Senators’ Tkachuk: The Right Draft Choice?

With the fourth-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, the Ottawa Senators selected Brady Tkachuk. While in most cases this pick would have been made and done with, for the Senators, it’s never that simple. While Tkachuk impressed in his rookie season, it’s impossible not to think about the numerous other options available.

This draft pick is much bigger than just Tkachuk. In the trade that brought Matt Duchene to Ottawa, one of the pieces that general manager Pierre Dorion sent to the Colorado Avalanche was a conditional first-round pick. The condition was that the Senators could either trade the 2018 or the 2019 first-rounder in the deal. They received the fourth-overall pick, deciding to keep it to draft Tkachuk, betting on the team improving in the 2018-19 season.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Well, that didn’t happen, and the Senators finished last in the league. But, in a rare win for the Senators, the Avalanche fell to the fourth spot in the 2019 NHL Lottery Draft.

Now that we know where the Avalanche will pick, looking at all of the options, was drafting Tkachuk the right choice for the Senators? Let’s take a look.

Tkachuk Impressive in Rookie Season

There’s no question that Tkachuk impressed in his first season in the NHL. He finished his rookie campaign with 22 goals and 45 points in 71 games to go along with 174 hits. His goals led the team, points were third, and hits were second. In fact, his 22 goals are the most by a teenager in Senators history. He also had the third-most penalty minutes with 75. It’s evident that he made himself noticed night in and night out.

Senators left wing Brady Tkachuk
Senators’ winger Brady Tkachuk impressed in his first NHL season (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

He’s not only contributed in the stats column, but he’s come out on a leader on this team. Whether that was dropping the gloves for a teammate like his then-landlord Mark Stone or calling Max Veronneau to try and lure him to signing with the Senators, Tkachuk has captain potential with this team.

Tkachuk spent most of the season playing on a line with Stone, leaving many to believe that the “Stone effect” was contributing to his production. However, 14 of Tkachuk’s points have come after the NHL Trade Deadline when Stone was sent to the Vegas Golden Knights. Those 20 games are his best production all season and he did it playing mainly with fellow rookie Colin White and Brian Gibbons.

For all rookies, he finishes the season second in both categories behind Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson. There’s a very high ceiling for the St. Louis native, and his rookie season helped to prove that. While many people were wary of him, he’s matched the rookie goal totals of Taylor Hall, Gabriel Landeskog and Sean Monahan.

Other Choices From 2018 NHL Entry Draft

Even looking at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, there were some questions about drafting Tkachuk with the fourth-overall pick. He did have 31 points in 40 games for Boston University, and added nine points in seven games at the 2018 World Junior Championships. But still, many thought that the Senators would choose Filip Zadina, who ended up slipping to sixth.

Tkachuk leads all players from the 2018 Draft in goals and points, just ahead of Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svenchnikov for goals (20) and Rasmus Dahlin for points (42). Some of those taken after him, though, will likely make the jump to the NHL next season, so it will remain to be seen if he can keep this title moving forward.

Filip Zadina

The biggest name to mention here is Zadina. Zadina was projected to be a top-three pick at the 2018 Draft. When the Senators were on the board with the fourth pick, many thought that he would be selected and he would have been a steal at that point. Instead, he slipped to sixth where the Detroit Red Wings selected him.

Red Wings forward Filip Zadina
Red Wings forward Filip Zadina (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Zadina was coming off of a 44-goal, 82-point rookie campaign with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL, but was then sent to the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins for 2018-19, collecting 16 goals and 33 points through 55 games. He was called up to the Red Wings near the end of the season, playing in nine games and recording three points.

For Zadina, he will be looking to prove the teams that passed on him wrong, including the Montreal Canadiens, Senators and Arizona Coyotes.

“I was telling my agent that if they will pass on me, I need to fill their net with the pucks. I just want to prove [to] them that they [made] a bad decision. I’m so glad I’m in Detroit right now. I want to prove to Detroit that they [made] a good decision.” (From: “No surprise: NHL draft sticks to script — at least for the first two picks” – Ottawa Sun – June 23, 2018).

He is a highly-skilled winger and comparisons between Tkachuk and the Czech Republic player are likely to surround the two for a large part of their careers. After one year though, it looks like the Senators made the right decision.

Others Drafted After Tkachuk

Zadina will be the closest watched by Senators fans moving forward, but there are others drafted after Tkachuk that should be watched as well. Quinn Hughes was drafted seventh overall by the Canucks and playing in just four games and collecting three assists including some incredible individual efforts.

