The draft has always been seen as an inexact science. Teams try to make educated guesses on which 17 and 18 year olds will turn into legitimate NHL players, but at the end of the day, it’s a very difficult thing to predict. In the same way, it gets trickier to project what player each team will end up selecting. Everyone knows the Edmonton Oilers will take Connor McDavid at first overall, and the Buffalo Sabres will follow up with a selection of Jack Eichel.
After that, things get a bit foggy. With the third overall pick, the Arizona Coyotes could turn to any of Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome, or Mitch Marner. Their pick affects the picks that follow, and by the time the Ottawa Senators choose at 18th, it’s anyone’s guess as to what players will still be on the board, let alone which one they will end up choosing.
Because it’s so daunting to pinpoint one player, looking at a few candidates that are expected to go in the middle of the first round will be helpful to speculate on the next top Senators prospect.
The Hometown Kid
His hometown isn’t Ottawa, but Travis Konecny has been playing for the Ottawa 67’s for his two years of junior hockey. Selected first overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft ahead of exceptional player Sean Day, there have been lofty expectations placed on Konecny since that draft day.
Konecny posted two seasons both over a point per game with the 67’s, and while his 9th overall rank by The Hockey Writers would take him off the board before the Senators get a chance to pick, he is also ranked 12th by International Scouting Services, 15th by TSN, and 24th by the Hockey News. Konecny possesses good speed, voted the best skater in the 2014-15 OHL Coaches Poll, and projects as a skilled two way player, perhaps a Zach Parise type with a lower offensive ceiling.
Another prospect who doesn’t crack 6’0″, Nick Merkley is seen as a high energy player with the skills to be a top six player. He hasn’t been a goal scorer in junior, but he hit 90 points with the Memorial Cup finalist Kelowna Rockets.
His shot is the part of his game that needs the most work, though his on ice vision and skating ability are both assets, which would be expected from a playmaker. Merkley would be a fit for a team looking to add more offensive punch, and if he is placed alongside a shooter, both players would benefit from his skill set.
The Physical Defenseman
At 6’2″, Jakub Zboril isn’t huge by NHL standards, but he plays a physical game that is his calling card. Zboril is a good skater, but needs to add some muscle onto his frame. This is the case with many draft eligible players, and it shouldn’t be a problem as he matures.
The knock that scouts have on Zboril is his inconsistent play in the defensive end. His shot is strong and accurate, and he could end up as a top four defenseman that plays in all situations once he irons out his game.
The High Hockey IQThe Senators ended up with Colin White in The Hockey Writers’ Mock Draft. White isn’t flashy like many of the players projected to go at the beginning of the draft, but he is a very smart player who can read the play effectively.
He doesn’t have one skill that jumps off the page as being elite, but he does everything well. White won’t be among the top scorers in the league, but he is the kind of player that contenders always have: competent offensively, responsible defensively, and a hard worker.
The Offensive Dynamo
If the Senators ignore the ‘Russian Factor’ worries and draft Denis Guryanov, they’d be adding a prospect with a very high ceiling to their pool. He has top end speed and acceleration that he uses to his advantage, and his shot is dangerous at all times.
At 6’2″, size isn’t an issue, and Red Line Report has Guryanov ranked in the top ten based on skills alone. His country of origin will cause him to drop from there, which is the case for most Russian players. If the Senators land him at 18, they could be hitting a home run. To take another step forward, Guryanov needs to improve his defensive play, though he does have a high compete level in both ends of the rink.
This draft features two of the top prospects to come out of the draft in years, but also features good depth throughout the first round. Even picking at 18th, the Senators have a good chance at landing an impact player whether it’s one of the five above or another draft prospect.