Now that the second phase of the NHL draft lottery is over and done with, organizations involved can get to work. The New York Rangers currently reserve the right to select Alexis Lafrenière at No.1, but will that change? It’s probably a safe bet that Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton will keep the pick and add another great player to their young and exciting team.
However, New York has an opportunity to either draft Lafrenière, or they can try and flip him into an already established NHL player to help the young core the Rangers already own. It’s tempting, and it would be a disservice to not try and see what they could get in return. So, let the trade rumors begin. Or in Ottawa’s case, don’t even let them start.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported on Monday that an email, sent out by Eugene Melnyk, had said that “trading our third and fifth picks for the number one pick is nonsensical.” (from ‘GARRIOCH: The Ottawa Senators won’t be moving their No. 3 and No. 5 selections,’ Ottawa Sun, 08/17/2020) Hearing those words from Melnyk had a positive reaction with Senators fans. Deciding to keep both of your top-five picks is smart, and gives the Senators a chance at having two great players in the organization.
It is 2020 after all, so let’s have some fun with this. Hypothetically speaking, a case could be made as to why trading for the first-overall pick wouldn’t be a terrible move for the Senators. But first, let’s be more realistic.
Keep the Picks
The draft class of 2020 is shaping up to be one of the deepest in years. The most recent in my mind was 2015, but this year’s first round is loaded with talented prospects as well. A good portion of the league will have a crack at landing a (presumably) very good NHL player for the future. With that being said, it strengthens the reason to hold on to the picks you have and hit the draft floor.
The Senators currently have three first-round picks, and it’s not often that a team owns two of them in the top five. The last time a team had two top-five picks was at the 2000 NHL Draft in Calgary. The New York Islanders selected goalie Rick DiPietro at No.1 and Raffi Torres at No. 5. One year earlier, Brian Burke and the Vancouver Canucks selected Daniel and Henrik Sedin at No. 2 and No. 3. The Islanders also had taken goalie Roberto Luongo No. 4 and defenseman Eric Brewer No. 5 in the 1997 draft.
There is no doubt that Ottawa will get one of Quinton Byfield or Tim Stützle. Both of these players are looking like great prospects and can step into an NHL game right now. The Senators will also get another top prospect in Lucas Raymond, Jamie Drysdale, Alexander Holtz or Marco Rossi. THW’s Josh Bell and Dayton Reimer have the Senators taking Stützle at three and Holtz at five.
Even if the Senators go down a different path where they decide to take Stützle, and Raymond, or maybe Byfield drops to them and then they take a defenseman in Drysdale to go with him, the presumption is that they will have two really good prospects. Once again, this is the smart play and how things will likely work out. Now, let’s get to the fun hypothetical.
Trading for Number 1
As I mentioned from the start, this is an unlikely scenario because the Rangers should, and hopefully will, keep the first-overall pick. If the Rangers do decide they want to move down in the draft and add another pick for whatever reason, the Senators should be intrigued by this trade.
Below is a list compiled from the 15 NHL drafts that took place between 2003 and 2017. With research from fellow THW writer Danny McCloskey, it shows the draft year, the first-overall selection, and then the players taken at No. 3 and No. 5, respectively. Take a few minutes to go through this list, and write down how many times you would rather have the first pick versus the third and fifth.
- No. 1 – Marc-Andre Fleury
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Nathan Horton, Thomas Vanek
- No. 1 – Alex Ovechkin
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Cam Barker, Blake Wheeler
- No . 1 – Sidney Crosby
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Jack Johnson, Carey Price
- No. 1 – Erik Johnson
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel
- No. 1 – Patrick Kane
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Kyle Turris, Karl Alzner
- No. 1 – Steven Stamkos
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn
- No. 1 – John Tavares
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Matt Duchene, Brayden Schenn
- No. 1 – Taylor Hall
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Erik Gudbranson, Nino Niederreiter
- No. 1 – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Strome
- No. 1 – Nail Yakupov
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Alex Galchenyuk, Morgan Rielly
- No. 1 – Nathan MacKinnon
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Jonathan Drouin, Elias Lindholm
- No. 1 – Aaron Ekblad
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Leon Draisaitl, Michael Dal Colle
- No. 1 – Connor McDavid
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin
- No. 1 – Auston Matthews
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Pierre-Luc Dubois, Olli Juolevi
- No. 1 – Nico Hischier
- No. 3 & No. 5 – Miro Heiskanen, Elias Pettersson
I’m not sure how many times I found myself wanting to take the two players at No. 3 and No. 5 instead of at No. 1. For argument’s sake, I decided I would keep my two picks in the draft a total of five times. That’s only 33%. Obviously, it’s much easier to decide what players you would rather want with today’s knowledge, but it’s hard to ignore the results when analyzing this list.
Lafrenière has been the undisputed number one selection for the last two years. That can be argued, but it’s clear he was on everyone’s radar since 2018. More often than not, when a prospect is talked about going No. 1 well before their draft year, he’s probably going to be a very good NHL player.
This is why trading up for Lafrenière isn’t outrageous, it’s presumably safe. A French-Canadian superstar just might be what the Senators need for a multitude of reasons. Star power, brand recognition, sell more tickets, and finally get a new arena? The arena might be a stretch, but McDavid and everything that came with him helped played a role for the new barn in Edmonton. I think Melnyk would like that, no? I am in no way comparing Lafrenière to McDavid, but you get my point.
3 and Five Are Best Right Now
However, the Senators are doing the right thing by deciding to stay with picks three and five. I only say this because no one is a fortune teller. We can think Lafrenière is a safe pick, the depth of the draft will ring true, but no one knows for sure. Having two rolls of the dice is better than one in the top five.
Look at 2017. Nico Hischier is by no means a failure of a player, his career is still far too young. But, wouldn’t you rather have Miro Heiskanen and Elias Pettersson right now? Or what about in 2006, and in 2012? Sure, in the 2012 draft Alex Galchenyuk never really found his footing, but it beats selecting Nail Yakupov who only recorded 136 points in 350 NHL games. Oh, and Morgan Rielly is a pretty good player too.
This will all come down to the Ottawa scouting staff, Pierre Dorion, Melnyk, and whoever else is involved. It’s up to them to trust the scouts and go with who they feel is the best fit for their team. That being said, it sure will be fun to revisit this in the next five years.