By Sylvain Godin | OSJ Staff
Well. That was a gong show.
The NHL Draft ran about as horribly as one would expect. The potentially worst-case scenario unfolded: one of the “play-in round” loser teams won the draft with a 2.5% chance. The Lafreniere saga continues and we now have to wait until a second phase of the draft happens after the first series of games are played to find out where the number one pick will go.But should Senators fans really be upset about losing out on Lafreniere? Yeah, they should be. He is a franchise-altering player. He may not be ranked as high as Crosby and McDavid were when they came into the draft, but he was just barely a step below and will give the team that gets him even more riches when a new season begins in 2020-21. But that's all spilled milk: We need to focus now on reality.
The Ottawa Senators have the number 3 and the number 5 in the NHL 2020 draft, a draft that is, by far, one of the deepest seen in a very long time. Some compare it to the 2003 draft. So, with that in mind, we need to start analyzing what this means.
What the number 3 draft pick means: With Lafreniere certainly going first overall, Los Angeles, having won the second overall pick, gets to pick between two centers, if so desired. They could potentially look at the highest-ranked defenseman in Drysdale and add someone who could play with Doughty for years to come. But conventional wisdom tells us you usually pick the best player on the board. And that is, by far, the two centers: Tim Stutzle or Quinton Byfield. The level of separation, skill-wise, between both players is minuscule. They flipped between second and third all season long, which just goes to show you how close they really are. While there is a drop off between Lafreniere and these two centers, their resumes highlight just how potent these two studs can be.
6’0 ft 187 lbs
Ranked number two by TSN’s Bob McKenzie
German League stats: 7 goals and 27 assists +4
6’4” ft 214 lbs
Ranked number 3 by TSN’s Bob McKenzie
In 45 games played in the OHL, had 32 goals and 50 assists +26
At first, you would look at the statistics and give the advantage to Byfield. But Stutzle played against men in the league while Byfield played teens and young adults. On the other hand, Byfield was mired with injuries this year which impacted the potential amount of points he could have scored. If you take both into account, you can see that while Stutzle probably is ready to jump into the NHL quicker, Byfield maybe has a slight upside to his game, offensively. Either pick is a great choice and it solidifies what should be a number one centrepiece that the Senators have been missing since the Jason Spezza days. And that, Senators fans, should excite you a lot.
Also, you will have to think that they will have a small chip on their shoulder by being picked as the second choice among centers instead of first. That drives some players. In the end, it’ll be interesting to see what Ottawa does with this pick. One thing is for sure: The Senators are finally addressing a massive need in the middle.
What the number five draft pick means: This is where we really get lucky. It’s a shame that Ottawa dropped from 2 to 5 but, in the end, this should not change the Senators' plans whatsoever. The hope was to get into the Top 3. If they had miraculously landed the number one pick, they get the player everyone was vying for. Picks 2 and 3 allowed them to get their center. Anything else? Completely complementary to a team that now has a wealth of prospects. The question now is what’s Detroit going to do at 4?
Let’s review who's ranked top 10 in Bob McKenzie’s draft:
Looking at the list, the first three are effectively gone. Unless Drysdale is taken by Los Angeles, which could be an interesting choice for them, let’s just assume the Kings take the best player in either Stutzle or Byfield. This leaves them Drysdale, the best defenseman in the draft, and then you have a bit of a potpourri of choices for forwards. Sanderson is the only other defensive player breaking the top 10. Let’s not forget that Yaroslav Askarov, an exciting Russian goalie prospect, who made his KHL debut at age 17. Askarov is just outside the top ten (at 11), and could be in play. Absolutely not knowing anyone in the Detroit prospect pool, I’m not going to even guess what their needs are. But let’s go with two scenarios:
Option A) Detroit takes Drysdale:
This allows Ottawa to basically pick whoever they think will complement them offensively. But, as a long shot, one must wonder: If the Islanders should happen to win the number one pick, which negates Ottawa’s third pick in the first round this year? Do you consider doing something crazy and picking Askarov? Askarov is ranked as a top tier, Carey Price-level goalie. With Anderson all but done with the Senators, one must again wonder if the Senators are truly satisfied with the current setup of goalies they have. Askarov has a much higher ceiling than anyone the Senators have in the pipeline right now.
