going to be somewhat dismissive of his Cape Breton numbers this year because of him being a 20 year-old, but he has some serious offensive ability for a player his size. His hands are soft, he’s an absolute grizzly bear on the puck, and he has a wicked shot to match. His skating needs work, sure, but that’s something the Senators’ system has been excellent at improving with the likes of Mark Stone and Brady Tkachuk.
This may be a bit of a hot take, but I wouldn’t be at all shocked if Sokolov at least makes the Senators out of camp. The team is in dire straits on the right wing, and with his size and maturity being what they are, an offseason skating improvement could see him playing some minutes in Ottawa in 2021.
Colin: He’ll almost certainly be playing in Belleville whenever the season starts up, and I’m setting the bar low for Sokolov — with the potential to surprise me. I disagree with Brandon a bit here: it definitely boosted his scoring totals that he was one of the league’s oldest players, but he’s also a hulking player which helped him compensate a lot for his sluggish footspeed and subpar decision-making. As of now I think he’ll be a complementary player who needs to have a line-driver to feed him chances, but even then the deficiencies have me skeptical about how his game will translate to the pro level. Unfortunately, he’s definitely not a player I would’ve considered in the second round.
thedaigle1: I really don’t mind the Sokolov pick (I have no more delusions of Ottawa drafting the most skilled player available even in the second round). He’ll be a beast in Belleville at the very least. He gives me some Gabriel Gagne vibes for sure, but I think fans will have their expectations in check with Sokolov. Don’t expect this guy to put up big numbers. He’s more suited as a character forward who plays on the fourth line or PK, and to that extent I can see him filling the void left by players like Zack Smith and Mark Borowiecki as someone beloved by teammates even if he doesn’t create offence.
N_Dew: I think he’ll continue to impress in Belleville and he seems like a hard-working kid who may find a way to the big club sooner than we thought. Maybe there were more skilled players at 61, but this is one pick that keeps looking better. Maybe someone who can be a Smith, Kelly, Vermette type? Sokolov could help provide good depth that’s so key in the long run.
nkb: Maybe the largest of the lads the Sens selected, I’ll always be a bit skeptical of huge 20 year olds who rampage through the CHL. That said, he’s reportedly been putting in a lot of work this off-season and he recently suggested that he’s lost several pounds in order to increase his foot speed. I’d be shocked if he’s NHL-ready for at least a couple of years while he works on his skating, but some of the tools are there for him to be a real menace on the forecheck as part of the team’s bottom six.
Who do you think will be the biggest surprise of the Sens’ draft class?
Spencer: This is a tough one. A lot of people appeared to dislike the Järventie pick in the second round. I’m going to pick him as the Shane Pinto of this year’s draft and say he ends up as the biggest surprise.
Ross: I think Sanderson will turn into a top-four NHL defenceman, to the surprise of most analytics minds (including my own).
Shaan: When it comes to goalie prospects, the Senators have their fair share of hits (Mandolese and Daccord) and generally do a good job of finding talent between the pipes. Their 3rd-round selection of Leevi Meriläinen was one of the weirdest picks the team has made in recent years, so if anyone’s going to be a surprise, it will be him.
Brandon: I’m torn between Sokolov and Ridly Greig. Both guys may be a bit slept-on in the shadow of Stützle and Sanderson, but they both fit Ottawa’s new system and culture really nicely. I see Greig and Sokolov both providing secondary scoring, while bringing the tenacious attitude that the Senators seem to be trying to accumulate. Don’t be surprised if both become fan favourites in the near future.
Colin: If the beginning of the season is any indication, I think people will be pleasantly surprised with Roby Järventie. If he can do what he did last season but with more consistency, there’s real upside here for a dynamic top-six goal-scorer. I was high on him in my rankings for a reason, which I guess made me pretty surprised that the Sens gambled on a high-upside player.
thedaigle1: More than anything, I hope it’s Jake Sanderson. If Sanderson plateaus the way the stats folks think he will, Ottawa’s future probably looks a lot like its past. If he becomes the defender that the eye-test scouts think he can be, Ottawa has a real shot at going deep in the post-season for a few years.
That being said, I think Greig and Järventie are the most likely to play above their draft selections. To echo what Shaan said, I’m so intrigued by Meriläinen. I have no qualms with selecting a goalie after the first two rounds. Goalies, even at the NHL level, are so mercurial from one season to the next so even if the Sens’ staff are just basing this pick on one trait or showcase then let it ride. This is as swing-for-the-fences as it gets and that’s what rounds 3-7 are all about.
N_Dew: For this team’s sake, I hope it’s Jake Sanderson. This is the draft that could change the fate of the franchise based on those two top-5 picks. Stutzle is a good bet to be a reward but the Sens need Sanderson to be an extremely solid pick for the long run.
nkb: I’m with Colin and Spencer on this one, I think Järventie has the potential to break out in a way that a lot of the other selections don’t.
Lastly, what grade would you give the Sens for their work at the draft?
Spencer: I’m no draft expert. I won’t pretend to know how well they did after the first 3-4 picks they made. I’d give them a B because, for me, if you can come out of a draft with 3 players that have chances to be impact top 9/top 4 players for your team, that’s solid. With Stützle and Sanderson and then either Greig or Järventie, I think they accomplished that. We can argue about efficiently using picks, and I get the frustration there, but I think Ottawa is going to be happy here in a few years.
Ross: B. Can’t give them lower after getting Stützle, but this had the potential to be an A+ draft.
Shaan: The Senators were able to address the major needs of their prospect pool with some solid picks, but the opportunity was there to add even more forward talent and create a position of strength on the right wing, and they didn’t take it. I’ll give them a B, Alex Trebek stopped me from going any lower.
Brandon: I’d give the Senators an A. Like Corey Pronman of The Athletic said, the Senators made great picks where it mattered at the top of the draft, and that’s ultimately the best you can ask for. They have some guys who are projects, sure, but with a wealth of selections you can take those swings if you feel like it. The usage of #52 to acquire Matt Murray was excellent, as Pierre Dorion avoiding giving up a high second for the goaltender, which is something I don’t think anyone saw coming.
I’m really happy with Ottawa’s draft.
Colin: C-. There’s no denying they got two great players at the top in Stützle and Sanderson, but they should’ve easily come out with the best group of players in the entire league, and now I think it’s up for debate with a few others. The amount of high-end players they left on the board is frankly embarrassing, to the point where other teams should be calling and thanking Trent Mann for some of the gifts. I have no idea how this team plans on filling out their top six for the next while, unless some drastic changes happen from their scouting department.
thedaigle1: I’d give the Sens a ‘B’ and I think that’s pretty generous. They got their assignment in on time and they adhered to the criteria but there were some mistakes in there, and they didn’t really do anything that impressed me enough to justify an ‘A.’
N_Dew: C- and that’s because I’m happy with Stutzle. That being said, I was generally underwhelmed with Pierre Dorion’s performance overall.
nkb: I’m very excited about Stützle, and despite my qualms with Sanderson I do think he’ll be a bonafide top 4 defenseman. Getting two players like that in one draft makes it hard to give the team too bad of a grade, but I agree with some of the others that a lot of the picks feel like the Sens playing it safe with big, North American skaters. This is Pierre Dorion and Trent Mann’s vision of the type of hockey they want the team to play for the next 5-10 years. I’m not as convinced as they are that this is a winning formula in 2020 and beyond, but there’s no doubt the organization’s future looks a lot brighter than it did two weeks ago. I land on a B-.