Comparing the Senators’ 2020 Draft with the Stars’ 2017 Draft

The NHL Entry Draft is designed for teams to add players to the organization with the hopes they can become impactful players for the team. Some teams have a history of very good drafting, while some others have been better at building their team through signings and trades. The Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators own two of the best draft classes by a team in recent memory, and they were both franchise-altering.

The best draft class for one team in history easily goes to the Detroit Red Wings in 1989 (from How Detroit Red Wings hit the mother lode at NHL draft 30 years ago, Detroit Free Press, June 17, 2019). They picked Mike Sillinger, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Dallas Drake who all played 1000+ games in the NHL. They also selected Vladimir Konstantinov who had his career cut short after a tragic limousine accident shortly after the Red Wings won the 1997 Stanley Cup. As for the more recent drafts, the Senators and Stars are close to, if not at the top of the list for the best draft classes.

The Draft Picks That Were Made

The Stars entered the 2017 draft with all seven of their own draft picks, plus the Anaheim Ducks’ first-round pick which they acquired for Patrick Eaves at the 2017 Trade Deadline. They entered the draft lottery with the eighth-best odds and were lucky enough to move up to the third pick in the draft, where they selected Miro Heiskanen. The pick they acquired from the Ducks was 29th overall but was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks along with their own third-round pick to move up to 26th overall. With that pick, they selected Jake Oettinger.

Miro Heiskanen Dallas Stars
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With their remaining picks, the Stars selected Jason Robertson, Liam Hawel, Jacob Peterson, Brett Davis, and Dylan Ferguson.

As for the Senators, they entered the 2020 Draft Lottery with the second and third-best odds at landing the first overall pick to select the consensus top prospect, Alexis Lafreniere. Whether it be due to luck, general manager Pierre Dorion having incredible predicting capabilities or a bit of both, the San Jose Sharks’ first-round pick that was acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade was their extra pick that had the third-best odds. The Senators came out of the draft lottery as the biggest losers, with their own pick dropping four positions and landing at fifth overall and the Sharks’ pick staying at third. Little did they know at the time, it would be the best thing that could have happened to them.

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With their first pick, the Senators selected Tim Stutzle third overall, followed by them taking Jake Sanderson fifth. They had a third first-rounder they acquired from the New York Islanders in the J.G Pageau trade, which they used to select Ridly Greig 28th overall.

They had an enormous amount of trades that led to the remaining selections they made, but in the end, they were able to select seven more players outside the first round – Roby Jarventie, Tyler Kleven, Egor Sokolov, Leevi Merilainen, Eric Engstrand, Phillipe Daoust and Cole Reinhardt.

How the Stars’ Class Has Panned Out (So Far)

Heiskanen has become one of the top defensemen in the NHL since being drafted. He has totaled 204 points in 354 games across his five seasons, including a massive breakout year in 2022-23 as he posted 73 points in 79 games. Not only has he posted solid offensive numbers, but his defensive game is just as good, if not better. In a recent fan poll put on by @JFreshHockey on Twitter, Heiskanen ranked third among left-sided defensemen. He is comfortably in the top 10 among defensemen league-wide and is expected to be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy for many years moving forward.

Oettinger has become one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, especially after his breakout season in 2021-22. After having a 30-15-1 record along with a .911 save percentage (SV%) in the regular season, Oettinger earned the starting role in the playoffs. The Stars made it in as the first wild card team and ended up playing a star-studded Calgary Flames team. The defensive system the Stars played, especially from the aforementioned Heiskanen, was helpful for Oettinger, but his play was phenomenal. In seven games, Oettinger allowed just 13 goals and posted a .954 SV% and 1.81 goals against average (GAA). In 2022-23, Oettinger finished with a 37-11-11 record and finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting. He is becoming a franchise-caliber goaltender.

