Revisiting the 2019 NHL Draft

Today we’re going to revisit the work the Senators did at the 2019 NHL Draft and take a look at how it’s trending three years later.

The topic of Ottawa Senators’ drafting is always a hot one, which usually ends in most fans saying something like “In Trent Mann We Trust”. Honestly, I get it. The Sens have had a rough go in the public eye when it comes to immediate reactions to their draft performance, yet have built up an intriguing pipeline of young players and prospects over the course of this most recent rebuild.

Three years is, in my opinion, too early to make a definitive statement about how good your draft class was but it’s long enough to take stock of where the picks are trending. Sens fans talk a lot about how pivotal the 2020 NHL Draft was for the team. After all, they had three first round selections and used them on Tim Stützle, Jake Sanderson and Ridly Greig - three players who all appear to be either star level or, in Greig’s case, a surefire NHLer of some kind, at the very least.

When The Athletic’s Corey Pronman reviewed Ottawa’s 2019 draft that year, he gave the club a C. His overall rationale was that he liked a few picks and thought the Sens did well enough, but “left a lot of value on the table”. When you go back and take a look at some of the picks, I do see what Pronman was saying. There were players that went after Lassi Thomson - like Tobias Björnfot, Philip Tomasino and Connor McMichael - who appear to be trending in a more impactful direction than Thomson at this stage. At the time, while Shane Pinto was one of the picks Pronman did like, Arthur Kaliyev and Bobby Brink were both players the scouting world loved and were a bit puzzled when Pinto’s name was the first called on day two.

At the end of the day, what the Senators appear to have done in 2019, so far, is fill out a lot of needed depth.

Let’s start at the top.

Lassi Thomson, RHD

Round One, 19th Overall

With the 19th overall selection, the Sens drafted Lassi Thomson out of the WHL. The Finnish defender immediately went back to Finland to get his professional career off the ground - which didn’t exactly go as planned. It wasn’t until Thomson came back to North America and joined the Belleville Senators that his game really started to align with his draft pedigree.

As a DY+3 defender in the AHL this past season, Thomson was sixth in primary points per game on the team, 11th in even strength primary points per game and fifth in even strength goals for percentage (EV GF%). All-in-all, when Thomson was on the ice, the BSens did well.

Thomson also spent 16 games in the NHL with Ottawa, playing limited minutes and getting his feet wet with the big club. While his ice time was certainly limited to softer minutes, he spent over 230 minutes on the ice at even strength and led all Senators defencemen in CF% with 50.46. He joined Erik Brännström and Thomas Chabot as the only three Sens rearguards who were able to come out of this season on the positive side of the ledger in this regard.

What does the future hold for Thomson? It’s fair to say that’s still something of an open question. My guess is that his ceiling is that of a top pairing complementary guy, ie. someone who can go out and play alongside someone like Chabot or Sanderson and give them the space and puck movement that will allow those two players to be at the top of their game. It seems most likely that he’s a second pair complementary player, similar to the above but not someone you’ll have out there for anything more than 20 minutes in a game. His floor, for me, is still a surefire NHL defender as a third player contributor. It would be a grave disappointment at this stage if he didn’t even reach that level.

Shane Pinto, C

Round Two, 32nd Overall

One of the more controversial picks the Sens made on the day quickly silenced the doubters with not one but two fantastic campaigns for the North Dakota Senators Fighting Hawks. As a freshman, he came incredibly close to hitting a point per game and as a sophomore, he cleared that mark while being named the NCHC Forward of the Year, Player of the Year and Best Defensive Forward.

Fast forward to his NHL debut and Pinto put up 7 points in 12 games following that incredible last season in North Dakota. Unfortunately his season was limited to just five games this year after suffering a serious shoulder injury and a later re-aggravation thereof. The last time he laced them up for the Sens was November 13th, 2021, against Pittsburgh. While he technically played in five games last year, he only played a total of six minutes through his final two appearances, getting injured early on in both.

Pinto is almost certainly be the most impactful player from Ottawa’s 2019 class. He has all the tools you want in a middle six centre. You don’t win Forward of the Year and Best Defensive Forward if you’re not a well rounded player, after all.

