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Senators Prospect Rankings & Draft Needs

April 14, 2024, 8:49 PM ET [104 Comments]
Sens Writer
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By Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)

With the final pages being turned on another disappointing season, the attention of the Senators fan base will shift once again to next season before a single playoff puck is dropped. And while this off-season carries with it the promise of a new coach and new players, the first order of business for any team’s off-season is the NHL draft. And since this will be the first draft for the team’s new management, it’s perhaps useful to review the current status and progress of major prospects that they’ve inherited before speculating on the team’s draft priorities.

Much has been made of the team’s lack of high-end blue-chip prospects, especially after their last 2 first round picks were used in major trades that have failed to live up to expectations. However, there are still players in the system that could make an impact, several of which have already made appearances in the NHL this season. This season has also been revealing in terms of limiting the future opportunities of several prospects with high draft pedigree. We’ll start with a list of who I would consider the top-10 Senators prospects, based on a numerical criteria of potential upside, likelihood of NHL success, and development maturity.

LD Tyler Kleven, AHL (2nd Round-2020)
Drafted as a hard-checking physical D-man, Kleven has since impressed with his overall game development. He consistently makes safe, smart decisions with the puck, currently leads the B-Sens with a +13 as a rookie, and has even chipped in 21pts. He’s built for the NHL game, and has 2nd-pairing upside if he adapts well to the NHL pace.

G Mads Sogaard, AHL (2nd Round-2019)
If the prospect pool has a long-term solution to the team’s issues in goal, it will be provided by Sogaard. He’s still learning to play a more compact style and use his 6’7 frame to its optimum effect, but he’s got all of the tools necessary to make an NHL impact.

C Zack Ostapchuk, AHL (2nd Round-2021)
The Senators don’t have a lot of quality two-way forwards with size in the prospect system, but Ostapchuk is exactly that. The former WHL captain and Canadian WJC player is turning heads in his first AHL season, and projects as an all-round 3rd line forward.

W Roby Jarventie, AHL (2nd Round-2020)
Injuries have plagued Jarventie over the past 2 seasons, but he’s one of the few Senators prospects with legitimate top-6 offensive upside. The young Finnish winger has NHL-size, plays with speed, and has 25G-50Pts in his past 62 AHL games.

G Leevi Merialinen, AHL (3rd Round-2020)
Merilainen is a quick, reflex-driven goaltender that has played in 5 different leagues in the past 3 years. There is still AHL development work to be done, but he plays with a very calm and confident style that could eventually transition well to the NHL.

C Stephen Halliday, AHL (4th Round-2022)
An overage pick from the USHL, Halliday was the top scorer for Ohio State in his first two NCAA seasons (77Pts/78GP), and already has 5pts in his first 7GP in the AHL. He has NHL-size and middle-6 potential as a playmaker, but his skating could be a limiting factor.

RD Maxence Guenette, AHL (7th Round-2019)
Every few years, OTT drafts a 7th round overachiever, and Guenette is the current edition. His skating and physical play are fairly average, but he’s a natural RHD with offensive upside, and 3 constructive years of AHL development have put him in the conversation for a 6/7D NHL role.

W Angus Crookshank, AHL (5th Round-2018)
Few prospects have worked harder to rise in the development system than Crookshank, who is not only the B-Sens leading scorer, but also one of their top agitators. His size is not ideal for the NHL, but his skill and tenacity should continue to earn him chances to prove himself.

RD Hoyt Stanley, NCAA (4th Round-2023)
An all-round D-man with good size and mobility, Stanley has made a quick transition to the NCAA with Cornell. With RHD coming at a premium in the NHL, he will likely have no shortage of future opportunities to prove his worth in both the AHL/NHL.

W Tyler Boucher, AHL (1st Round-2021)
The much-maligned winger has had more than his share of health and development issues, but the physical tools are still there and he’s now found his way to the AHL. If he can learn to play a faster and more disciplined pro-level game, he could ascend to a bottom-6 NHL role.

Honourable Mentions

Some key honourable mentions would include W Oskar Pettersson, who has started to find his game in the AHL after playing on Sweden’s WJC team and coming over mid-season from the SEL, G Kevin Reidler, who was a back-up on Sweden’s WJC team, had a very strong USHL season and will be playing in the NCAA next season, and W Jamieson Rees, who’s had a very difficult season but has started to play better in Belleville, and plays the kind of tenacious style that Staios wants to see more of in the Senators.

Notably absent here are W Egor Sokolov and RD Lassi Thomson - not because they aren't playing substantial roles in the AHL (Sokolov is 2nd on the team in G/Pts), but because I believe their development has either stagnated or revealed issues that make them no longer NHL viable. Both have cleared NHL waivers in the current year, and have been passed over for subsequent NHL recall despite no shortage of opportunities. Sokolov may be given a final chance at next year’s training camp, but given that both players will be RFA in the off-season it would hardly be surprising if they were traded or left to pursue opportunities elsewhere in Europe/Russia.

Key Draft Needs

As much as the current prospect pool has a certain amount of functional depth that should start to impact the NHL team over the next few years, it certainly does lack in terms of obvious high-quality talent at multiple positions. Fortunately, the Senators have a large number of picks in the coming draft, including a top-10 pick, another 1st round pick, a 2nd round pick, and 4 picks in the 4th round. The need for additional quality across the board would certainly be a rationale for the Senators to adopt a pure BPA (best player available) strategy, and for the most part I would expect them to do that. However, when assessing potential top-10 selections, it’s critical to assess and consider the relative strength of the draft. These picks don’t come along every day, and playing to the strength of the draft can often increase the chances of hitting paydirt.

Most of the high-visibility prospect rankings for the 2024 NHL draft have 7 D-men in the top-15 of the draft rankings, which is an unusual concentration. In fact, the last 10 NHL drafts have averaged just 4 D-men selected in the the first 15 picks, with no more than 5 being picked in any single year. Factor in the lack of high-potential D-men in the prospect system and the very high cost of trading for such players, there's very good reason for the Senators to strongly consider picking a D-men with their top-10 pick. Options that are most likely to still be on the board when Senators are picking will include LD Sam Dickinson, RD Zayne Parekh, RD Carter Yakemchuk, LD Zeev Buium, and RD Adam Jiricek. There may be a temptation to specifically add a RHD due to the team's current positional need, but Dickinson and Buium may have the highest overall upside of the group, and any one of these D-men could have substantial long-term value.

So for my money, I would expect one of those names to be called... but if there are non-D spoilers in the mix, two forwards stand out for me who could legitimately distract Staios from bolstering the blue line with the top-10 pick. The first is C Cayden Lindstrom who’s a 6’4 centre who plays like a power forward and already has NHL-quality physical tools, and the second is W Tij Iginla, who’s a dynamic scoring winger with NHL pedigree and draft year production that exceeds his father’s. Now realistically, I have a hard time seeing Lindstrom making it past MTL, and Iginla is still a consensus 10-15 pick which means they’d be leaving a lot of quality on the board. However, the marketing potential of a 2nd-generation Iginla on a Canadian team would be compelling for an owner that just might be looking to make a splash.

Was there a prospect you think deserved to be on the top-10 list? Or a prospect you think the Senators are more likely to pick in the top-10 of the 2024 draft? Please comment below, and as always thanks for reading!
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