The night of June 21st will be a long one for the Ottawa Senators’ scouting staff. With the first 31 picks wrapped up in the first round, they’ll be ‘on the clock’ for pretty much the entire night, as they’ll open day two with the first pick in the second round.
The Sens traded down last year, acquiring a second round pick to select defenceman Jonny Tychonick. There will be plenty of intriguing options available for them at pick #32, and in this post, we take a closer look at four forwards that are expected to go in that range.
First up... an overager?
Brett Leason (RW)
|Prince Albert Raiders
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The oldest player we’re profiling, Leason and his Prince Albert Raiders ran through the WHL this year en route to a league championship. His 1.62 points-per-game in the regular season ranked fifth among WHL forwards, and he finished second in playoff scoring with 25 points in 22 games — one behind draft-eligible defenceman Bowen Byram. It’s rare for a player who’s never been on Team Canada’s radar to get their first call to play for the country in their last season of U20 eligibility, but Leason was one of the only forwards with an impressive showing, putting up three goals and five points in what was a quick five-game exit.
Having kept tabs on Parker Kelly throughout the season, the Sens should have a good idea of what Leason brings to the table. He’s a big (6-foot-4, 201 pounds) right-shot forward with a strong physical game and good hockey sense. Just because those two aspects of his game are what we’re emphasizing doesn’t mean he doesn’t have skill — his sense combined with his puck protection ability allows for him to find his teammates for high-danger opportunities, as evidenced with his nearly assist-per-game mark this season — but he doesn’t have highlight reel puck skills as some of the others in this class. What’s really helped him is developing an extra step in his skating stride, which doesn’t limit him as much as it used to when he’s a puck carrier, and allows him to get in on the forecheck. It’s rare to see him beat defenders with his speed, but he’s still able to be productive regardless. He finished fourth among WHL forwards in primary assists per game, and third in primary points. Only 14 (!) of his 89 points were secondary assists. Leason’s physicality is also unlike the games of Brady Tkachuk or Albin Grewe (profiled below), where it usually ends up with them finding the penalty box. Leason had 28 penalty minutes this year, and isn’t the type to chase for big hits, but rather use his big frame in smart ways to win board battles or drive the puck to high-scoring areas.
Taking Leason would add a forward who’s nearly NHL ready to a strong Belleville core that’s adding Alex Formenton, Parker Kelly, and Josh Norris to a group that already includes Filip Chlapik, Logan Brown, and Vitaly Abramov. You’d expect that he’d be ready for NHL time in the next one to two years, rather than the three or four that 18-year-olds may require. On the flipside, he’s two years older than the first-time draft eligibles, and is likely at his ceiling barring future skating improvements. He’s physically mature, with less room for growth, and has a “safer” projection than others.
Albin Grewe (C/RW)
|Djugårdens IF J20
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We covered Albin Grewe in the Draft Debaters series on the Cost Per Pointcast, and it became clear pretty quickly why scouts love him: he’s ferocious. He plays with an edge, much like Brad Marchand, who Grewe compared himself to at the draft combine. But ingrained in that is a very skilled player who dominated the junior ranks in Sweden.
Grewe plays for Djurgårdens IF, an organization very familiar to the Sens, with current prospects Jonathan Davidsson and Olle Alsing playing there last season. It’s also the former team of Mika Zibanejad, Tobias Lindberg, Andreas Englund and Fredrik Claesson... the Sens connections are abundant.
Posting an impressive 34 points in 25 games in the J20 SuperElit league this season, Grewe added six points in eight playoff games to lead his team to a second place league finish. His 1.36 points-per-game rate was the second best amongst U18 players, behind 2020-eligible Noel Gunler. It earned him a 15-game call-up to the SHL where he played only three minutes per game — typical practice for young players getting a taste of the pros.
What Grewe does well is play hard. As much as I gag at the term “compete level” due to its often misuse, it’s palpable in his play. He skates hard and quick, he relentlessly drives down the boards, and he’s a pest to his compete against. It helps that he has the skills to play so high-octane too, with creative hands, and quick-thinking. Some scouts have pointed to him as being a bit too selfish, but that’s his role — barrel the puck towards the net and get a high-quality chance. He primarily plays centre, but may potentially progress better as a left-winger given his tight-to-the-boards playing style.