Pinto’s ceiling is something like a solid second line centre. Even at his best, he won’t contribute offensively enough to unseat a top line centre from any NHL team. What he does do is make his linemates better while being fantastic away from the puck.  Given their depth down the middle, I think Ottawa has an exceptional third line centre on their hands here who they will happily and comfortably move up the lineup when injuries arise. The basement for Pinto is likely a situation where he gets moved to more of a complimentary winger role, but again on the third line. I have an incredibly hard time envisioning a world where this player isn’t, at the very least, a bona fide top nine player.

Mads, Søgaard, G

Round Two, 37th Overall

A few picks following, the Sens took a big swing on a big netminder in Mads Søgaard. The now 21 year old 6’7” goaltender was one of the WHL’s best in 2019, posting a 0.921 SV% and a 19-8-4 record with the Medicine Hat Tigers. However, in Scott Wheeler’s Top 100 draft rankings, Søgaard was not listed - although six other goaltenders were.

Since being drafted, Søgaard has spent time in the WHL, in Denmark, the AHL and had a quick cup of coffee with Ottawa at the end of this past season. Throughout, Søgaard has been solid. In Denmark, playing on loan for the Esbjerg Energy while the WHL was sorting out its approach to COVID-19, he posted a 0.922 SV% through 16 games. He then followed that up with a trip to Belleville, going 7-0-0 in his first North American professional stint.

This season, his numbers came back to earth a little, with a 0.908 SV% as Belleville’s starting goaltender. His 19-14-1 record with Belleville this year propelled them to their first Calder Cup Playoffs appearance, although the Great Dane™ was injured and Filip Gustavsson took the reins at that point.

Let’s get one thing straight: goaltender performance often seems detached from reality and is, at the best of times, challenging to evaluate. That being said, I’d be surprised if Ottawa didn’t have a backup goaltender on their hands — as a worst case scenario. Most realistically, an average or slightly below average starter who can post a 0.908-0.910 SV% regularly. At the top end? He could be the one. Søgaard’s combination of size and athleticism makes him an incredibly intriguing prospect to follow. If the Sens play their cards right, and Søgaard continues to refine his game, they could have someone special between the pipes for years to come.

Viktor Lodin, LW

Fourth Round, 94th Overall

The aptly nicknamed Slick Vik is next on the list of Ottawa’s 2019 draft class. Viktor Lodin kicked off his professional career in Sweden and, quite frankly, quickly became a forgotten prospect for most Sens fans. After all, he was drafted as an overager and he didn’t have exactly eye popping stats to obsess over. He spent some time in Sweden’s top league, playing minimal minutes and producing even more minimally on the scoresheet - with just nine points through 63 games across two seasons.

Then came a pivotal moment in his career - he made the move to Timrå IK of HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s second tier league. Similar to European football, many European hockey leagues have promotions and relegations, depending on how well you do. Lodin dropped down a level, secured an important top line role, produced 40 points in 47 games and helped Timrå promote themselves to the SHL. This past season, despite returning to the best league Sweden has to offer, Lodin remained at the top of the lineup while producing far more than he had in his previous stints in this league.

When his season wrapped up, Lodin came to Belleville and immediately became a top of the lineup impact player for the Senators. While he was unable to find the scoresheet in his first two games, he put up eight points in the eight games that followed before he wasn’t able to compete in the AHL playoffs due to illness.

Lodin is a tricky one to gauge because he feels like that shiny new prospect just coming into his own but he’s also 23. He has the offensive skills to contribute at the NHL level but the question is if he can round things out elsewhere on the ice to gain the trust of an NHL Head Coach - and I think a full season under Troy Mann in Belleville next year will do wonders for his game. That being said, his ceiling for me is a third line scoring winger who can hop up in the lineup when needed but probably shouldn’t be a regular in a playoff team’s top six. Realistically, an average third liner scorer who spends some time on the powerplay. Worst case, he doesn’t regularly make the NHL because he doesn’t have the tools to be a fourth liner, so if he can’t crack the top nine he’ll find himself in the Adam Gaudette area of the lineup.

