How do the lottery results change the Senators approach to the draft?

A discussion on how the lottery results have affected the Sens’ future.

In the wake of Friday night’s lottery results, we thought it would be a good time to take stock of where the Ottawa Senators are as the plot around this franchise-changing draft enters a new chapter.

After compiling detailed profiles of eleven of the top prospects in this year’s class, to say Colin and I have opinions about this draft class would be an understatement. It’s one thing to follow a class passively; it’s another layer to go in-depth through watching video, reading articles, and parsing through scouting reports.

As we continue with our coverage here at Silver Seven leading up to a still-unknown draft day, here are some post-lottery reflections that we’ve been musing on.

How does the lottery results change the Senators’ outlook for the draft?

Ary: For the last four months, the Senators have wanted certainty. Now, other than the potential landing spot for their (likely) third first-round pick, they have it. Ultimately, I don’t think the results should change their outlook. Ottawa comes into the draft with a top-five prospect system and nine picks over the first three rounds. There are projectable NHLers everywhere you look. What the team lacks is elite talent alongside Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. In an ideal scenario, their current top prospects — Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom, Josh Norris, and Alex Formenton — fit the mould of middle-six or second-pair talents. Drafting two of the top forwards, or a defenceman like Jamie Drysdale, will help take the team further.

Colin: This is how I viewed it as well. We knew before the lottery that the Senators were going to come away with two really, really good picks, and the way the talent is dispersed in the draft this year is conducive to giving the Sens exactly what they need, some high-power offensive players. This is the team’s opportunity to choose the cornerstones of their franchise, and while the results have left us with another few months of wondering exactly who those players will be, I feel pretty confident that whoever they choose will be the team’s two best players in a couple years’ time.

Post-lottery, Pierre Dorion had a guest appearance on ‘31 Questions’ with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman, and reflected that he saw there being a couple of tiers at the top of the draft:

Dorion said his “tiers” broke down as follows: Lafrenière, then two players, then players four through 12, followed by 13 to 18 or 20.

What do you think about these comments?

Colin: Tiers can be a bit of a messy way to evaluate prospects — it’s hard to find clear separation between groups of players when the pick decisions often just come down to personal preference for one set of skills over another. Looking at the consolidated rankings this year, the only clear tier drop-off in talent comes after the top eight, and within that there’s not a whole lot of clarity in terms of which prospects are better than others. Maybe it’s different in NHL scouting circles, as Bob McKenzie’s rankings may point to there being a distinct 2nd tier with Quinton Byfield and Tim Stützle. But it’ll ultimately depend on the preference of the team on the clock.

Count me skeptical that Dorion mentions a tier of 2nd and 3rd right after they win the 3rd pick, but I guess it’s good to hear they have their opinions that they’re sticking to.

Ary: I agree. I think it serves Dorion well to specify that there’s a second tier after Lafrenière. First, it keeps excitement up around the team’s luxurious draft capital. Second, it takes pressure off the team, as LA — choosing second — is the one that might have to decide between two players and the Senators can merely take the leftovers. Finally, it could very well be a distraction to other teams, as Dorion has been clear many times that he doesn’t like to tip his hand about any of his activities as general manager. It’s interesting that the Kings’ management commented that they’d be considering four players with the second overall pick. Colin, looking at your consolidated rankings, it seems like there are three players that folks have ranked as high as three — the aforementioned Byfield and Stützle, with the addition of Lucas Raymond. What have these rankings been like over the course of the season?

Colin: Anton Lundell was also getting some consideration for the top three at the beginning of the season, although I wonder more if the Kings give a hard look at defencemen Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson if they feel that’s their team’s biggest need. It seems like a long shot at this point given that teams tend to draft close to the consensus at the very top of the draft, but the draft can sometimes be chaotic that way.

What tiebreakers do we foresee the Sens possibly taking into account for their team?

