Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Zayne Parekh or Sam Dickinson? Top questions facing the Senators at the 2024 NHL Draft

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Last week’s NHL draft lottery was understandably overshadowed in Ottawa.

Just hours before the event, the Senators announced that Travis Green had been hired as their new head coach. That storyline dominated the news cycle in Ottawa for the better part of 48 hours, relegating the fact that the Senators wound up with the seventh overall pick in next month’s draft to the back burner.

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But this year’s draft presents a crucial opportunity for the Senators franchise. After trading away their first-round pick in each of the past two seasons, the Senators now find themselves picking in the No. 7 slot. In addition, they also own Boston’s first-round pick this year — by way of the Red Wings as part of the Alex DeBrincat trade last summer. (That Bruins selection currently sits at No. 26 overall, but can potentially slide a couple of spots, depending on Boston’s postseason success.)

In this year’s draft, Ottawa will have three picks inside the top 40 selections, allowing them a chance to significantly upgrade their depleted prospect pool.

Senators 2024 draft picks

Round Overall Pick Notes

1

7th

(Own pick)

1

26th *

(Bruins selection)

2

39th

(Own pick)

3

72nd

(Pick traded to Chicago for Alex DeBrincat in 2022)

4

104th

(Own pick)

4

112th

(Acquired from Detroit for Alex DeBrincat in 2023)

4

117th

(Acquired from Tampa for Mathieu Joseph in 2022)

4

127th

(Acquired from Florida for Vladimir Tarasenko in 2024)

5

136th

(Own pick)

6

168

(Pick traded to Carolina for Jamieson Reese in 2024)

7

200

(Pick traded to Toronto for Matt Murray in 2022)

(*Pick can move depending on Bruins playoff result)

The Senators’ pool came in 31st overall in Scott Wheeler’s midseason rankings of each team’s prospect pipeline. It was a cold, sobering analysis of Ottawa’s threadbare system.

Now that the draft order is set, Wheeler has agreed to provide some analysis for how the Senators should approach their selections at the draft table next month.


How should the Senators view that No. 7 overall selection?

The Senators already traded away their first-round picks in each of the last two seasons. They also have to forfeit another first-round pick by 2026 as part of the Evgenii Dadonov trade fiasco.

Translation: There is virtually no scenario in which Ottawa should consider moving this pick for immediate help. They desperately require an infusion of high-end talent inside the organization. At his season-ending media availability last month, general manager Steve Staios conceded that his plan is to select the best player available — regardless of position.

“As far as philosophy, there might be a time in the draft where you look positional, but certainly at the top of the board, we’re looking at best player,” said Staios.

And that is an approach Wheeler believes is the right strategy for Ottawa, given their lack of blue-chip prospects in the system.

“That has to be the play for them,” said Wheeler. “Just add the asset that you think has premium value and is potentially the biggest impact player. I don’t think they need to focus too much on position.”

As Wheeler looks at his mock projections for the top 10 picks, he sees a scenario where Ottawa will have their choice between a couple of high end defencemen in Zayne Parekh and Sam Dickinson in the No. 7 spot.

Wheeler’s projected Top 10

Team Player Position Program

Macklin Celebrini

C

Boston University

Ivan Demidov

RW

SKA St. Petersberg

Artyom Levshunov

RHD

Michigan State

Anton Silayev

LHD

Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod

Cayden Lindstrom

C

Medicine Hat Tigers

Zeev Buium

LHD

University of Denver

Zayne Parekh

RHD

Saginaw Spirit

Sam Dickinson

LHD

London Knights

Tij Iginla

C/LW

Kelowna Rockets

Konsta Helenius

C

Tappara

“The best player available at No. 7 may very well be a defenceman,” says Wheeler. “The folks I’ve talked to — scouts in Finland for U18 worlds — they think five of those big defencemen are going be gone by the No. 8 pick.  And the Sens are right there at No. 7. That’s not to say they wouldn’t consider taking a Berkly Catton or Tij Iginla. But there will likely be two of those high-end defenceman available when Ottawa is picking and that might just be why they take a defenceman — because it’s the best player available.”