Mark Kastelic, C

Fifth Round, 125th Overall

As the person who covers Belleville for this site, I have to tell you I’ve absolutely loved the Kastelic glow up over the past year. Another overager selection from Ottawa, Kastelic spent two seasons as the captain of the Calgary Hitmen before joining Belleville for 31 games last year. This year, however, he was a whole new player. With an extra step in his stride combined with his size and tenacity, Kastelic quickly became a favourite of Troy Mann’s. He played in plenty of situations and was the go-to guy for important faceoffs.

When Kastelic got the call to Ottawa, I have to admit I was probably the most excited I’ve been for a non-blue-chip prospect’s recall because I was genuinely curious to see what would happen. After all, Kastelic’s style of play is rough and tumble. He’s got some hands and a bit of offensive capability but for the most part, he profiles as a depth player. I wanted to see how well he’d do at the NHL level and he definitely impressed. In his 16 games with Ottawa, he was either noticeable in a good way or not noticeable at all - which is exactly what I want to see from an AHL call-up. He’s either doing great things or he’s, possibly more importantly, not doing obviously bad things.

Kastelic’s future is, for me, easiest to predict. His ceiling is that of an elite fourth line centre. One of those fourth line pivots that everyone wants on their roster. More realistically and easiest to predict, he’s your average fourth line centre. He goes out there, he does his job, he gets off the ice. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m going to be honest, I don’t see a world where Kastelic doesn’t accomplish the “average fourth line centre” scenario as early as this coming season but, if he doesn’t, his floor is that of an incredible AHL veteran who ends up playing a couple hundred NHL games over the course of seven or ten seasons as a regular call-up.

Maxence Guénette, RHD

Round Seven, 187th Overall

Last but certainly not least, we have Maxence Guénette. When you get into the seventh round, most people stop paying attention but you can guarantee this was one of the best days of Guénette’s life to get selected by an NHL club, even if it was all the way down at 187th overall.

What Guénette brings to the depth chart is a chance that he could be an NHL player which, in the seventh round, is about all you can ask for. The chances aren’t incredible, I’d say it’s more likely Guénette spends most of his career in the AHL or in Europe, rather than in the NHL, but the chances aren’t zero and that’s what we love to see.

Guénette spent a full season in Belleville this year and, as a rookie, he posted 19 points in 48 games. For DY+3 defenders this year, Guénette’s offensive production was quite respectable for a seventh round pick. He ranked 10th in primary points per game, 9th in even strength primary points (ahead of Thomson!) and 19th in EV GF%.

As a right shot offensive defenseman, Guénette has what I would deem to be a slightly easier path to the NHL than that of his left handed counterparts. The hockey world has put a high premium  on right shot defenders for the past two or more decades, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. If he can round out his game defensively in Belleville, this could get interesting.

For the future, I’d put Guénette’s ceiling as a third pair defender who spends almost as much time as the second powerplay quarterback as he does at even strength. A more realistic scenario sees him as a strong AHL defender who has a few cups of coffee with the big club over a few years. The floor is, of course, one that sees Guénette in Europe by age 25 because he hasn’t be able to make the show in North America.

What Do We Have?

As I said before, the Sens didn’t walk out of the 2019 draft with any true stars. We’re not going to look back at 2019 in a few years and see a Nikita Kucherov (58th overall), Alex DeBrincat (39th overall) or Brayden Point (79th overall) scenario. But what I expect we’ll see is that the 2019 NHL Draft shaped the middle and depth parts of this roster very respectably when they’re in the playoffs.

It’s possible that by 2024, the 2019 draft will have produced two quality NHL centres as well as a starting goaltender and a top four defenseman. There’s also a chance, which is less likely but still possible, that a third line scoring winger in Lodin is the cherry on top from this particular draft.

While I’d love to see the Senators take swings on more high risk, high reward players with their draft picks, I look at the 2019 draft as an example of strong roster building selections. There are no future Conn Smyth winners here, but if you walk out of a draft with six prospects and four of them end up making various levels of impact on your NHL playoff-calibre roster in the next five years, that ain’t half bad.

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