The downside to Grewe’s intense style is that it results in more time spent in the penalty box — he logged 102 penalty minutes in his 25 SuperElit games last year. He plays very physical despite his 5’11” size, and that’ll often end up with his team playing shorthanded. But underneath that is a skilled player, who the Sens could consider adding to their deep line of forward prospects.
Nicholas Robertson (C/LW)
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A small player who plays with a ton of energy is a good way to describe Robertson, who lacks Grewe’s physical game, but isn’t afraid to utilize his high-end skill to make tough plays in the offensive zone. He made the draft cutoff by four days, and with 55 points in 54 games, still managed to be one of the 60 OHL forwards above a point-per-game. Robertson was 53rd among OHL forwards in primary points per game, and 83rd in expected goals per game, but led his mediocre Petes team in scoring. What he does more than others his shoot a ton — his 3.43 shots per game ranked 29th among forwards and second among first-time draft eligibles to Arthur Kaliyev.
His best attributes are his hands, especially in tight, and it often allows him to create offence out of very little. He’s a strong passer, though, and as you’ll see in the highlight pack below, he’s capable of beating goalies from a distance with his shot. As is the case with most young players on weaker teams, the coach being over-reliant on him also means that Robertson can tend to try too many moves with the puck or become more prone to turnovers. However, this trait is usually coachable, and should change as Robertson’s teammates get better. He’s not overly fast, which doesn’t help him get into the middle of the ice as much as he could, but he’s engaged all over the ice and can be in position defensively even if he’s not going to be a regular defensive option. Robertson stood out internationally on a relatively weak U.S. Hlinka team, and has an ability to do it all — a trait evidenced by Mitch Brown’s tracking data on him.
The brother of Dallas’ 6-foot-2, 201 pound winger, Jason Robertson, Nicholas has the potential to grow, and it’s the best reason to pick him at this point in the draft. It’s a swing for high-end skill, and as the Sens have eight picks over the first two rounds between the 2019 and 2020 Drafts, I think they can afford to take some chances on players who might have different development curves, but can add an injection of high-end talent that can push a team over the edge if they pan out. His counting numbers are the weakest of the four players mentioned here, but as most have had six more months of development, Robertson could pan out to be the best when we look back a year from now.
Patrik Puistola (LW)
|Jr. A SM-liiga
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Patrik Puistola began his season in the Finnish U20 league, but it became evident very quickly that he was a tier above his competition. Promoted to Liiga with Tappara, he was given limited playing time due to their deep roster, so he was instead loaned to LeKi in Finland’s second division league, Mestis.
And did he ever thrive.
Posting 26 points in 22 games, it was by far the most productive season by a U18 player in the league’s history (minimum 20 games), with second place being 0.44 points per game lower than Puistola. Mind you, it’s pretty uncommon for players of Puistola’s age to play in Mestis for a lengthy period, as they’ll usually just go back to playing against U20 competition (one recent exception is Jesse Ylönen). But Puistola was able to dominate against older players with fellow 2019 draft-eligible Kristian Tanus, finishing fourth in league P/GP. He also fared well internationally, with four goals and six points in four games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and five goals in as many games at the U18 worlds.
Puistola does a lot to be offensively dominant, but I think it boils down to a combination of great hands, aggressive decision making, and a good shot. He’ll occasionally pick one of those traits in a moment and blow you away, especially when it comes to dangling opposing defencemen. He also likes to be open for breakaway passes, a play that gained him a solid chunk of his goals.
Similar to Ville Heinola who we covered yesterday, Puistola will be a bit of a project moving forward. The top-end speed of his skating is only mediocre. Defensively he needs to gain more strength and positional awareness if he plans on being a threat at the other end of the ice. But for now, Puistola’s resume of dominating against older players will warrant him a pick in the first two rounds of the NHL draft.
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