The Ottawa Senators have not started the 2021-22 season the way they wanted. After Pierre Dorion declared that they were finished their rebuild and on to the fun part of competing for a playoff spot, the team dropped 10 of their first 15 games. A COVID outbreak and subsequent postponement haven’t helped their record, but even before their top players went into quarantine, the team looked inconsistent at best.
It’s concerning that the same issues that plagued Ottawa last season have still not been addressed, leading many to believe that, despite the optimistic claims, the rebuild is far from over. That means another top-10 selection likely awaits them at the 2022 Entry Draft, but that may not be as much of a setback as it seems. The Senators have some huge holes in their top-six, and with several of their prospects not progressing as expected, the 2022 draft is a perfect opportunity to finally fill some of these gaps. If the Senators can add one of these five prospects, then they may actually be able to finish their rebuild.
Brad Lambert – Center/Right Wing
The Senators are a fast group. Many of their young core, like Alex Formenton, Josh Norris, and Tim Stützle, are some of the fastest players in the league right now. The rest of their roster, while not possessing mind-blowing speed, still is incredibly quick on their skates. So, if the Senators are going to add a player to their future top-six, then he needs to have top-end speed, and at the 2022 draft, there may not be a better skater than Brad Lambert.
After entering the season as the consensus number-two selection, Lambert has dropped off on many scout’s rankings thanks to a very slow start. That’s a perfect situation for the Senators, however, as this is a top-tier player and worthy of a very high selection. He has incredible speed and can fly through the neutral zone, and his intelligence with the puck is one of the most dangerous playmakers in his draft class. Better yet, he can play both center and right-wing, two positions in which the Senators are the weakest.
There are some concerns about his defensive abilities and his play without the puck, which have some thinking that his potential is somewhat limited. However, his current performance shouldn’t diminish his previous successes. Take Aatu Raty – leading up to the 2020-21 season, he was widely considered a contender for first overall, but once the season began, he struggled and his ranking plummeted. The New York Islanders eventually picked him in the second round, hoping he recaptures what he demonstrated the season prior. As it turns out, 2020-21 was just an off year for the talented prospect, as he’s now leading the U20 Finnish team with 20 points in 11 games. Lambert is likely undergoing a similar transition, and if he falls to the Senators, they need to snap him up.
Matthew Savoie – Center
Yes, he’s only 5-foot-9, but Matthew Savoie may be one of the most dynamic offensive threats behind Wright. Like Lambert, he possesses incredible speed and is able to carry the puck and make plays all at top gear. This season, he currently is tied for the lead in points with 29 in 18 games while playing with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Winnipeg Ice. But where he overshadows his Finnish counterpart is with his shot. Last season, he scored the second-most goals in the United States Hockey League of any under-18 player; the leader was Cole Sillinger, who’s currently starring with the Columbus Blue Jackets and scored just four more goals than Savoie in 2020-21.
The Senators need a pure goal-scorer. This season, they sit near the bottom of the league with just 36 goals in 15 games, and half of those have come from just three players: Batherson, Norris, and Tyler Ennis. But the team frequently passes on smaller one-dimensional players in favour of lower-potential all-around prospects – just look at their 2021 selection, where they grabbed the heavy-hitting Tyler Boucher over Sillinger. Yet Savoie, despite his small stature, can play solid defensive hockey against players much bigger than him.
While Ottawa tends to shy away from smaller players in the past, they can’t afford to pass on Savoie. This is exactly the type of player that Ottawa has been looking for in the trade market – a legitimate number one center with offence to spare. While there have been rumours they’ve looked at Dylan Strome, the only trade they’ve made thus far this season is for depth center Dylan Gambrell. Adding a player like Savoie gives them the freedom to move around other prospects and create a more well-rounded top-six.
Logan Cooley – Center
Despite how much the Senators could use Savoie, it’s likely that he’ll be gone by the time Ottawa steps up to the podium; he’s projected to be a top-three selection, and it’s unlikely the Senators can finish lower than the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, or Seattle Kraken. In that case, they should target Logan Cooley. He too is on the smaller side at 5-foot-10, but aside from that, he looks like a very Senators pick, as he currently plays with the United States National Development Program (USNDP), plays a well-rounded two-way game, and isn’t afraid to get into the corners. Although he doesn’t have the game-breaking upside of Savoie, Cooley still projects to be a solid top-six forward.