And Wheeler believes there might be a trickle-down effect to the draft table, if Staios decides to move an NHL defenceman or two.

“They do have big decisions to make on Chabot and Chychrun. And maybe that influences them a bit,” said Wheeler. “If they only have Jake Sanderson left as a big member of the core on the back end, that’s something to consider.”

How much of a factor are Staios’ connections inside the OHL?

The Senators might have a choice between two premium OHL defencemen in Parekh and Dickinson in the No. 7 spot.

That’s intriguing given Staios’ experience as the president and general manager of the Hamilton Bulldogs for seven seasons until 2021-22. Staios has intimidate knowledge of the league and a deep network of connections that could certainly help glean intel about prospects playing in the OHL.

“He’s going to have a competitive advantage with the OHL kids for the next few years. He would have watched many of them. He would have scouted many of them in advance of their OHL draft years,” said Wheeler. “And Steve knows the Hunters in London. He knows Chris Lazary in Saginaw. At the very least he can go to them and say, ‘OK guys. No B.S. here. Tell me about these kids.’”

But Wheeler cautions this type of knowledge is a double-edged sword. It’s not always positive or glowing reviews that come back. He points to Nick Bobrov, who helps run the Montreal Canadiens amateur scouting department. Wheeler said people always think the Canadians are more inclined to select Russian-born players, given Bobrov’s background.

“But in reality, it’s worked against the players. The Habs have passed on some Russians and that is likely because of information that Bobrov was able to get,” explained Wheeler.

So Wheeler said Parekh and Dickinson are likely going to be the subject of some high level scrutiny from Staios’ network of people inside the OHL.

“It’s going to be a factor in their final meeting,” said Wheeler. “But remember, it can go both ways. Staios can get negative information about one of these kids and he might put that in his back pocket too.”

Is there any scenario in which the Senators should consider trading up in the draft?

The Senators are picking at No. 7 and Wheeler says he “would probably lean on saying no” when asked if Ottawa should consider moving up.

Wheeler does suggest that Montreal’s No. 5 overall pick is very much in play. In a defence-heavy draft, the Canadiens already have a deep pipeline of prospects on their blue line, in  Kaiden Guhle, Lane Hutson, David Reinbacher and Logan Mailloux. So if Montreal is eager to add a forward, they may be a willing participant to move down in the draft order.

“The Canadiens are the wild card here. Their blue line — in terms of young pieces — is well stocked with four of the best young defencemen in the world. And this is a draft of high end D,” said Wheeler. “Montreal can move down a few spots to get a forward.”

But Wheeler doesn’t think it’s necessarily worth it for Ottawa to spend any draft capital or assets just to simply move up two spots.

“The question Ottawa has to ask is, are you really upgrading your pick by jumping up from No. 7 to No. 5. I’m not sure you’re getting a significantly better player at No. 5 than you are at No. 7,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler believes there isn’t too much of a discrepancy amongst Parekh, Dickinson, Anton Silayev and Zeev Buium.

“There are some scouts who believe those four are in the same class,” said Wheeler. “It’s close enough.”

The latter two players — Silayev and Buium — might be a touch better than the two OHL defencemen, but not by enough of a margin that it would warrant giving up picks or assets to move up.

“I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to give up assets to potentially move up two or three spots. This Senators team needs quality and quantity,” said Wheeler. “So the idea of trading another pick to move up, you’re giving up quantity. The Sens just need guys in the pool.”

The only scenario Wheeler might see where it’s beneficial for Ottawa to move up is if highly coveted defenceman Artyom Levshunov is somehow still on the board at No. 5.

“Maybe you consider it if Levshunov is there and something shakes out on the draft floor that you didn’t anticipate,” said Wheeler.

What about the idea of trading back in the draft?

If the idea of moving up doesn’t make sense to Wheeler, what about the notion of trading back a couple of spots?

Wheeler does see a couple of paths where that could make sense for Staios and the Senators.