Ary: I think almost every smart general manager or scouting director knows to speak the “best player available” mantra, but it’s clear that there are varying definitions as to how ‘best’ is defined. Dorion spoke about looking at impact over the next three-to-seven years with a high pick — a trait that would fall under the team’s window with Thomas Chabot — and to that end, NHL readiness might’ve been a factor when the Sens opted for Brady Tkachuk over the similarly ranked Filip Zadina and Quinn Hughes in 2018. In contrast, their last high pick — 2016’s Logan Brown at 11 overall — was a trade-up with New Jersey at the cost of a third round pick to grab a player that the scouts had as their last rated top-10 quality prospect on their board. I think draft strategy might be different at 19th overall as there are larger groupings of players with a similar level of talent, but one could make the argument that Ottawa opted for ‘need’ in the reach-up for Lassi Thomson in 2019, as the next right-shot defencemen taken were the lower-rated Antti Tuomisto at 35th and Kaeden Korczak at 41st. Ultimately, I imagine that the Sens expect this year’s picks to be their last high ones for quite some time, and I would think they go for high-end talent that’s nearly impossible to trade for — unless you’re Dorion doing the trading — especially for a centre or top-end defenceman.

Colin: With draft picks this important to the future of the franchise, it’s really hard not to take things like positional need into consideration. But at the same time, the Sens could really use high-end skill anywhere in the lineup besides the left side on defence, so maybe it won’t have much of an effect. But if the Sens are set on drafting forwards this year it’ll probably just come down to the unique skill set of their choice — it’s anyone’s guess at this point whether they’d prefer an elite puck handler like Stützle or Raymond or a sniper like Alexander Holtz, or one of the many dual-threat talents. Dorion’s aforementioned comment on NHL-readiness is the only clue we really have right now.

It’s also worth noting the setup of the team’s scouting staff. Would they be comfortable taking a player like Stützle or Raymond if their small group of European scouts don’t feel as confident with the projection of his game? These types of things can make a difference, especially once it comes to the war-room discussions where three quarters of the voices are representing North American leagues. The team’s lack of European drafting in the past few years is a clear indication of that, so hopefully they’ve poured in their research for these high picks.

Who among the top talent are NHL-ready in your opinion? Should that play a factor in how the Sens decide their picks?

Colin: After Lafrenière, it’s a bit of a steep drop-off in terms of players who I’d expect to be NHL-ready next season. The next two who I think have a decent chance to step in right away are Marco Rossi and Anton Lundell, two centremen who are on the older side of the draft class.

Rossi may be the most likely just based on the fact that he played in the OHL last season where he evidently has nothing left to prove, and is limited in his options unless he decides to play next season in Europe. His 5-foot-9 stature may hold back whichever team drafts him from giving him an immediate shot, but his lower body strength and strong skating posture will take him a long way.

Lundell has the benefit of already playing pro hockey in Finland, where he could stay for one more season and take on an even larger role for HIFK. He’s second to Lafrenière in the draft when it comes to having a refined skill set immediately suitable for the NHL, but it’ll depend on the patience of whichever team drafts him.

There’s a couple sleeper picks too for immediate NHL action — Dylan Holloway already has a year in the NCAA under his belt, Yaroslav Askarov has been seemingly unstoppable if a team is in a goaltending pinch, and Kaiden Guhle is probably the draft’s most physically mature defenceman. But I highly doubt the Sens are eyeing any of these players with their top-five picks

Ary: I concur with Colin that outside of Lafrenière, the second grouping of Lundell and Rossi seem like more mature, older players that could step into a top-nine role right away. I’ve seen some folks suggest that Stützle, Raymond, and Holtz could step right in given that they played a majority of their seasons against men, and I think while that could happen, I don’t know if it should.

Starting with Stützle, I think it’s clear he’s outgrown the DEL, and would be well-served adjusting his high-tempo game to North American physicality like he did at the World Juniors. He’s a world-class talent, but also has some nasty habits with over-handling and offensive zone decision making, and that might be best worked on a team where the Sens have a lot of control over his usage, such as with Troy Mann’s Belleville Senators.

In his profile, Colin mentioned that Frölunda’s general manager is opening up a bigger role for Lucas Raymond in the SHL, and that — alongside any obvious COVID-19 implications — will be key for the Sens to ascertain whether they’d like to keep him in the SHL or not. Alexander Holtz had a top-end year with the familiar Djurgårdens, and might be the more likely candidate to cross the pond next year. He’s signed on until 2022, but most deals with young prospects like him have NHL out clauses.

Colin: It’s also worth looking at how some of the top OHL players such as Byfield, Perfetti and Drysdale might be able to make an early transition. Even though they’ve torched the league in scoring I excluded them from my earlier list for good reason, since they each have their own specific elements to work on that likely prevent them from making such a quick jump.

