For good reason, the focus of the Ottawa Senators draft plan has centred around their first two picks, at third and fifth overall.
In their 28 years, the Senators have never had two picks in the top five. And the last time they got into this high-rent neighbourhood they came away with Brady Tkachuk at No. 4 in 2018.
So, it’s understandable the excitement around the possibilities of acquiring two impact players of that ilk, in the same draft. In the nation’s capital, the countdown is on for pick No. 3 and pick No. 5 on Oct. 6, the highlight of a forgotten Ottawa hockey calendar.
Often overlooked are the 11 choices to follow, including one more selection in the first round (at No. 28, from the New Islanders), four picks in the second round and two in the third.
That’s nine picks in the first three rounds, and 13 altogether. General manager Pierre Dorion and chief amateur scout Trent Mann have cards to play and chips at their disposal. FYI, those four second-round picks are at Nos. 33, 52, 59 and 60 or 61 (depending on the Dallas Stars’ outcome in the Stanley Cup Final).
In 28 previous drafts, Ottawa has never selected 13 players in one shot, and it’s likely they won’t use all 13 this year. Twice, they drafted 12 players — in 2001 under Marshall Johnston and in 1992, while stocking an expansion roster. The last time the Senators drafted in double digits was in 2011, when Bryan Murray and Dorion made 10 selections, led by Mika Zibanejad at No. 6. Eight of those 10 players played at least one game for Ottawa.
On a Zoom call this week, Dorion hinted strongly that he is open for business as far as moving some of those draft picks.
“We will look at possible trades of picks, but it has to make sense for us,” Dorion said. “It has to make sense with what we are trying to do as far as our rebuild.”
Keeping in mind that the Senators already have a lot of young talent in Belleville — including forwards Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Alex Formenton, Logan Brown and defenceman Erik Brannstrom — there is a case to be made for Ottawa making moves to trade some of this draft quantity for better picks or players.
The Senators have an opportunity to swap selections, especially the late first rounder and those in the second round, to either move up in the draft or to acquire veteran help for a young roster that just parted with veteran goaltender Craig Anderson and defenceman Mark Borowiecki.
It’s challenging to be specific with these types of transactions because they are so fluid, and depend on how things progress at the draft. But for fun, and because this is what we do as GM for a day, we will suggest a few examples of deals that could make sense, based on teams needing to shed players and to acquire draft picks.
Several contending teams face serious salary-cap issues in a flattening cap world, have few or no picks in the first couple of rounds and would love to tap into some of Ottawa’s draft and prospect riches.
The goal for the Senators: try to get an even better first-round pick than that one at 28, while also addressing roster needs, to augment what will happen in free agency and with Ottawa’s own RFA signings.
Goaltender Matt Murray for pick No. 28:
The Senators have some concerns about the health of Anders Nilsson, the only goalie left on the roster with extensive NHL experience. Nilsson suffered a concussion in December and is still not back on the ice, although Dorion says he believes Nilsson should be ready for next season.
Ottawa has made enquiries on Murray and Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford is believed to be looking for a first-round pick for this quality goalie and character person with vast playoff experience. In the 2016 Cup run, Murray started 21 games and won 15. Murray is still just 26, a restricted free agent.
With an .899 save percentage and 2.87 goals-against in 2019-20, Murray will be looking to have a bounce-back season. The Penguins are in the market for picks, as they have none in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft.
Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo for a second-round pick and a prospect:
Korpisalo’s stock is sky-high after his playoff performance, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have $4 million tied up in Elvis Merzlikins, and with a projected cap hit of $74.5 million, could be inclined to move one of their good young goalies.
It’s worth asking. Korpisalo, 26, will earn a reasonable $2.8 million through next season and 2021-22. The Blue Jackets don’t have picks in the second or third rounds in this draft and should be interested in moving a player or two to improve on their draft position.
The Senators have four young goalies in their system, one of whom could be moved to acquire a quality tender.
Package second-round picks to move up in draft or acquire players:
With nine picks in the first three rounds, Ottawa is ripe to move up in the draft by shedding some of its second- or third-round picks.
Lacking grit and experience on defence, the Senators could make a play for big D-man Jamie Oleksiak, 27, of the cap-strapped Dallas Stars for a second-round pick. Oleksiak has one year left on his $2.1-million contract. The Stars have no picks in the second or third rounds of this draft.
The Edmonton Oilers have the 14th-overall pick but no selections in the second, third or fourth rounds. Would the Oilers, burning in salary cap purgatory, give up their pick at No. 14 to get Ottawa’s at Nos. 28 and 33 (a swap of first round picks, with an added pick to Edmonton)?
The New Jersey Devils have three picks in the first round (Nos. 7, 18 and 20) but none in Round 2. Would they give up one of their first rounders for two in the second round of a deep draft? These are the types of conversations Dorion might have.
The Stars pick at No. 30 in Round 1, then have no picks until the fourth round. The Senators could target that No. 30 pick (to accumulate a fourth first-round selection), in exchange for a late second-round second pick (eg. No. 52) and a prospect.
You get the idea. Teams bereft of picks in the early rounds might give up a player to shed salary or surrender a higher pick while tapping into the Senators draft depth.
Rather than dwell on the individual names here, appreciate the pattern: Ottawa strives to add experience and possibly move up in the draft without taking on big salary or sacrificing either of its prized top two picks.
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