Compared to the 2020 version, where chaos reigned supreme, the 2021 NHL draft lottery was a bit of a clunker from a viewer perspective. Seattle managed to swap spots with the Anaheim Ducks, but outside of that everyone remained where they were slotted at season's end. Arizona, who will be forfeiting their pick in the first round as part of the NHL mandated punishment for their Combine Testing fiasco last year was the only “loser” on the night to speak of.
Ottawa meanwhile will be selecting 10th overall in the upcoming draft, and fans and players alike have to be hoping that it's the last top 10 pick the club will have for quite some time. While there are some consensus players who will likely be going in the top 5 (albeit in what order is anyone’s guess), this year’s draft is truly wide open, with no generational talents leading the pack.
Further complicating matters is the fact that there’s been little to no hockey actually played over the last year to truly evaluate the prospects. Even the World Juniors (generally one of the most heavily scouted events on an NHL team’s calendar each year) was filled primarily with players who had already been drafted as clubs were scrambling to get their prospects meaningful games of any kind. Meaning there could be some truly “off the board” picks happening not only in the later rounds, but also creeping into the first round, and possibly even the top 10 as well.
And that my friends is just the kind of draft where Ottawa could really thrive. Fans have essentially resigned themselves to “in Mann we trust” as their mantra when it comes to draft picks of late. Ottawa’s Chief Amateur Scout seems to have an otherworldly sense for finding hidden gems, and late round steals. In the world of professional sports, where everyone is an armchair GM, few could realistically say “I could do a better job than him” based on Mann’s body of work in recent drafts.
Which brings us to the million dollar question ahead of the 2021 entry draft in July which fans and media will debate ad nauseam for the next month and a half: Who will the Sens take at number 10?
To narrow down the options let’s first review Ottawa’s recent draft history when it comes to the annual prospect crap shoot. Here’s Pierre Dorion’s haul over the past 5 years since he took over in 2016 (first round draft picks only):
2016: Logan Brown
2017: Shane Bowers
2018: Brady Tkachuk + Jacob Bernard-Docker
2019: Lassi Thomson
2020: Tim Stutzle + Jake Sanderson
To be fair to Trent Mann, he had yet to be promoted to chief amateur scout for the 2016 draft (he would earn the nod in October of 2016, after the draft had already wrapped up) so if you fall in the “Brown is a bust” camp, then that one’s on Pierre. Bowers went to Colorado in the ill-fated Matt Duchene trade, and the jury is still out on Lassi Thomson. Yet even if Thomson doesn’t pan out long term, bringing in Tkachuk, JBD, Stutzle, and Sanderson is quite an impressive collection of prospects that the team will be leaning on heavily in the immediate future.
The next question then shifts to whether there will still be a true impact player available at number 10 or whether fans should temper their expectations and hope for a role player when Ottawa’s turn rolls around. Well if history is any indication of what kind of talent will still be around at number 10, then Ottawa has reason to be cautiously optimistic. Here are the last 10 number ten overall selections in the NHL entry draft:
2020: Cole Perfetti, C, WPG (likely to be on the Jets roster for 2021-22)
2019: Vasili Podkolzin, RW, VAN (would be SHOCKED if he wasn’t a mainstay next year)
2018: Evan Bouchard, D, EDM (has 21 games of NHL experience to date)
2017: Owen Tippet, RW, FLA (just wrapped up an 18pt/45game full season with Florida)
2016: Tyson Jost, C, COL (has been an Avalanche mainstay since 2017-18)
2015: Mikko Rantanen, RW, COL (currently tearing it up with Mackinnon)
2014: Nick Ritchie, LW, ANA (now a power forward with Boston, 350+ NHL games to date)
2013: Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL (now with Colorado, 300+ NHL games to date)
2012: Slater Koekkoek, D, TB (now with Edmonton, 150+ NHL games, up and down career)
2011: Jonas Brodin, D, MIN (600+ NHL games, top 4 defenseman)
So throwing out the Slater Koekkoek pick, recent selections suggest that even in drafts where there isn’t a clear cut superstar involved, the number 10 slot has been fairly kind to teams of late. As a sidebar, could you imagine Tampa Bay with Filip Forsberg on it who was taken immediately after Slater at #11? Terrifying…
Compare this recent success to who Bob McKenzie has in his latest power rankings of 2021 prospects, and the sting of not moving up any slots in the draft is lessened considerably. If you were a betting person, you would assume that Dorion & Co. would be likely selecting one of the following players (though they’ve gone rogue with draft picks before so it's far from a slam dunk):
1. Owen Power, D
2. Dylan Guenther, RW
3. Simon Edvinsson, D
4. Matthew Beniers, C
5. Luke Hughes, D
6. Brandt Clarke, D
7. William Eklund, LW
8. Kent Johnson, C
9. Chaz Lucius, C
10. Jesper Wallstedt, G
11. Mason McTavish, C
12. Fabian Lysell, RW
13. Cole Sillinger, C
14. Sebastian Cossa, G
15. Carson Lambos, D
Fans will however be left wondering whether the ever involved Melnyk will weigh in on the matter or defer to his scouting department. His recent quotes on the Toronto Podcast circuit would lead you to believe Ottawa will be in the hunt for a top line centreman or a minute eating defenseman in free agency. However, Ottawa’s track record of landing big name free agents isn’t exactly stellar, going all the way back to the 90’s. So whether this materializes or not is truly anyone’s guess. If Ottawa strikes out in free agency, does Eugene demand a C/D be taken with Ottawa’s top ten pick?
