With the NHL draft coming closer and closer, the Ottawa Senators are once again in a great position to increase the depth in an already fantastic prospect pool. Due to an incredible run of play in the second half of the season, the Senators will be picking at 10th overall in the 2021 draft. Despite falling farther than perhaps the team would have preferred, there are still plenty of options for the Senators to take. With large parts of the leagues worldwide being delayed or cancelled due to Covid-19, many of the top prospects have seen little to no game time over the last 18 months, making scouts jobs far more difficult than in previous years.
Despite this, there are a few players in which the Senators should target on July 23rd, and I have separated them into three categories; Safe picks, fallers, and reaches. The safe picks represent the most logical and likely choices for Ottawa, the falls represent the players who may fall due to mitigating circumstances, and the reaches represent players who despite being ranked lower than 10th overall, may be the correct choice for the Senators.
First up, the safe picks: Cole Sillinger: Ranked 10th overall North American Skater by NHL Central Scouting
Cole Sillinger played the 2020-21 hockey season in Sioux Falls, South Dakota while playing for the Stampede in the USHL. He concluded an excellent season in Dakota, scoring 24 goals and 46 points in 31 games, the only 17-year old to finish within the top-20 in league scoring. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, he played for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, where he put up 53 points in 46 games, and was loaned to Sioux Falls after the pandemic threatened the start of the WHL season. Measuring in at 6’0, and 187 pounds, Sillinger is an offensive dynamo who comes with top level scoring and playmaking ability. The downsides to his game are what usually plague players of his style, skating and defense. However, Sillinger has time to improve, as it is very unlikely for him to make the jump to the NHL right away. With the Senators excellent track record in prospect development, it is a very safe pick, and would afford Sillinger an excellent opportunity for growth and improvement.
Matthew Coronato: Ranked 9th Overall North American Skater by NHL Central Scouting
Matthew Coronato is a pure goal scoring winger, and he showed that during the 2020-21 USHL season for the Chicago Steel. His 48 goals in only 51 games was the best in the league by a wide margin, as were his 19 power play goals. He is slightly undersized at 5’10 and 183 pounds, but his offensive capabilities speak for themselves. As Cole Caufield is proving for the Montreal Canadiens, height is irrelevant when you have the skills to negate the size disadvantages.
Having a top scoring winger in the system is very valuable to a team like Ottawa, who have built a strong prospect pyramid of centers. The winger is committed to Harvard University in the NCAA, so he will have plenty of time to develop through the college game, with whom the Senators are already well acquainted with. With the hockey program at Harvard amongst the best in the country, combined with Coronato’s hockey IQ and shot, the Senators have a wonderful shot at drafting a top echelon scorer.
The next group is made up of the prospects who may fall due to the lack of knowledge about them, thanks to the lack of top level hockey being played.
Brandt Clarke: Ranked 7th North American Skater by NHL Central Scouting
The Ottawa-born defenseman made headlines in the capital this season, as he and his brother spent the year playing for Nove Zamky in Slovakia. While in Eastern Europe, Clarke put up 15 points as a defenseman, and showed promise as a puck moving blueliner. Prior to his time in Slovakia, Clarke played for the Barrie Colts in the OHL, where he was a very effective offensive defenseman, with 38 points in 57 games. Prior to the league's shutdown, he was on pace to be ranked top-five in the draft. Due to the lower level of competition in the Slovakian league, Clarke’s full potential and ability is somewhat unknown, but still high enough to be ranked in the top-ten. He will likely be selected before Ottawa gets a chance to grab him, but with his level of skill, and due to the questions surrounding the ability of Senators prospects Erik Brannstrom and Lassi Thomson, adding another skilled defenseman wouldn’t be a bad move.
Jesper Wallstedt: Ranked 1st Overall European Goalie by NHL Central Scouting
Goalies who find themselves within the top rankings during the draft are always a serious question mark. Wallstedt is easily the best goalie of the draft, and while no prospect is guaranteed to translate into the NHL, Wallstedt is considered one of the best of the last ten years. His time in Sweden playing for Lulea as a teenager is special due to the fact that he was a boy amongst the men of the SHL. The Senators don’t really need a goalie in terms of organizational structure, but there are questions surrounding the quality and contract of Matt Murray, as well as the ability of Filip Gustavsson, if Wallstedt were to fall to the 10th overall position, the Senators would have to at least consider the possibility of selecting him. It is a major risk to take a goalie in the top-ten but a massive risk does come with the possibility of massive reward.
And finally, these prospects are ranked below where the Senators are picking, but the club should consider reaching for their talent.
Zachary Bolduc: Ranked 17th Overall North American Skater by NHL Central Scouting
The ultimate personification of the 2021 NHL draft, no expert seems to agree on where Bolduc should be positioned amongst the top eligible players for the draft. His point totals while playing as a 17/18-year old in Rimouski are consistent with his ability, and has lived up to his potential as a member of the Oceanic. However, what Bolduc lacks is consistency. Despite having a blistering shot and wonderful hockey mechanics, he lacks the ability to consistently be a threat on a game-to-game basis. He has shown he can score, but his decision making is suspect, and has the makings of a very streaky player. Due to the inconsistencies of the QMJHL schedule and the constant stopping and starting in 2020-21, the consensus on Bolduc is inconclusive. He clearly has the talent to succeed in the NHL, but there are many intangibles under question. Perhaps a full season with Rimouski as an 18-year old is needed to judge him fairly, but until then, it is a classic risk/reward situation. If Ottawa were to reach in order to get him, it would be boom or bust, as he is amongst the biggest question marks of the draft. However, in a draft like this, it would be the most appropriate time to take a risk.
Aatu Raty: Ranked 3rd Overall European Skater by NHL Central Scouting
Another case of an inconsistent ranking amongst the scouts, Raty was once amongst the candidates to be taken 1st overall prior to COVID-19. In the junior ranks of the Finnish Elite League, Raty was putting up excellent numbers, and was garnering attention from scouts across the world. Once he made the jump to the senior circuit in Finland, he began to struggle and his ranking fell accordingly. While he is ranked 3rd amongst his European peers, his projected position is still up in the air. Scouts have him anywhere from a top-10 to a top-20 prospect. His final ability and potential is hard to predict, as the league he plays in is mostly grown men, and being a younger player in a league on bigger ice is hard to predict to an NHL level. While picking Raty may be a reach on a purely ranking matter, his ability may supersede his draft position. Like in the case of Bolduc before him, Raty represents the risk of the 2021 draft — a case of whether you want to take the chance of drafting a bust or taking the chance on a draft steal.
Overall, the Ottawa Senators are in a position where picking at 10th overall in such a controversial draft presents a chance for them to come out of the draft with a bust or a steal. This is due to the inconsistencies in terms of scouting and on-ice playing time. Even though the scouting departments in the NHL are amongst the best in the world, every NHL draft is usually a crapshoot. This year is one of the biggest unknowns in draft history, as even the top-rated prospects could be some of the biggest busts in NHL history.
By Ben Fraser | Sens Nation Hockey