Ottawa Senators 2015 NHL Draft Preview

By Kristopher Bras
Photo: Though the Senators did not have a 1st round choice in 2014, they were pleased to steal stay-at-home defenceman Andreas Englund in the 2nd round (40th overall). (Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Photo: Though the Senators did not have a 1st round choice in 2014, they were pleased to steal stay-at-home defenceman Andreas Englund from the 2nd round (40th overall). (Courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 

 

The Ottawa Senators have a knack for nabbing top-tier players outside of the top 10 at the NHL draft. This year, they will need it—the team does not pick until the 18th spot. Luckily, this year’s glut of earnest youngsters runs deep.

Back in mid-February, pundits would have chuckled at the thought that the Senators could pick as late as 18th. 10 points out of a playoff spot during a dismal campaign that cost former Coach of the Year Paul MacLean his job, it looked like the only thing the Senators would compete at with any vigour for the rest of the season was the draft lottery.

Then Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson both went down to injury, the latter for the remainder of the season. Senators fans threw their hands up in despair when the team was forced to call up untested goaltenders Andrew Hammond and Chris Driedger. Nobody expected Hammond to win 14 of the next 15 games.

Led by Hammond’s remarkable 20-1-2 record to start his career—and new Head Coach Dave Cameron’s belief in the youth movement—the team staged a miraculous run that saw players like Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad come into their own as bonafide NHL difference-makers. The team ended up making the playoffs, losing in the 1st round to the Canadiens in six games.

Now, the Senators will look to make up for their lack of a 2014 1st round pick (traded to Anaheim in Bobby Ryan deal) by picking exceptionally well in what promises to be one of the deepest drafts since 2003.

Top 10 Prospects:

1. Nicholas Paul, LW
2. Chris Wideman, D
3. Fredrik Claesson, D
4. Shane Prince, LW
5. Matt Puempel, LW
6. Andreas Englund, D
7. Ben Harpur, D
8. Tobias Lindberg, RW
9. Cole Schneider, RW
10. Marcus Hogberg, G

Note: Matt O’Connor will figure in when we do our August Top 20 articles. Wideman becomes a UFA on July 1st.

Team Needs

Put simply, elite talent. At the NHL level, the team has a lot of forwards who can perform admirably among the bottom nine, but the team has lacked a big, game-breaking top line since guys like Spezza, Alfredsson and (dare I say it) Heatley left the team. If not for the development of Mike Hoffman, Stone, and Zibanejad, it could have been very ugly last season. Murray has been searching for a forward to play with an underachieving Ryan—to no avail.

At defense, the Senators could benefit most from experience. The team has six defenseman competing for the four spots beneath Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot, with Chris Phillips being the only one older than 25. That said, Cameron was not afraid to bench Phillips, so expect more of the same this year. Phillips may choose to retire instead. With such a young defense corps, the team has suffered from the occasional dangerous lapse—more frequently during the first half of last season.

Organizational Strengths

With the emergence of Hammond and the addition of NCAA beast Matt O’Connor, the Senators are prepared for war in goal. Either Anderson or Lehner will be shipped out, but the team has plenty of prospects to make sure the pipeline doesn’t suffer. Marcus Hogberg is ready for North America, but with O’Connor likely the starter in Binghamton, he will remain in the SHL to pull down bigger minutes. That leaves Driedger—a worthwhile prospect in his own right—either starting in Evansville or backing up O’Connor in Bingo.

The team also has a glut of bottom-four capable defenseman, almost detrimentally so. The team might lose Chris Wideman, the AHL Defenseman of the Year, to unrestricted free agency because he could get a one-way contract elsewhere—terms the Senators simply can’t agree to this season.

At forward, the team is loaded down the left side. With Nicholas Paul, Matt Puempel, and Shane Prince hanging around, the Sens will never lack for a call-up at that position. Guys like Alex Guptill and Max McCormick will ensure that the top lines in Bingo will always have a fill-in when necessary.

Organizational Weaknesses

With so many prospects making the big club in the past few years, the Senators are sorely lacking top-tier talent below the NHL level. The problem is compounded by the team’s lack of a 1st round pick in 2014, which Anaheim used to select Nick Ritchie—a potential top-liner.

The Binghamton Senators will benefit from the graduation of juniors in the system this fall, including Ben Harpur, Tobias Lindberg, and Paul. Though the Senators have to be pleased with how well that trio has developed, they aren’t expected to become top line/pairing players.

Although the Senators are spoiled on the left, they don’t have much help on the way at centre and right wing. Luckily, that is not necessarily a problem, since the big club is set at those positions for years to come (provided that the team re-signs Erik Condra), unless the team has the opportunity to add a big first-liner. Still, it would be nice to have an ace-in-the-hole at centre, since the team’s best depth prospect is currently Ryan Dzingel, who is likely a career AHLer.

Draft Tendencies

The Senators have historically been a best-player-available team, and this year will be no different. With the team currently strong at defense and in goal, they will lean toward taking a forward if they can. Luckily, there will be several options at their draft position in the 1st round.

Over the last few years, their developmental plan seems to have been to acquire bigger players when possible, since big, mobile forwards dominate the NHL right now—despite the results of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Although most of these moves were made through the trading block, they could take a guy like Paul Bittner (6’4) if he is still available at 18th. In our Mock Draft, he was not.

The Senators also have a long history of taking Swedish-born players, as evidenced by Karlsson, Andreas Englund, Mikael Wikstrand, and Marcus Hopberg. At 18th, the best Swede available will be Joel Eriksson Ek—but there will be better players there, so don’t count on it.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results

18. Colin White, C/RW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

This year’s draft is a bit of a crap shoot for the Senators. As one of the youngest teams in the league, their biggest organizational need is experience. It will be hard for them to predict which of their forward slots will need the most help 2-3 years down the road. Because of that, it’s a best-player-available year for the Sens. At this position, that’s probably White.

White is a skilled two-way centre who can shut his opponents down and create scoring opportunities in the same shift. He is also capable of playing well at right wing, where the team’s depth chart is also shallow. When White matures, he’ll be a dominant force at both ends of the rink.

Follow me on Twitter: @KristopherBras