After another season at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Ottawa Senators had the second-best odds at landing the number one selection in this year’s NHL Draft Lottery. Alexis Lafreniere would have been a dream come true for Senators fans.
He would’ve given the rebuild a massive boost and a chance at building a real core of young, talented players. Sadly, the balls didn’t land in their favour. However, picking at numbers three and five can still be very valuable to the franchise.
The Senators are continuing to grow and add talent as they rebuild what once was a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Final not more than three years ago. Since then, players like Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau have left the organization and fresh faces were starting to come in.
In just over a year at the helm, D.J. Smith has implemented a new culture and one that is starting while they’re young and transitioning. The upcoming NHL draft, where the Senators will get to choose at spots three and five, gives them a great opportunity to move the franchise forward and continue down the right path.
Building the Senators Core
Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White, as well as other young prospects in the system such as Logan Brown and Erik Brannstrom, will become the new faces and leaders of this Senators team. Selecting the right player and position of need at the draft is crucial to keeping the rebuild on track.
The future of the Sens’ defence seems to already be taking shape. With Brannstrom and Chabot most likely spearheading the blue line for years to come, they will have players like Lassi Thomson, Max Lajoie, Christian Wolanin, and Olle Alsing hopefully cracking the lineup down the road.
When you look at the Atlantic Division, teams are building on speed and skill. The Boston Bruins aren’t the epitome of speed and skill, but the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning are. The Senators will be seeing these teams multiple times per season and they will be the most important games in regards to the standings and making a playoff appearance. The Senators will need to use their first-round picks to draft speedy, skilled forwards if they want to compete in their own division for seasons to come.
Lucas Raymond or Quinton Byfield
The Senators will be waiting patiently before they make their selection at number three and they have many options available. THW’s Dayton Reimer underlined these choices with his first-round targets. Lafreniere is primed to go first overall to the placeholder team and it sounds like the Los Angeles Kings are high on Tim Stutzle. He ranks as the number two skater amongst most of the highly respected draft rankings. For argument’s sake, let’s say both of these players are off the board and the Senators are now on the clock.
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Jamie Drysdale is the highest-ranked defender in the draft, but as I stated above, the Senators should aim for a forward. The NHL game is about speed and skill today. Stock piling as many of these players would be the smart thing to do. But what player is the right one to fit this team?
Should they go with Quinton Byfield, a 6-foot-4 centerman, who dominated the OHL at age 17 and finished fifth in points-per-game (P/G) with 1.82? Or, do they go with Lucas Raymond, the well-rounded, skilled winger with incredible hockey sense who turned heads at the 2020 World Junior Championship (WJC)? There is no easy selection as both of these prospects are poised to have promising NHL careers.
However, Raymond would be my choice at number three for the Ottawa Senators. THW’s Eddy Jones and Brandon Share-Cohen broke down the full prospect profiles for Quinton Byfield and for Lucas Raymond. Both profiles have a lot to dissect, but there was something that pushed me more towards Raymond.
There’s no doubt that Byfield is a big-bodied centre who plays with jam, but when the puck isn’t on his stick, the size somewhat disappears. His defensive game is great, but his game can become exposed when he doesn’t use his frame to his advantage. He had a disappointing performance at this year’s WJC and he had slipped here and there in the rankings as the year went on.
Raymond on the other hand, just kept going up and up. His two-way game and need to create offence at any given time is just what the Senators need. He also plays in the Swedish Hockey League — a professional men’s league — and you wouldn’t even notice that he is just 18 years old. Not only does he already have professional hockey under his belt, but his speed suits the way the NHL game is played today. His highlight reel from the 2020 WJC is Mitch Marner-like and it’s scary.
Ottawa’s Position of Need
The Senators have some great prospects down the middle of the ice in White, Logan Brown, Josh Norris and Shane Pinto. The wings, on the other hand, could use some help. Anthony Duclair had a great season, but will the Senators re-sign him? Bobby Ryan isn’t the same player he used to be and players like Brown and Scott Sabourin are nice pieces, but aren’t nearly enough.
Tkachuk won’t be able to do it on his own, and Drake Batherson is on the rise, so Raymond would be the perfect winger to add to this lineup. Imagine a first line next year that features Tkachuk on the left, White down the middle and Raymond to his right. It’s a top line that features speed, skill, and toughness. A virtual perfect trifecta of ingredients that makes them very tough to play against around the league.
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There’s no telling exactly what the Kings will do at the number two spot, but the Senators are definitely getting a great player. Whether they decide to go with Raymond, Byfield, or another prospect not mentioned, it will have an effect on their rebuild. For better or for worse, the choice is ultimately theirs to make.