Whatever happens behind closed doors at the CTC will likely never see the light of day, so we may never know how they arrive at their eventual selection, but if I were to venture a guess, Ottawa’s offseason will eventually arrive at one of the following scenarios:
1) Unable to land a veteran centre or top 4 defenseman via free agency, Melnyk gets antsy and tells Dorion to shop the #10 pick as part of a larger deal to acquire one of his “must haves” via trade. Rumours are already swirling around players such as Claude Giroux from Philadelphia, or Ryan Getzlaf from Anaheim. While the Giroux rumours may have something to them (with Claude being from the area and Philadelphia in no man’s land roster wise), we can all but rule out the scuttlebutt around Getzlaf. He’s in the final years of his career, he lives in Southern California, and already has a Stanley Cup so doesn’t have the same kind of onus that Thornton had to leave sunnier climates for the Great White North.
2) Where there’s smoke there’s fire. McTavish’s name has been gaining steady momentum as a possible choice for Dorion & Mann this July. And when it comes to players who aren’t exactly household names like McTavish, there’s usually a reason why people in Ottawa are talking about him of late. Barring one of the top 6 ranked players (as Ottawa has been open about loving Clarke’s game for some time now) falling to Ottawa, don’t be shocked to hear the 6’2” centre from Peterborough’s name called.
3) If there’s one thing Ottawa loves in a prospect more than being a University of North-Dakota player, it’s lineage. Which is why you may see Ottawa take Cole Sillinger at number 10. Cole is the son of former NHL player (with over 1000 games played to his credit) Mike Sillinger. He’s also a centerman (keeps Euge happy), and is graded as one of the best shooters in this year’s draft class. If his feet were as good as his hands, he may be the number one prospect in the draft. While his skating has improved quite a bit, it’s his release that has scouts drooling.
4) Ottawa, knowing something that other teams do not, trades back from number 10 and acquires additional draft capital while still getting the player they were ultimately going to take tenth overall at whatever their new spot is.
In a perfect world I’d actually rather see Ottawa move up in the draft and acquire someone they absolutely LOVE, but who knows, Mann has earned the benefit of the doubt at this point.
While any of those three scenarios could very well happen, and pay immediate dividends for the Senators, they don’t take into account the outside chance a top prospect falls to Ottawa, or them taking a player like Fabian Lysell outright. None of those are bad outcomes. Luckily, Ottawa has the ability to let the draft come to them, and let a multitude of scenarios play out in front of them before making a decision.
For those who have been reading my pieces for some time now, you likely won’t be shocked to hear me say I’m also not-so-secretly rooting for the Senators to take Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt if he’s still available. Yes the Senators have tons of goaltending prospects in the pipeline, but just like I said last year about Askarov, I will say the same this year about Wallstedt (who according to scouts is only a hair below Askarov in terms of their reports on him): you can’t win in the NHL without outstanding goaltending. Case in point, the Montreal Canadiens downing the Leafs (what did you really think I’d be able to get an entire article out without bringing up Toronto’s latest choke?).
Wallstedt is a bonafide blue chip prospect in net, of which Ottawa has none. The Senators have a ton of good goaltenders in their system. Some might win some AHL awards, others might have some careers in the NHL as a backup, or 1A/1B tandem with a team. But none of them are being compared to Andrei Vasilevskiy. Wallstedt is.
In my dream scenario the Sens take Wallstedt, make the playoffs the next two years and get some experience under their belts. Then in 2023-24, Wallstedt battles Murray for the starters role, before eventually winning it outright, en route to a Stanley Cup and becomes the unquestioned starter for the team for the next 15 years. Keep in mind, I prefaced this with “dream scenario”. The more likely outcome is Ottawa doesn’t take him, and the goaltender carousel in the Nation’s Capital continues for god knows how long. When even Vegas has had a Vezina finalist before Ottawa has, somethings gotta give eventually right? But I digress..
Regardless of what the front office decides to do, Senators fans should be over the moon right now heading into next season. With a top 10 draft pick, salary cap space to spare, and the way in which the team finished the regular season, the days of Ottawa being a lottery team are going to be a thing of the past. So while it’s nice to get another top prospect in the system, hopefully come spring time next year, we’re filling the CTC for some long overdue playoff hockey.
By Kyle Skinner | Sens Nation Hockey