Five Thoughts For Friday: I Was Wrong About Brady Tkachuk

Discussing our precious #7, LeBreton Flats, prospect development and more!

You know what day it is. It’s Five Thoughts for Friday, beginning with a much-needed revisit of the 2018 draft.

I Was Wrong About Brady Tkachuk

Brady Tkachuk may be the most controversial pick in the history of the Ottawa Senators. With the team owing a first round pick to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the Matt Duchene trade, they had the option to give up the 4th overall pick, or make their selection and defer it to next season (which fortunately ended up also being 4th thanks to some lottery luck).

With Filip Zadina and Quinn Hughes still on the board at the Sens’ pick — both consensus top-five players — Ottawa opted to step up to the podium and pick their guy, Brady Tkachuk. To say that it was an unpopular pick would be an understatement. I had him ranked 10th on my personal list, and with the stakes of the pick being as high as they were, for them to reach on Tkachuk with better players on the board felt like another subpar move in their string of bad decisions.

Things have changed since then, obviously. Tkachuk has blossomed into a play-driving first-line forward at age 20. His game is extremely well-rounded, and he has a prickly personality that’s quickly turned him into a fan-favourite. Hughes has also turned into an excellent NHL defenceman, and Zadina is performing well in the AHL. But comparisons aside, it was clear that I had undervalued Tkachuk.

Looking back at my pre-draft profile of Tkachuk, it’s hard to dispute many of the points I made against him as a top-tier pick. He was the oldest player in the draft (something that may still be working in his favour), and his scoring rate was comparable to former Sens prospect Shane Bowers. Even Hughes, a defenceman, was right on his heels in terms of point production. To a degree, Tkachuk has defied the statistical odds to get to the place where he currently stands.

Where I ultimately got things wrong was my under-appreciation of his skillset. Not only has his physicality made his transition to the NHL extremely smooth, but his knack to wreak havoc around the net is a hundred times greater than what I anticipated. His playmaking is also under-valued even presently, as his ability to set plays to ensure the puck gets to the net has been very effective. I think I saw the physical aspect of his game and immediately conflated it with the dozens of players GMs had clearly overvalued for that reason in the past, which took some attention away from everything else he brings to the game.

I’m glad Tkachuk has proven me wrong. He’s a prick, but he’s our prick. His play has certainly guaranteed that he’ll be in the Sens’ top six for a long time.

LeBreton Flats

The National Capital Commission (NCC) unveiled their grand new plan for LeBreton Flats yesterday, with the main attraction being... condos. While far less grandiose and ambitious than the bids made by RendezVous LeBreton and DCDLS nearly four years ago (!), the NCC left open a large space for a “potential events centre”. Whether that ends up being owned, operated or rented by the Senators remains to be seen, but it would be hugely beneficial to the franchise and Ottawa’s downtown core to get the team out of Kanata.

Standing between that happening, as we’ve discussed plenty on this website, is Eugene Melnyk. Given how poorly his last attempt to get the Senators downtown went (his legal battle with former partner John Ruddy is still ongoing), it seems impossible to envision a future where the Sens are playing downtown under his ownership. The prospect of playing at LeBreton is such a lucrative opportunity for potential buyers, that hopefully the confirmation of land being set aside for this “events centre” will only push these buyers even further.

Drake Batherson & Erik Brännström

Heading into the season, the two goals I personally set for the Sens were to:

  1. Lose plenty of games in order to acquire a top draft pick
  2. Focus on developing their core young players to reach their fullest potential

I’ll touch on point #1 in the next thought, but in terms of development, no two players currently under their control are more important than Drake Batherson and Erik Brännström. And personally, I’ve found the way they’ve handled their development so far to be a bit confusing.

Both players are touted as high-end prospects, as each spent almost the entirety of last season in the AHL, where they both flourished in their own ways. Batherson posted an incredible 62 points in 59 games last season, the highest rate in the league for players under 21. Brännström showcased his incredible offensive ceiling, and while he didn’t light up the scoresheet, he was making creative plays left and right.

