NHL Draft: Senators' biggest needs, top prospects

With a talented home-grown core already producing with the Senators and one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, the future looks bright in Ottawa.  (Getty)
With a talented home-grown core already producing with the Senators and one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, the future looks bright in Ottawa. (Getty) (Getty images)

Brighter days are ahead for the long-beleaguered Ottawa Senators.

At the NHL level a talented core featuring Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Erik Brannstrom, and Josh Norris is improving each game. Couple that with one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, and Ottawa Senators fans have reason for hope.

Owning the seventh overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, Ottawa’s riches are about to grow. While the majority of Ottawa’s youthful NHL core is at forward, the wave of defensive prospects about to reach the National Hockey League is impressive.

Top prospects

Jake Sanderson - Likely NHL ready this season, Sanderson chose to return to school — similar to Buffalo Sabres’ top prospect Owen Power — and make the jump on his own terms. Senators fans will reap the rewards of that decision as a more mature Sanderson leaves the University of North Dakota to join the NHL. The fifth overall selection in 2020, Sanderson is masterful in his own zone closing passing lanes and quickly moving the puck to safety, while initiating the rush. He will play an immediate role in Ottawa next season.

Ridley Greig - Another member of Ottawa’s 2020 first-round draft class, Greig looks poised to add a different layer to Ottawa’s attack. Not only can he score, but Greig plays an agitating, in-your-face style of game. As a checking forward with offensive upside, Greig is the type of player who adds value in the postseason, and in keeping a team competitive and energized throughout the long NHL season.

Jacob Bernard-Docker - Not a defender who will provide an abundance of offense, Bernard-Docker, however, excels on the other side of the puck. He looks to be ready to step into Ottawa’s third pairing and has the potential to be a middle-pair defender who kills penalties. He spent the majority of this season developing in the American Hockey League with Belleville. While his dependability is valued, the lack of offensive contribution will allow other prospects to usurp Bernard-Docker if he does not assert himself in the NHL next season.

Ready to step in

There are several players nearing NHL readiness in the Ottawa system. Shane Pinto would already be in the NHL had a serious injury not derailed his season. Depending on how Ottawa views their forward depth as camp opens, the Senators may choose to protect their prospect by starting him in the AHL. Lassi Thompson played 19 games in Ottawa last season and made significant strides on the defensive side of the puck. The smooth skating defender who possesses a booming shot has always moved the puck well and is not afraid to jump into the play, but it was his defensive awareness that has been slow to develop. With a plethora of defenders looking to join the NHL, Thompson needs to secure his place on the Ottawa blueline before he becomes expendable.

One to watch

More of a “ones” to watch situation, as all eyes will be on the future of Ottawa’s crease this season. The organization is deep at almost every other position, so seeing if Mads Søgaard or Filip Gustavsson can finally take the step will be monitored closely. Ottawa locked in Matt Murphy as a stopgap starter in net, but are anxiously awaiting his challenger. Gustavsson played 18 NHL games this year, but was underwhelming, collecting a 3.55 GAA and .892 save percentage — at times looking out of place. Søgaard, two years younger than Gustavsson, was given a pair of starts with the big club and looked “ok.” A 6’7” behemoth in net, Søgaard will likely play the starting role in Belleville this season, and look to take the final step in preparing to challenge for Ottawa’s crease.

Needs at the draft

Ottawa has depth at all positions, and picking seventh, they’ll be able to address an area of organizational want, rather than organizational need. Perhaps adding skill to follow the likes of Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson along the wings is the most pressing depth issue in the organization. They do have Alex Formenton, Ridley Greig and Tyler Boucher, but these three could easily be shifted to third line duty adding depth offense while playing a checking role. Beyond this want, it’s likely “best available” for Ottawa. At seventh overall in the NHL Draft, any one of Joakim Kemell, Matt Savoie, Danila Yurov, Cutter Gauthier, Conor Geekie, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Frank Nazar, or Brad Lambert could provide the forward depth Ottawa desires in the future.

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