That’s not to say that Cooley doesn’t have an offensive side. In 15 games in the USNDP, he leads the team with nine goals and 20 points. He’s no slouch when it comes to skating, either, and uses his high-end vision and quickness to elude defenders when carrying the puck or get himself into great positions on the backcheck. There are very few flaws in his game despite being on the younger side of his draft class, meaning he’ll be a great player for any team to build around. Although the Senators already have several cornerstone prospects, it never hurts to add another.
Joakim Kemell – Right Wing
While center is a weakness for the Senators right now, that may not be the case in the future, especially with Shane Pinto not expected to miss much time after his latest injury. However, the right side is very shallow. After Batherson and Connor Brown, Egor Sokolov is the only player worth mentioning, and his long-term upside is still unknown. Therefore, it stands to reason that Ottawa should target a right-wing with their 2022 first-round pick, and if they pick in the top-10, they have to take a long look at Finnish sniper Joakim Kemell.
Before the 2021-22 season, Kemell was seen as a solid top-20 prospect – an exciting offensive player, but maybe a bit undersized at 5-foot-11. However, he’s now a lock for the top-10, if not the top-five after a blazing hot start with Liiga’s JYP. In 16 games, he scored an incredible 12 goals and 18 points; not only does he lead his team in points and goals, but the teenager is also tied for first among all players in the league in goals and sits second in points per game. Even more impressive is that he scored 20% of the goals on his team without much support, as JYP currently sits second-last in the league, despite also boasting Lambert on their roster. Imagine what he could do if paired with the likes of Stützle.
Simon Nemec – Defence
Yes, the Senators need a top-six forward, but their defence is still in rough shape. The outlook isn’t as bleak on the blueline, though, with Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven promising to round out the defence corps when they arrive in a season or two. But if they decide that another high-end defence is the right direction for the franchise, then they need to target the Slovakian Simon Nemec. He’s a right-handed shot that has already been playing at the professional level for two seasons, occupies the first pairing for his team at 18 years old, and even represented Slovakia at the World Championship last year.
Nemec’s skating is arguably his best ability, but there’s little that he can’t do. He controls the ice like a quarterback does on a football field and while he is prone to taking risks, his skating and intelligence can cover up for most mistakes. His offensive instincts are also very strong and he put up 19 points in 37 games in Slovakia’s top men’s league at 17 years old. If Ottawa decides to add him on draft day, that gives the Senators a potential top-four of Thomas Chabot, Artem Zub, Sanderson, and Nemec, and a likely end to any defensive issues.
Although there are plenty of talented forwards available at the 2022 draft, there are some players that the Senators will want to avoid. The first is WHL forward Conor Geekie, who is projected to be selected among the top-10. The 6-foot-4 center dominated with the Ice, but his skating isn’t fantastic, which may cause issues in his development later. With the Senators already possessing several big power-forward types, it’s best that they pass on him, especially if they have a top-10 pick.
Russian Damila Yurov might seem like a perfect fit for the Senators, as he’s a right-wing with good skating and a strong shot while also playing a more physical game, but like Geekie, he doesn’t really offer the Senators anything they don’t already have. Unless the Senators are already regretting the Boucher pick, they don’t need to draft this player in the top-10. The same goes for Juraj Slafkovsky, although he is much more offensively gifted than his Russian counterpart. If Ottawa is deadset on drafting big, strong players, then Slafkovsky is their best bet.
Finally, the Senators can’t use a top pick on the highly-touted David Jiricek. He’s a rugged shutdown defenceman, but they already have in Kleven who already is benefiting from playing with Sanderson at North Dakota. While there’s no question Jiricek can be a top-pairing defender, adding him either pushes out one of their top players or pushes him down to a bottom-six player. Either result is a waste of a high draft pick.
If the Senators once again end with a losing record, they need to make a bold move in order to address the lingering goal scoring and defensive issues. Dorion can’t afford to play it safe at the draft again in 2022, adding some strong depth players that will round out a future lineup. A top-10 pick needs to be a future top-six player, if not a top-three, and any of these players addresses that. It wouldn’t solve all their problems, but it would be the next big step in doing so.
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.