It goes without saying that the Ottawa Senators raised many eyebrows when it comes to their first-round selection at the 2021 NHL draft. When the Sens selected Tyler Boucher from the U.S. National Development Team 10th overall, many rushed to say that Ottawa was reaching on a player who was not only outside of the top-ten, but a long shot to even be selected in the first round. Among the major scouting boroughs, Boucher was – at best – a late first rounder. And at worst, a late second rounder. Despite this, the Senators made the decision to take him, and pass on more highly regarded prospects like Cole Sillinger and Matthew Coronato. Boucher’s selection certainly does raise eyebrows, and shines the spotlight on not only Boucher, but the Senators' front office.
While I am in agreement with the majority of the hockey world regarding the major reach the Senators made, what many are discounting in the selection is the utter chaos that surrounded the last 18 months of hockey. Many leagues were either delayed, reduced, or flat out canceled. With that in mind, the lead up to the 2021 NHL draft became one of the biggest unknowns in recent memory. Despite Owen Power being selected first overall, it was one of the few instances where the first overall pick was still up in the air on draft night. Scouting departments throughout the NHL had a difficult job, and the draft reflected that.
Pivoting back to Boucher, the Senators' scouting department clearly was confident in his ability, enough so to take him so highly. The 18-year old spent limited time playing with the US team, but was still a standout player. He is committed to Harvard University for the upcoming season, so unless a drastic change develops, he is unlikely to see any professional action for at least a year. With the excellent program at Harvard, as well as the deep pipeline that the Senators have with the NCAA, there are many reasons to believe that Boucher will be in very good hands in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Even with all these factors, the decision to draft Boucher so early is questionable. However, because of the circumstances surrounding the past year and a half, if you were going to reach for a player in the draft, this is the year to do so. As previously mentioned, at no point in recent history has a prospect class had so little information surrounding it. A player like Boucher who only played five games for his normal team was judged based on a miniscule sample size, as well as his commitment to the NCAA. It is impossible to get a complete scouting assessment for a player with that little experience.
The scouting report on Boucher speaks highly of his physical attributes, be it his board play, his toughness, or ability to throw hits, he does not lack in that category. While a player's physical traits should not be the justification for such a high selection, these attributes cannot be taught, and that is a valuable asset. Boucher does possess a good shot and scoring ability, and he can be taught how to utilize it through development at Harvard and with the Senators organization.
With that said, the Senators should have traded down to make this selection, as the chance to acquire more assets for moving back was available, especially considering the great value several teams had been acquiring in the weeks prior to the draft. It is incredibly unlikely that other teams picking in the top-15 had interest in Boucher, and the Senators could have likely picked up an extra pick in exchange for dropping down.
Make no mistake, Boucher is a major project that will not come home to roost for multiple years. It is also very likely that he will not become the impact player that such a high pick warrants. However, if the Sens take the time to let him play at Boston University, put him through the AHL, and allow him to develop slowly, this could be a situation where the risk becomes a massive reward. In order for this to occur, patience must be applied, and Boucher must be left alone for now. Many players from this draft will likely become boom or bust prospects, so the future is very much unknown.
In the next five years, when we look back on the 2021 NHL draft, the narrative will likely be very different than the one today.
By Ben Fraser | Sens Nation Hockey