When Pierre Dorion made the choice to undergo a full-blown rebuild, it was clear that he targeted the 2020 NHL Draft as the opportunity to shape the team’s future. In total, he owned 13 picks, two of which ended up in the top five. The fanbase fantasized over both the quality and quantity Dorion was going to be able to add to the team. With a couple of trades to land NHL players and another to move up in the second round, the team was left with 10 picks, allowing for a great opportunity to better the franchise for the long-term.
The draft started as well as anyone could have hoped. The third overall pick was an easy choice - the Kings selected Quinton Byfield second so the Sens landed Tim Stuetzle. They would have been silly to pass on a player with Stuetzle’s skill level and upside. After that, Dorion had to get to work. (Adrian Wyld/CP)
The next picks would also be more telling of his draft strategy. At fifth overall, they passed on highly skilled but smaller players like Marco Rossi and Cole Perfetti in favour of 6'2" defenseman Jake Sanderson. The type of team Dorion desires was made more and more clear with each of the next several picks, as well as with the players he chose to trade for.
The average height of the 10 players selected by Dorion in the 2020 draft is right around 6’2”. Only one player, Ridley Greig, is listed at under 6’, and his scouting report suggests him to be a physical, agitator type who plays much bigger than his 5’11” height.
For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at the 2020 Toronto Maple Leafs’ draft. They made 12 selections. The average height of these players is around 5’10 ½”. They drafted just three players listed at or over 6’ tall.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference in draft strategies is by highlighting the trade between these teams at the draft. The Senators traded up to pick 44 in exchange for picks 59 and 64. They selected 6’4” D-man Tyler Kleven, while the Maple Leafs took 5’9” Roni Hirvonen and 5’11” Topi Niemela. Big, strong and physical, versus smaller, slick and skilled.
The draft strategies go back even further for these two teams. Since Dorion took over as General Manager in 2016, the Senators have selected 33 players. Only three are listed under 6’ tall - Greig, Angus Crookshank, and Jonathan Dahlen. Since Kyle Dubas took over as GM in 2018, the Maple Leafs have selected 27 players; 18 of them were listed under 6’ tall. The difference between the two drafting styles is quite extreme - only 9% of Sens’ draft picks under Dorion versus 55% of Leafs’ picks under Dubas have been sub 6’ players. Both teams are smart enough to realize the importance of skating in today’s NHL. It’s not as if the Sens are drafting Derian Hatchers and the Leafs, Corey Lockes.
Perhaps Dorion’s most debated draft pick came at fourth overall in 2018. Most of the debate centered around two wingers. There was 6’4” Brady Tkachuk, whose game is predicated on physicality, going to the dirty areas, and using his will and high compete level to succeed. The other option was 6’0” Filip Zadina. While he’s not undersized, his game is much more centered around his offensive skills. He’s the type of player who was going to be a difference-maker because of his shot and goal-scoring ability. Many, myself included, were in favour of drafting Zadina. Dorion went with Tkachuk.
Today, Brady Tkachuk is a core member of the team. His offensive numbers have been solid (89 points in 142 games), but he brings so much more than just that. He’s a pain to play against, he’s physical, he’s energetic; he’s the type of guy a team like Toronto desperately needs. Clearly, I was wrong. That’s not to say Zadina can’t become a good player, but it’s obvious how valuable Tkachuk is going to be for years to come. Tkachuk is a great representation of what Dorion wants his team to look like. His desire for size and strength is also shown with his recent trades.
First, he traded for 6’5” defenseman Josh Brown. Next, it was 6’5” defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Lastly, it was 6’4” forward Austin Watson. All three are physical and tough, but they combined to score just 13 total goals last season. Dorion would likely point to the 2019 St. Louis Blues or the 2014 Los Angeles Kings as examples of what he’s trying to build. He wants a team that’ll outwork the opponent and wear them down. It should be noted, though, that those teams still had offensive forwards like Toffoli, Gaborik, Tarasenko and Perron.
Yesterday, Dorion made a move for an offensive player of his own. Evgenii Dadonov was brought in on a three-year, $15 million deal. He's tied for 36th in goals and 48th in points in the NHL over the last three seasons. The winger brings the skill, goal-scoring, and power play ability that the team desperately needs. This signing was key in showing that the team is willing to pay big-time free agents to come here, and that free agents are actually willing to sign here. Players like Dadonov and Stuetzle will be central offensive players, but they’ll also be asked to play complete games with high compete levels to fit the team’s growing identity. Dorion brought DJ Smith in as head coach, a coach that has made it clear how much he values strong work ethic. Yes, Sens fans are dreaming about the likes of Chabot and Stuetzle, wowing with their creativity and puck handling. More than anything, though, they want to win.
Again, the blueprint for succeeding with a physical, tough team is already in place with the Blues and Kings winning in this style. It will take time for these Senators to put it all together, but after a few years of chaos and hopelessness, there does seem to be a plan in place. A plan that should give the fans some hope. That’s a start.