Jump forward to this season, and both began in the opening lineup. Batherson was sent down after two games, which to me was surprising given his importance to the Senators’ season. His two games were certainly poor, but every player goes through tough stretches, regardless of the stage of their career. Now Batherson is back in the AHL, continuing to light the lamp. He has nothing left to prove there, so it’s confusing to me why they wouldn’t give him another shot in the NHL. Even with the players like Connor Brown and Anthony Duclair occupying the NHL top six, it’s a tanking season, and Batherson is more critical to the Sens’ future.

Brännström’s story this season has been the opposite — he also made the team out of camp, since a spot had opened up for a puck-moving defenceman after Christian Wolanin was injured. He’s had his highs and lows, but to me I still haven’t seen much of the elite offensive creativity that I know he possesses. He’s been sheltered in a third pairing role, and unlike Batherson who they cut as soon as he was a bit cold, they’ve been adamant on keeping Brännström in the lineup.

From my perspective, it doesn’t seem clear what the Sens’ plan is for prospect development this season. In a year where their biggest focus should be to play these players in the spots best suited for development, their placement doesn’t seem all that ideal, instead being placed wherever there’s an open spot. Maybe I’m being too picky — after all, I trust that both players are elite enough to eventually be NHL contributors regardless of these circumstances. But currently, I’m left a bit confused as to the team’s rationale in this key area.

Tanking vs. Winning

In the last thought, I mentioned that the other main goal of the season is to lose. Yet, the Sens have won seven of their past ten games. Ian Mendes had a fantastic article yesterday looking at why this recent stretch hasn’t put the tank in jeopardy — among them, their record is the exact same as it was at this time last year. But when I think about tanking vs. winning, I want to address the topic more broadly.

As is expected in every tanking season, there will be a division of fans: those who actively root for the team to lose in pursuit of the best possible odds at the draft lottery, and those who will root for the team to win regardless of context. You can count me in for Team Tank every day of the week, but I think it’s important to recognize the distinction, and that there’s no right or wrong way to being a fan.

I also encourage everyone to embrace the other side occasionally —  if Brady Tkachuk scoring an overtime game-winning goal against the Habs ever-so-slightly decreases the Sens’ chances of them getting Alexis Lafrenière, then so be it. It’s going to be a long, terrible season. For the lucky few who still haven’t been hit with the apathy (or the fools like myself who still hold on despite the apathy), let’s enjoy the small bright spots this season.

Torment for the Leafs

Speaking of bright spots for Sens fans, the Toronto Maple Leafs are losing! Before their win last night, the Sens trailed them in the standings by only a single point. Mike Babcock lost his throne, and Leafs fans were pulling out more hairs with each loss piling on. Perfect time to grab the popcorn.

Ending this Five Thoughts with a question: what is your ideal scenario for how the rest of the Leafs’ season pans out? For some context, the Carolina Hurricanes own their 1st round pick this year, unless it’s in the top 10 in which it gets deferred to next year.

I’ve assembled a few options below. As their rivals, it’s our obligation to wish them nothing but the worst. And as a Sens fan living in enemy territory, I feel even more responsibility to not pull any punches. Here are some options:

Option #1: The Leafs bottom out for the rest of the season, finishing in 31st place. The entire staff and roster is gutted, but they end up with the 4th overall pick after losing the lottery.

Option #2: They continue to lose, but end up with the 11th overall pick which they have to give to Carolina.

Option #3: On the last day of the regular season, the Leafs lose to Montreal, and Ottawa loses to Pittsburgh, which pushes the Penguins one point ahead of the Leafs for the final playoff spot.

Option #4: The Leafs turn everything around, win the 2019-20 President’s Trophy, but get swept in the first round.

Vote in the poll below, and if you can come up with something even more treacherous, more tumultuous, and ultimately causing more suffering for Leafs fans, please post it in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

What is your preferred scenario for the rest of the Leafs’ season?

Option #119
Option #2101
Option #3125
Option #4101
Other (comment below!)12

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