Byfield’s on the younger side of the draft and could work more on using his massive frame; Perfetti could stand to further improve his skating technique; Drysdale’s two-way game has room for improvement. That isn’t to take away from everything else that they bring to the table, but the flaws are a bit more pronounced than the other top players. They’re teenagers — sometimes it just takes a couple years for everything to click in the NHL, and that’s okay.

What’s our ideal scenario for the Sens’ two picks?

Ary: I’m just going to give you my unfiltered perspective here: I really, really think that Quinton Byfield is the player the Senators need at the top end of their system. Personally, it wouldn’t be a question for me between Byfield and Stützle if the Senators were picking at two, and when the lottery balls dropped, I definitely needed an evening to gather myself from the disappointment of potentially missing out on Lafrenière and Byfield. If he, by some chance, falls to three, I’m jumping for joy. While some see Byfield as a winger due to his size, motor, and lack of detail on things like faceoffs, I think he’s a bonafide centre.

I will say that despite Stützle playing wing this year, he’s seen as a centre by many, including Mannheim staff. Part of the reason why he played wing this year is to ease the burden of him transitioning to a pro game, but his top-end speed, stickhandling, and playmaking ability all serve a pivot well. If the team chooses him here, they’ll need to really evaluate whether they see him in the middle as opposed to the wing, and develop him as such — no messing around with positions that can really skew a top-end prospect’s development trajectory.

While I hear the readers clamouring for Jamie Drysdale as Thomas Chabot’s defensive partner, I’m of the opinion that the top-end forwards in this draft outshine the two premier defencemen. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be shocked if Drysdale and Sanderson aren’t taken in the top-10 — both because of how rare it is to see prospects of their quality fall out of the top-10, and because the relative lack of defencemen all through this draft class means that teams will be reaching on them relative to a grouping of forwards that are similarly rated. My pick here would simply be the most skilled player left on my board, and that’d be Lucas Raymond. He’s a game-breaking talent, and would nicely fit into Senators lore after fellow Frölunda talents like Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson. The team hasn’t ever made the playoffs without an ex-Frölunda star on their team.

Colin: It appears we’re on the exact same page for the best-case scenario! The way Byfield is able to dominate the ice whenever he steps on the ice is such a rare trait in even the draft’s most elite players, I have a hard time buying that he’s anything other than the second best player in the draft. He would immediately clear up any questions about the team’s next first line centre for the next decade, and I too will be jumping for joy if he falls in the Sens’ lap.

I also agree with the selection of Lucas Raymond at 5th overall, assuming the Red Wings don’t swoop him up. I’d even put him at the forefront of the conversation for third overall if Byfield’s unavailable, although with recent rumours coming to light that teams don’t seem as high on his skill-set, it’s something the Sens could take advantage of by having their picks so close together.

That said, it’s tough to go wrong with the picks this year. So many of the players we’ve covered are incredible and would alter the course of the team’s history. I’m easy to please this year.

Having written long-form profiles on 11 of the draft’s top players, what stands out to you?

Colin: This will also apply to the profiles we’ll be writing in the coming months, but I’m always astounded by the depth of this year’s draft class. The amount of high-end skill available in the top 15, especially at forward, is at a level far beyond what we’ve covered in the past handful of drafts.

On a bit of a different angle, it’s also been interesting to note the amount of older talent in this draft class. Between Lafrenière, Rossi, Lundell, Rodion Amirov, Jack Quinn, Noel Gunler, Dylan Holloway, Dawson Mercer, Connor Zary, Braden Schneider and Brendan Brisson — all likely first round picks — it’s just an interesting observation that could potentially play into some draft decisions. Maybe it ties into the strength of the draft class, but even after age adjustments I think it comes off as very strong year.

Ary: I concur. The depth of this class really stands out, especially at forward. I don’t see many top-end defencemen, with many only rating two with top-pair talent and many of the others having significant gaps in their game, but the high-end skill is there up front.

I think it’s also important to note that in the grand scheme of things, though, that ‘deep’ draft classes may be overstated every year. When The Athletic’s Corey Pronman took a look at a time-on-ice classification system to pick out “draft successes” he found the following:

What I learned from this is, despite the odd great year such as a 2003, and the odd poor year such as 1999, for the most part the other 10 drafts had a very tight distribution of results. Nine of the 12 drafts had between 21-to-26 successful players. It lends more evidence to my theory that most draft classes are indistinguishable from each other.

With the wealth of picks available to the Senators in the first three rounds, combined with the depth that the system already showcases, I would be taking a swing at home-run talents  — no questions asked.

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