This would allow potential trades to happen, obviously, which could stockpile more picks for later use. I feel like Ottawa has a lot of talent in their forward pool, allowing them to really think and look at this option and consider Askarov. However, if the Isles pick remains in play (which is more likely), I’d gamble and hope for Askarov to be available then, which is possible. Perhaps package something to move up in the draft to snag him? If that’s the case, you could go local in 67's star Marco Rossi. The Sens would be ridiculously deep at center at this point.
Option B) Detroit takes a forward/center/goalie
This is the simpler route: You take Drysdale. Drysdale is the best defenseman and could challenge for the number one spot in the draft if it weren’t so full of talent. You take that player and run. Option A is the most likely scenario, but option B can’t be ignored depending on what Detroit’s needs are.
Now Back to that New York Islanders pick...
That’s still TBD. Now that we know a loser from the play-in round gets a shot at the number one pick, we must see if a) the Isles lose their series and b) if they win the phase 2 lottery. If this scenario happens, Ottawa doesn’t get the pick this year. It’s sent to 2021, and with Lafreniere in the fold, the Isles will likely improve on the ice and their first-round pick will be lower next year it currently is. Best case scenario for Ottawa is that the Isles lose their playoff, and do not win the number one pick. This gives them a mid-teen draft pick for the Senators to, hopefully, target Askarov. It’s just around that time where you would think he would be seriously considered with a pick. Again, I’d try to package that Islander pick to move up in the draft to get him.
That draft, though.
The NHL made a mockery of its Draft Lottery. The number one pick is stuck in limbo and you now must do a second phase of a draft to award a team the number one pick. There were sixteen teams. The team (Team E) that won the draft had a 2.5% chance of winning. That is ‘literally’ what happened here. Team E basically lucked out and won the draft in question. Here's where it becomes slightly unfair to everyone, Senators included. If you basically include all the eight teams’ percentages, they effectively had only a slightly lower chance than Ottawa’s *combined* picks of getting the balls to land in their favor. It really does leave a sour taste for the seven bottom teams that won’t play for potentially up to ten months. They get shut out on a player that could have turned their franchise around. Instead, Lafreniere could end up on a team that's already good. It was an unmitigated disaster and I’m sure Gary Bettman is going to get an earful from a lot of owners, particularly those bottom seven, for this kind of setup.
Confessions of a Sens Fan
On a personal note, what a whirlwind of emotions. At the end of the draft, I sat there, finishing my Maple Whiskey and Ginger Ale, reflecting on everything. When the number five pick happened, I was disappointed. That was Ottawa’s pick. That pick had the best chance of winning the draft and instead, it got knocked down three positions. But I got a shot of adrenaline when I saw Detroit chosen at number 4. “Oh my god,” I thought. Did the San Jose pick win the draft??” That dream was quickly shattered when the third spot was revealed to be Ottawa.
At that point, I was just angry: the best chances to get the number one pick and Ottawa got literally blasted out of the top two picks. Part of me was enraged that L.A. would get a pick that high. Another part was even more upset that this mystery team booted the Sens out of the top two. In truth, I lost my #*%& when I saw the mystery team win the number one spot. I'm sure I might have woken up my kids with a bit of shouting and finger-pointing at the TV. Just like a lot of you, I went on Twitter and shouted my rage: How DARE the NHL screw the Senators and every other team in the bottom seven like this with such a bogus and idiotic system?
Soon enough, I was rational again and realized the following: Ottawa is getting a center they’ve desperately needed. Ottawa will also get a second top-five pick, a player that probably could have challenged for the number 1 pick in most other years. Ottawa will probably still have a third first-round pick (from the Islanders).
Breathe in, Sens fans. We're now at least over the anxiety of the wait and where the team will pick. It’s now time to be excited about the pieces the Senators are about to add to the fold.