The 2020 NHL Draft Lottery was close to the worst-case scenario for the Ottawa Senators. After going in with the second and third-best odds to win the first overall selection, they dropped to third and fifth and were left to watch a placeholder team win the coveted first pick. The only team who fared worse was the Detroit Red Wings, who dropped from first to fourth, the lowest position they could have ended up with.
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The one positive is that the Senators can start planning their draft strategy. While missing out on the top two draft spots hurts, there’s still lots to look forward to as 2020 still boasts one of the deepest first rounds in several years. With two selections in the top-five, Ottawa will still be able to give their rebuild a huge boost, despite missing out on consensus first-overall selection Alexis Lafreniere.
But with so many options available to them, the Senators will have a tough time figuring out who they should take. There’s no doubt they’ll get to very talented players, but there’s arguably a couple of strategies that will benefit the team more than the others. Here’s arguably one of the better approaches the club could take at the 2020 NHL draft.
Third Overall – Byfield or Stutzle
Lafreniere is the obvious choice for first overall. Behind him, though, there’s some debate as to who should go next. For most of the season, it’s been Quinton Byfield, who some even saw as a potential first-overall selection. But German Tim Stutzle has been closing the gap ever since a breakout World Junior performance and some have gone so far to say he could even be the second overall pick, citing his high-end speed and powerful work ethic.
With two top prospects vying to be the second overall pick, all the Senators have to do is wait. The Los Angeles Kings, big winners at the lottery moving up from fourth to second, will most likely take either Byfield or Stutzle and leave the other for the Sens to scoop up. Right now, it looks like Stutzle is their best option, which would leave Byfield to Ottawa. This would suit them fine, as they would greatly benefit from Byfield’s combination of offense, size, and skating, and he’s the best center available at the draft.
But if the Kings take Byfield, the Senators still win big with Stutzle. While he has played center throughout the season, his strength is on the wing. Ottawa lacks depth on the wings, specifically on the right side, and though Stutzle plays mainly on the left, he could allow other players to move around to the other side. He has an incredibly dynamic skill set, very high hockey sense, and speed to spare. He makes those around him better players and would make an excellent addition to the Senators.
There has also been some debate that the Senators should take right-handed defenseman, Jamie Drysdale. He is easily the top defender available in 2020 and his handedness and high mobility make him incredibly valuable in today’s NHL. But there’s a chance that the Kings go with Drysdale second overall, as they might see him as a successor to Drew Doughty. THW’s Nick Abramo, in his Armchair GM Draft Review, mentioned that had Drysdale been available at fourth, he would have taken him over Stutzle.
However, even if the Kings don’t take Drysdale, the Senators shouldn’t jump on him at the third overall selection. They don’t have a lot of depth among their right-handed defensemen prospects behind Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson, but they lack a truly dynamic forward. Drysdale may be the best defenseman available, but Byfield and Stutzle, two of the best forwards in a very strong 2020 group, offer a much higher upside. To pass on either of them would be a huge mistake.
There’s really no wrong answer between Stutzle and Byfield, but if they both happen to be available at the third overall pick, the Senators should take Byfield. While I am a huge fan of Stutzle – TSN’s Bob McKenzie even suggested he could compete with Lafreniere as the draft’s best winger – Byfield offers more of what the Sens need. His game is raw in a few areas, but being that he’s already dominated the OHL, he seems primed to become a dominant, powerful center in the NHL if he can put it all together. Paired with Brady Tkachuk, the Senators would have a top unit to be feared in just a few short years.
Fifth Overall – Holtz or Rossi
It’s largely expected that the first three picks will be Lafreniere, Byfield, and Stutzle, in some order. The Red Wings are up after that and they have several top prospects to choose from. However, like with their third pick, it shouldn’t affect the Senators’ strategy too much. Instead, who they pick at fifth should be used to balance their third pick.
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If the Senators end up with Byfield, then they should aim for a winger. The two best available after Lafreniere and Stutzle are the pair of Swedes: Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond. Their decision could be made easier if the Red Wings select one of them, but if they don’t, then Holtz is probably the better option for Ottawa. His position addresses an organizational weakness and he plays an intense, shoot-first style, another thing the Senators need. Raymond has been ranked higher, but if The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler is to be believed, then it’s likely Holtz will go before him, largely due to the difference in their skating abilities.
However, if the Senators take Stutzle, then they should look to draft one of the other highly-rated centers in Cole Perfetti and Marco Rossi. The Red Wings may be targetting a center, as their prospect depth for that position is weak. So, if they draft one, the Sens can select the other player. But if the Red Wings opt for a different strategy, Ottawa should select Rossi over Perfetti. There are questions about his size, but his CHL-leading 120 points as the highest ever by a European-born player. He also plays for the Ottawa 67’s, which makes him a great local option.
There’s also the possibility that Drysdale will still be available when the Senators make their second pick. The Red Wings seem unlikely to grab the defender, especially after how 2019’s first-round selection Moritz Seider has developed. But I don’t think Ottawa needs another top defenseman in their organization right now. Thomas Chabot has proven that he’s the future on the blue line, and along with right-handed shots in their system, the club seem to be in good hands. More depth is always a good thing to have, and the Senators wouldn’t be amiss to take Drysdale, but I think there are better options.
Best Case Scenario
So, considering what the Senators need, and how other teams are likely to draft, the top-five picks could shake out something like this:
1 – Lafreniere (TBD)
2 – Stutzle (Kings)
3 – Byfield (Senators)
4 – Rossi (Red Wings)
5 – Holtz (Senators)
The Kings have the biggest need on the wings and thus would likely take Stutzle. Drysdale also makes a lot of sense and addresses their need on defense. Either way, Byfield falls to the Senators, giving them a future No. 1 center that they can build around. The Red Wings, on the other hand, need help at center and would most likely look to picking either Rossi or Perfetti, giving them a strong second option behind Dylan Larkin. That leaves the Senators one of the Swedish wingers, and as I mentioned before, it’s likely that they take Holtz before Raymond.
That’s probably the most likely scenario, but this is 2020; nothing has gone according to plan so far, and it’s likely it won’t start now. The top 10 at the draft are all great options for Ottawa – or any team picking in those spots – and there’s really no wrong way to go into the draft. The Senators have made several big strides as of late, but the talent available in the top-10 picks will undoubtedly give the team a major boost.