Jake Oettinger Dallas Stars Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames scores on a penalty shot in the playoffs against Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Jason Robertson finished his rookie season with 45 points in 51 games and earned second place in Calder Trophy voting. Since then, he has posted 188 points over the past two seasons and totals 234 points in 210 career games. In 2022-23, Robertson scored 109 points and finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting. He also received votes for the Lady Byng and Selke awards. His ability to produce incredible offense but also be great defensively is what makes him so valuable. He was a key part of the best line in hockey last season playing alongside Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski.

Hawel and Davis were not signed to deals and became unrestricted free agents (UFA) in 2019. Peterson had spent some time developing with the Stars but was ultimately traded to the Sharks after 66 games with the Stars. Their final pick in the draft was Ferguson. He was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights along with a second-round pick for Marc Methot just days after Vegas’ expansion draft.

Senators Have Star Power, Some Still Developing

Stutzle joined a struggling Senators team in the 2020-21 season and posted 29 points in 53 games as a rookie. Yet, he has been on a significant upswing since then. In the 2022-23 season, Stutzle recorded 39 goals and 90 points and is already making his way up the list in season records for the Senators. At just 21 years old, Stutzle will be entering his fourth season and is in the conversation of top-10 centers in the league.

Sanderson is fresh off a massive extension he earned after just 77 NHL games. His rookie season came later than many hoped, but at 20 years old, he was a huge impact for the Senators. In that season, Sanderson scored four goals and 32 points, but his defensive abilities led him into the conversation of the best defenseman on the team. That is very impressive given the fact that the Senators’ blue line consists of players like Thomas Chabot and Jakob Chychrun. He still has consistency to prove, but the trajectory he is on looks very promising and there is a good chance he becomes at least a top-15 defenseman, if not higher.

Jake Sanderson Ottawa Senators
Jake Sanderson, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Greig is still working his way into becoming an NHL regular, but his pesky, skilled game is one that many are excited to watch. He had a lot of success in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and once coming to the Senators organization, he earned a call-up and scored nine points in 20 games. He projects to be a good two-way, middle-six center for the club.

Jarventie and Sokolov are still developing but have the chance of becoming third-line scoring players if things continue along the way they are. Daoust and Reinhardt both look like they could play in depth roles. Engstrand was not signed by the club and became a UFA in 2022.

Merilainen has a lot of promise as a young goaltender, especially after a fantastic season in the top Finnish league, Liiga, in 2022-23. As a 20-year-old, he posted an 18-13-7 record with a .917 SV% and 2.02 GAA which both ranked fifth in the league. After coming to North America he played just six games between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) and didn’t record the best numbers.

Kleven is a towering, physical defenseman who can bring an important asset to the depth of a blue line, and that is stability and toughness. After leaving the NCAA, Kleven suited up for eight games in the NHL and recorded a pair of assists, but his play got better with each passing game.

Comparing the Two Draft Classes

Heiskanen and Robertson were two fantastic picks that can be compared to Stutzle and Sanderson for the Senators. Both teams have their superstar forward, and while Sanderson isn’t on the same level as Heiskanen, his future could lead him to a similar path of being an excellent number-one defenseman.

Oettinger is far and away the best of the rest when looking at the two classes side by side. Nobody else that either team picked comes close to him. An elite starting goaltender of Oettinger’s caliber is hard to come by. Merilainen is expected to be a good NHL goaltender, but as we all know, goalies are weird and impossible to predict. The depth of the draft is clearly in the Senators’ favor as the Stars have nobody left outside the top three picks, but the question is if the depth of the Senators’ draft can balance out the difference Oettinger makes.

It is possible the Senators end up with a middle-six center, two third-line wingers, two fourth-liners, a bottom-four physical defenseman, and a decent goalie out of this draft’s depth. Everybody has their preference, and the Senators’ class is still developing, but Oettinger still makes out as a more valuable asset than the potential of these players.

So while it is close in terms of value, and the Senators’ group still has some developing to do, the Stars’ group is the better draft class right now.

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