“If the guy they want is a forward, they should consider moving back,” said Wheeler. “There will definitely be teams looking to jump into Ottawa’s spot to grab one of those premium defencemen.”

Wheeler also believes that if Ottawa has its eyes on Carter Yakemchuk — the right-shooting defenceman from the Calgary Hitmen — they could surrender their spot at No. 7, grab another asset and still take Yakemchuk.

“Maybe there is a swap to be made there,” said Wheeler.

Generally speaking, these types of trades don’t often occur near the top of the draft, but Wheeler thinks the top-heavy draft of defencemen in 2024 could make for an interesting landscape. If a team is adamant about drafting a forward inside the top seven or eight picks, they could probably stand to move back a few spots and force a team to give them an asset to move up.

“My general rule is that when people ask about trades in the top 10, I tell them it doesn’t happen,” said Wheeler. “But it does seem like there is some wiggle room this year.”

What kind of prospect could Ottawa be getting with their second pick in the first round?

The Senators also have another pick in the first round, by virtue of the Alex DeBrincat trade with Detroit last summer. It’s actually a pick that originally belonged to the Boston Bruins, but they sent it to the Red Wings to acquire Tyler Bertuzzi in 2023.

As it stands now, that pick is slotted in at No. 26 overall. However, if the Bruins survive and complete a miraculous comeback against the Florida Panthers, that pick will be further downgraded to the No. 29-32 window. If Boston manages to win the Stanley Cup, that selection would dip to No. 32 overall.

We’ve seen this scenario a handful of times in franchise history, where Ottawa owns a second pick in the first round that follows somewhere in that 20-30 range.

A second pick in the first round

Year Pick Player

2020

28th

Ridly Greig

2018

26th

Jacob Bernard-Docker

2015

21st

Colin White

2011

21st

Stefan Noesen

2011

24th

Matt Puempel

2001

23rd

Tim Gleason

Wheeler says the back half of the first round in 2024 will have some intriguing prospects, but there is a noticeable decline around the halfway point.

“That’s a really interesting spot in the draft. By then, the premium defencemen will all be gone,” said Wheeler. “I view this draft as being really strong with a dropoff after No. 17.”

While the top half of the 2024 draft class is loaded with high-end defencemen, Wheeler believes there are a handful of talented forwards who could be hanging around when Ottawa steps to the podium again in the first round.

“If Ottawa likes some of those second-tier forwards, there will be some talented wingers and forwards,” said Wheeler. “There’s a positive scenario where if they take a defenceman at No. 7, they might still be able to get a pretty good forward with that second pick in the first round.”

In Corey Pronman’s most recent mock draft of the entire first round, he has Barrie Colts centre Cole Beaudoin going to Ottawa with the No. 26 pick. Beaudoin has the potential to be a very good middle-six centre in the NHL, but if Ottawa is looking for help on the wings, there should be some decent options for them.

“There are going to be three or four really good forwards with legit skill who are available in that late 20s window,” said Wheeler.

When scouring Wheeler and Pronman’s most recent mock drafts and rankings, there are a handful of wingers who could fall into the 20s.

Wingers available late in first round

Player Position Program

Trevor Connelly

LW

Tri City

Igor Chernyshov

RW

Dynamo Moscow

Liam Greentree

LW

Windsor

Nikita Artamonov

LW

Torpedo

Terik Parascak

RW

Prince George

Trevor Connelly is a talented winger who might drop in the draft due to some questions around his character. Liam Greentree is someone who was originally projected to go inside the top 20, but has slipped a bit thanks to a pedestrian showing at the recent IIHF U18 Worlds tournament in Finland.

When Wheeler put out his midseason draft rankings, Terik Parascak was sitting at No. 26 — right where Ottawa could be drafting.

The Senators’ second pick in the first round will be a bit more of a gamble and a project than the prospect they nab with the seventh overall selection.

But given the lack of high-end talent in the organization, Wheeler says if Ottawa takes a forward at No. 26, that player “would immediately become the organization’s top forward prospect.”

(Photo of top 2024 NHL Draft prospect Zayne Parekh: Dennis Pajot / Getty Images)

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