Another one is Edmonton Oilers’ 10th-overall pick Evan Bouchard. Despite starting the season with the Oilers, collecting one goal in seven games, he was sent down to the London Knights where he was given the “C.” In the 2018-19 regular season, he racked up 16 goals and 53 points through 45 games.

For now, these are the biggest names drafted after Tkachuk, but players such as Barrett Hayton, Adam Boqvist and Noah Dobson, among others, could eventually challenge Tkachuk for his title as top-producer from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. After the first seasons, Tkachuk looks like the right pick.

Options In 2019 NHL Entry Draft

On April 9, the NHL Draft Lottery awarded the Avalanche (via the Senators) the fourth-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Due to the Duchene trade, Tkachuk will forever be linked to whoever the Avalanche pick.

While this comparison will be unavoidable, it’s important to note that drafting Tkachuk was the safe bet for the Senators. They knew that they could have the fourth-overall pick in 2018 or a chance at a higher pick in 2019. They were going to be bad, but it wasn’t a sure thing that the Senators would finish dead-last, giving them at the very least a top-four pick. They made the decision based on the odds.

Related: Our Free NHL Draft Guide

It turned out to be a pretty good bet for Dorion, with the Avalanche slipping to fourth. The Senators are still missing out on a great player in the 2019 NHL Draft, though, and that blames lands on Dorion and the Duchene trade. Here are some of the options that the Senators could have had instead of Tkachuk, or in addition to him.

Vasily Podkolzin

The top two picks for the draft are pretty much locked with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. After those two are taken, though, it opens up a bit. Currently ranked third, is Vasily Podkolzin.

Vasily Podkolzin of SKA St. Petersburg
Vasily Podkolzin is the third-ranked prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft (photo courtesy SKA)

From The Hockey Writers’ prospect profile on Podkolzin:

“The 17-year-old’s raw skill is clear as day — that’s not up for debate. He can stickhandle in a phone booth, complete difficult plays at high speed and he has a dangerous shot. His speed is good, but not great, however, due to an engine that doesn’t quit, his compete level and physicality are not up for debate either.”

He should be a top-six forward in the NHL and could make the jump as soon as next season. There are some holes in his game, but nothing that can’t be fixed with maturity and good coaching.

Dylan Cozens

Dylan Cozens has typically landed between third and fifth in draft rankings but should be the second centre taken in the draft, behind Hughes. Where ever he lands, he’s an elite talent already.

From Cam Robinson’s Top 100 Rankings in February:

“A long, powerful stride drives his elite speed. He’s a complete player with skill to burn in a sizable frame. Cozens owns an accurate and heavy release and uses that threat to look-off defenders and slide crisp passes into his mate’s wheelhouses. Loves to win one-on-one battles.”

Cozens has the ceiling of being a top-line centreman in the NHL, which is a very valuable commodity. While the Senators have White, Logan Brown and Josh Norris in the same position, having too many centremen is not a problem in the NHL.

Bowen Byram

The top-ranked defender for the 2019 Draft is Bowen Byram, who has ranked anywhere from third to 11th overall. He had a historic 2018-19 season, leading all WHL defenders, and setting a Vancouver Giants record, for goals.

Bowen Byram Vancouver Giants
Bowen Byram is the top defender available in the 2019 NHL Draft (Chris Relke/Vancouver Giants)

From The Hockey Writers’ prospect profile on Byram:

“He’s a great skater with an ability to surprise opposing players with his speed. His vision allows him to make big passing plays, and he isn’t afraid to play physically. He handles the puck very well and has a quick, hard shot that can fool goaltenders.”

Byram looks to be a top-two NHL defender with the potential to be a number one. He’ll lead the break out from his end, quarterback the power play and won’t be afraid to jump up in the rush.

Is There a Right Answer for the Senators?

At this point, there is no right answer. These are all very young players and only time will tell if this was the right decision given the circumstances. For now, Tkachuk has looked like a star for the Senators with no signs of slowing down. If he continues to trend the direction he’s gone this season, he’s a slam dunk choice. Missing out on players like Podkolzin, Cozens or Byram, though, is a big loss for a rebuilding club.

The one certainty from all of this is that the Senators’ original Duchene trade was one of the biggest mistakes in the club’s history. Not only did they give up a fourth-overall draft pick, but Shane Bowers, who was also sent to the Avalanche, looks to be a stud. Just to have Duchene for 15 months before being unable to re-sign him and trading him to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They did get two prospects and potentially two picks in return, but having both Tkachuk and the fourth-overall pick in 2019 would be a better scenario.