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Is the Ottawa Senators Rebuild About to Come to a Screeching Halt?

How much with the Ottawa Senators improve after the 2020 Draft?

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Everyone knew the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators were a team in the middle of the rebuild.  However, as I recall the 2019-20 season, for the first half of the season the team played better than anyone expected it would. Then, during the second half of the season, reality set in, and the Senators dropped lower in the standings.

Now they are going to pick some of the low-hanging fruit that comes to teams that reside in the bottom. That fruit comes in the shape of the NHL entry draft, and the Senators are going to have some very good draft choices come their way through the 2020 NHL entry draft – whenever that might be.  Furthermore, if the Senators draft wisely, they might get two or three very good players in the draft. And, when you add those players to the young prospects already coming up through the organizational ranks, you have the makings of a very good team in a year or two in Ottawa. At that point, the rebuild will be officially completed.

Related: Can the Ottawa Senators Win the 2020 NHL Entry Draft Lottery?

What Does Head Coach D.J. Smith Have to Say About the Team and the Draft?

On Tuesday of this week, the Senators head coach D.J. Smith spoke to @SNkylebukauskas from Sportsnet about his first season as head coach of the Senators.

During the interview, Smith noted that the Senators would be a “tough team to beat” if they choose wisely in the 2020 NHL Draft. For the entire draft, the Senators could have as many as 13 picks, and likely three of those picks will be in the first round.  Even better, the team will have “at least” two of the first six choices in the NHL Draft, but the exact rankings of those draft choices will be determined by the Draft Lottery on June 26.

This season the Senators failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third season overall. They will be one of the seven teams sitting on the outside looking in at the 24 teams that engage in a play-in round in a tournament that moves the winning teams into the playoffs. It’s hard to make the playoffs when your season’s record is 25-34-12.

Many years ago, my son and I co-coached a high school young women’s basketball team; and, I would always say that I was a great coach when I had good athletes. The same is true in hockey. The good teams have great athletes.

Certainly coaching, teamwork, and infrastructure all matter; however, it’s hard to be a really good team without determined athletes with plenty of skill. There are good players and their great players, and there are elite players. Usually, the team with the most elite players wins more games.

Smith noted himself, “You need special players if you want to knock all these teams off, and I think we’re going to get one, if not two, of those guys.” However, dreaming about the team’s future, Smith did not discount the players that he had, suggesting that “I think we’ve got a couple of them on our team already, and, in time, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

The hope is that next season the record will be much better. Until then, Smith believes the draft allows Ottawa an opportunity to add to a young core of players who are already in the system. Two of those players are on the team already – the 23-year-old defenseman Thomas Chabot is a keeper, as is 20-year-old forward Brady Tkachuk.

Players coming up through the system include such prospects as 21-year-old forward Josh Norris, who won the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the outstanding rookie in the American Hockey League this season. Other prospects coming through the system include center Mark Kastelic, left-winger Jonathan Gruden, and center and right-winger Drake Batherson.

In a post less than a month ago, SNNation Silver Seven noted the awards for the best youngsters in the Senators system:

Some of those awards included:

Best First-Year NHLer: Marcus Högberg (among those were also noted were Filip Chlapik, Logan Brown, and Drake Batherson)

Most Improved Prospect: Josh Norris (among those were also noted were Shane Pinto, Vitaly Abramov, and Jakov Novak)

Top Newcomer: Lassi Thomson 

Best Defenceman: Erik Brännström (among those were also noted included Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, and Olle Alsing)

Best Goalie: Marcus Högberg (among those were also noted were Kevin Mandolese and Joey Daccord).

There Is Every Reason to Suspect Great Draft Picks

Those are high-quality prospects already within the system. And after this draft, there’s certain to be more. The Senators have their own first-round choice and the San Jose Sharks’ first-round pick (from the Erik Karlsson trade on Sept. 13, 2018). Ottawa also has a conditional first-round pick who came to the team from the New York Islanders as part of the trade that sent forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the Island on Feb. 24. However, the condition is that, if the draft lottery places the Islanders in the top three, the Senators will receive a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Here are some of the facts around the draft lottery. The Detroit Red Wings (with 18.5 percent) have the highest chance of getting the first draft choice in this seasons 2020 draft, Ottawa has a 13.5 percent chance to pick No. 1 in the 2020 draft with their pick and an 11.5 percent chance with the Sharks’ pick. In addition, the Senators’ first-round pick can’t be lower than fifth and the Sharks’ pick can’t be lower than sixth. In addition, the Senators have four choices in the second round and two in the third round of the draft.

Related: Is the Ottawa Senators Erik Brännström Closer to Finding a Roster Spot?

 The Deepest Draft in a Long Time

 It’s a good season to have so many choices. As Coach Smith says, “We have some good players and some good players coming up, and we plan on adding here with this draft.”

He added, “They’re saying it’s the deepest draft in a long time. We have three first-round picks, possibly could pick [first]. And when you get players like that, they’re special franchise players that could be the difference.”

Obviously Smith knows who the franchise will pick if they get lucky and draw the number one draft choice. Forward Alexis Lafreniere of Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is projected to be number one on everyone’s list.  Smith isn’t arguing that point.

As he notes, “I’ve always been successful envisioning what I want, so I’ve already envisioned we’re getting [No.] 1, so it’s over.”

Good luck to the Ottawa Senators organization on a successful 2020 draft.

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