In the months leading up to the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Ottawa Senators were in bad shape. They’d finished at the bottom of the league, and were forced into a complete rebuild without their first-round pick, which had been sent to the Colorado Avalanche in 2017 for Matt Duchene, and seemed destined to be a top-three selection. Thankfully, the Senators didn’t win the lottery, and the pick sunk to fourth where the Avalanche selected defenseman Bowen Byram.
A season has passed since then, but that nightmare seems like ages ago thanks to the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft. With three picks in the first round, two of which are guaranteed to be within the top six, the Senators are set up for one of the biggest drafts in the franchise’s history. The first round has been advertised as the deepest in years; the top pick will almost certainly be Alexis Lafrenière, but after him, there’s Quinton Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Jamie Drysdale, Alexander Holtz, Lucas Raymond, Marco Rossi, or Cole Perfetti to choose from. Better yet, the Senators will get two of them.
When it comes down to the first two picks, there’s really no wrong choice for the Senators. Depending on where they end up, they could add Byfield and Drysdale, or Rossi and Holtz, or Stutzle and Raymond. It’s a no-lose situation; any one of those prospects will be able to come into the talent-starved organization and give the team a major boost. I believe there’s really no point in debating who they should take in the top-6 since anyone they take will almost certainly become a franchise cornerstone.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
However, the Senators will have a very difficult choice with their third first-round pick, mainly due to the plethora of options likely available near the end of the first round. Several players would fill an organizational need, whereas others offer more boom-or-bust potential and the Senators could take a calculated risk. With so many prospects with high potential available, it will be difficult to narrow their choice down to just one. So, in an effort to do the impossible, here are five players who are likely to be available late on day one, and would make excellent future Senators.
1 – Helge Grans
Grans made a massive jump at the end of the season, going from 21st among European skaters up to sixth. Initially considered a mid-round pick, he suddenly gained traction as possibly the third-best defender available at the draft. Not all scouts are convinced yet, and he’s got some serious competition from fellow countrymen Emil Andrae and William Wallinder, meaning he’ll likely be around when the Senators pick for the third time.
There’s a lot to like about Grans. Just 17 years old, he’s already 6-foot-3 and weighs 192-pounds, making him one of the most impressive physical specimens in the draft. He also moves really well, possessing a smooth stride, and has an excellent nose for the net and a booming shot. There are some notable weaknesses defensively, and his decision making can be questionable, but all the tools are there for him to become an imposing NHL defender.
The pick is definitely on the riskier side, but the Senators are just the team to take it. With a deep crop of forwards bound to get deeper after their first picks, the Senators could address an organizational need here. On the right side, they lack depth, and overall their defense lacks size. Although Grans isn’t known for his physicality, he has the potential to be a big, powerful presence that could pay off big down the road, especially if the Senators don’t end up with Drysdale.
2 – Braden Schneider
Unlike Grans, Schneider has taken a bit of a dip in recent months, dropping from eighth to ninth on the Central Scouting final report, and seeing his average mock draft selection sink to around 23 after being considered a lottery pick. The biggest complaint is that he doesn’t offer the same offense as his contemporaries, playing more of a stay-at-home style, and he’s been surpassed by more dynamic defenders. That makes him a perfect target for the Senators.
While the Senators need size and skill on the right side of the blue line, they also need a top defensive defenseman. Schneider checks all those boxes. He possesses a right-handed shot, has a high hockey IQ, and, coming in at 6-foot-2 and 209-pounds, is a physically intimidating force on the back end with the ability to use it effectively. He plays a mature game and could be on the team as soon as next season, making him a much safer pick than Grans and a potential steal for the Senators.
3 – Hendrix Lapierre
Lapierre is a difficult prospect to place. According to some, he has the skill to be considered among the top-10 or at least a solid lottery pick. Yet his 2019-20 season was marred with injuries and concussion problems, shorting it to just 19 games. It’s made some scouts concerned about his long-term future, and they’ve placed him closer to the end of the first round. If the Senators take Drysdale with an early pick, it would be smart to snag the talented two-way forward if he’s available with their third selection.
Taking Lapierre would give the Senators an embarrassment of riches at center; they already have Logan Brown, Shane Pinto, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson waiting in the minors, and will likely add another with Byfield, Stutzle, or Rossi. Yet this would be a best-case scenario for Lapierre, as he’d be given time to find his game again after missing most of his draft season. The Senators, on the other hand, could afford to take the risk on a player with the potential to become a top-line fixture and not have to worry if it doesn’t pan out.
4 – Jan Mysak
NHL Central Scouting: 28th among North American skaters
The Hockey Writers’ Larry Fisher: 14th
International Scouting Service: 25th
Another player who could fall down to the 21st spot in Mysak, who has been dividing scouts for most of the season. While some still see that he has all the tools to be a lottery pick, others aren’t as convinced, slotting him as low as the early second round. Few prospects among the top-20 have such a wide gap in their draft projection, and with his relatively small sample size on North American ice – just 22 games – some teams may be hesitant to draft the Czech winger.
If he falls out of the top-20, Mysak would be a great fit for the Senators. He plays a very fast game and has an excellent eye for developing plays. Better yet, he can play both wings, which gives the Senators another highly-skilled option beyond Vitali Abramov and Alex Formenton. He also played on the 2020 Czech World Junior team, where he was the youngest player, and chipped in a goal and an assist. He’ll likely be more of an investment, needing time to develop and adjust to the North American game, but he already looks promising.
5 – Lukas Reichel
NHL Central Scouting: 11th among European skaters
The Hockey Writers’ Larry Fisher: 35th
Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino: 22nd
This is the first target that is arguably a bit of a reach. While Reichel has received some first-round attention, he is generally regarded as an early second-round pick and could be considered a target for the Senators’ 33rd pick. Yet there is little risk in taking the German winger so early, as he could be the second-best German available in the draft. The Senators are weaker on the wings, so taking Reichel makes a lot of sense and could be seen as a steal down the road.
Reichel has been criminally underrated on most mock drafts and is almost always taken after World Junior teammate John Jason Peterka. Whereas Peterka plays a big, flashy game, Reichel has a carefully honed offensive game that has few mistakes. His speed is incredible, his hockey IQ is off the charts and he plays a game far more mature than his 18 years suggests, which no doubt will continue to improve as he has a driven work ethic. As a testament to his skill, he became one of the highest-scoring teenagers of all time in the DEL this season with 24 points, only 10 less than Stutzle.
In every international contest, he has come in third to Stutzle and Peterka in scoring among draft-eligible Germans. That’s not a bad thing; Reichel has drawn comparisons to Dominik Bokk, who went 25th overall in 2018, after being projected by some to go in the second round, and is now one of the Carolina Hurricanes’ top prospects. Don’t sleep on Reichel – he’s much better than he’s given credit for.
It All Depends on the First Two Picks
As mentioned before, it doesn’t matter who the Senators draft with their two picks. With so much talent at the top end, there is no wrong answer to who they select; any of the top six could come in and completely change the team’s fortunes. However, who they take at the top end should affect who they take later on. If they end up with Drysdale, adding Grans or Schneider doesn’t make as much sense, especially with the forward talent that will likely still be on the board. The opposite can be said if they end up with Stutzle, Holtz, or Raymond, all of whom can play wing.
Related: 5 Worst Trades in Senators History
In the end, it comes down to who they get early in the draft. With the immense amount of talent available, most of whom are very close in terms of future projections, they should look to boost weaker areas of their roster. And with so many picks in the early rounds, they’ll have ample opportunities to do so.