The Ottawa Senators can finally prepare for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Islanders’ first-round pick, acquired in the J-P Pageau deal at the 2020 trade deadline, has been set at 28th overall. The only problem is that the pick is seven spots lower than projected, thanks to a Cinderella run by the Islanders which took them all the way to the Eastern Conference Final before the eventual Stanley Cup Champions kicked them out of the playoff bubble.
Still, the Senators’ third pick in the first round is ripe with possibilities. While the pick from the Islanders won’t net Ottawa a grand-slam prospect like the third and fifth overall picks are expected to provide, several highly-skilled prospects are projected to be available at that spot. The Senators also have an opportunity to be a bit bolder with their final pick and go for a long-term, boom-or-bust project player. In theory, there is no way to mess up this pick, and general manager Pierre Dorion and his team need to take advantage of that.
Who can the Senators realistically expect to be around at the end of the first round? Here are five options that they should seriously consider.
1 – Jérémie Poirier, D
Many scouts and fans have argued that the Senators need help on defense, and while there are two big names available at the top of the draft, it may not be a great idea for the Senators to use one of their top picks on Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson. So, that leaves the-28th overall pick as a prime spot to select one, and Jérémie Poirier may be exactly who they are looking for. He possesses top-tier offensive abilities, evidenced by his 20 goals and 53 points this season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, and he can outskate most other defenders in the league.
While his offensive talent ranks among the best defensemen in the 2020 Draft class, his defensive liabilities have some scouts concerned about his long-term NHL potential. It is not uncommon, however, for young defensemen to lack the ability to defend effectively. Shea Theodore fell to 26th overall in 2013 due to the same concerns, and yet he is now one of the hottest rising stars in the NHL. The pick is riskier, but the Senators have a good history of patiently developing their prospects and a familiarity with the QMJHL, and Poirier could be the perfect fit in Ottawa.
2 – Brendan Brisson, C
Top-line centers are always in high demand, and although the Senators already have Shane Pinto, Logan Brown, Josh Norris, and Colin White, and will likely select either Quinton Byfield or Tim Stützle third overall, another center prospect is always welcome. With Brendan Brisson at the helm, the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel was one of the most dominant teams. He’s an elite playmaker and ended the shortened season with 24 goals and 59 points in 45 games.
Not everyone is sold on the dynamic two-way center, though. Some have criticized his skating, while others see him as too small and lacking in strength to be effective in the NHL. Yet, Brisson is incredibly intelligent on the ice. He’s one of the best problem solvers in the USHL and has an incredible work ethic. Strength, skating, and defensive awareness can all be taught, and he’ll likely get help in those areas at the University of Michigan next season. The Senators have a history of selecting college-bound prospects in the early rounds, and after the success of Pinto last year, they may be eager to try again with Brisson in 2020.
3 – Helge Grans, D
NHL Central Scouting: 6th (European skaters)
The Hockey Writers’ Larry Fisher: 39th
Helge Grans is one of the most interesting defensemen available at the 2020 Draft. He has great offensive instincts and was a point-per-game player with his U20 team, which earned him his Swedish Hockey League debut near the end of the season. His skating is very smooth and he can get up to speed quickly and efficiently, which is a key skill for a lanky 6-foot-3 defenseman. He also made one of the biggest jumps among top prospects, moving up from 21st among European skaters to 6th on the CSS’s final list, ahead of talented European defenders William Wallinder, Emil Andrae, and Eemil Viro.
If Grans is still on the board at 28th overall, he could be one of the best players available. He is very slight and not very strong defensively, however, which has caused some scouts to wonder if he can handle the tougher North American game. That’s unlikely to scare off the Senators, though. The organization is familiar with the Swedish system, and some descriptions of Grans are reminiscent of the Senators’ 2008 first-round pick, Erik Karlsson. While Grans is by no means as dynamic as the former Norris Trophy winner, there is a lot of talent there and the Senators may try to swing for the fences with their last selection.
4 – Ridly Greig, C
NHL Central Scouting: 14th (North American skaters)
The Hockey Writers’ Josh Bell: 48th
Greig is ranked well into the second round by all The Hockey Writers’ scouting staff, while other sources have him as a third-round pick. But, a few scouts have slotted him late into the first round, and the Senators may be the team to grab him. He scored 60 points in 56 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings this season and demonstrated a high level of grittiness and toughness that the Senators are lacking at the moment.
It’s also worth considering that while the majority of rankings project Greig to be a second-rounder, the CSS ranked him above Connor Zary, who is expected to go in the top 25. The main concern is his size and strength and whether his in-your-face style will translate to the NHL. However, he’s drawn some comparisons to Brad Marchand, and while he doesn’t have the elite skill level of the Boston Bruins’ forward, he brings the same energy and all-around talent. The Senators have scouted the WHL in depth in recent years and will be familiar with Greig. He wouldn’t be a typical pick for Dorion, but he would be a very interesting one.
5 – Lukas Reichel
NHL Central Scouting: 11th among European skaters
The Hockey Writers’ Josh Bell: 32nd
Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino: 22nd
Reichel is the favourite sleeper pick of the 2020 Draft. Before the fall, Tim Stutzle and John-Jason Peterka dominated the conversation regarding the top German prospects, but Reichel led the trio in goals in the DEL. He also tied Stutzle with five points at the 2020 World Junior Championships, and now has four goals in three international games this season. Most rankings, however, still project him to be the third German selected at the draft, and half see him going in the second round.
Yet, this pick makes a ton of sense for the Senators. He’s an incredible goal-scorer, which the team will need in the near future, and a winger, an area in which they are lacking depth. It makes even more sense if the Senators take Stutzle with the third-overall pick. The two have been teammates on nearly every international German team since 2017-18 and have often led their squad in scoring. Should the Senators reunite them, they would help the two players become more comfortable with the North American game.
Too Many Options
These five players are just a small selection of who could be available near the end of the first round. While the order for the top-10 seems to be mostly set, there is lots of variability in the rest of the first round. A player like Jan Mysak, who some have as a top-20 selection, could fall out of the first round. The same could be said for Kaiden Guhle, Braden Schneider, J-J Peterka, or Hendrix Lapierre. There is too much talent available this year, and not enough draft spots.
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This leaves the Senators in an incredibly envious position of being able to scoop up a passed-over prospect without any serious repercussions – think Joe Veleno who was projected to go in the top-15 but landed with the Detroit Red Wings 30th overall at the 2019 Draft. Then there’s the possibility they trade one or more picks, as rumours have already popped up that the Senators may be open to moving some of their second-rounders, or one of their first-round picks. No matter what happens, though, the team is set up beautifully to take full advantage of one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.