The 2022 NHL Draft is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable and interesting drafts in recent memory. The top-10 projected picks seem to change daily and at least half of those teams picking in the first half of the draft are testing the market with their high selections. Add in the development issues still being seen from missing a partial or full season last year, and there certainly will be some big surprises heading into Thursday.
The Ottawa Senators have not been immune to the constant shuffling and changes, with rumours swirling as to how they will use their picks. Armed with a top-10 selection, two second-round picks, and seven more picks to finish off the draft, they’ll almost certainly be big players on the draft floor. But what exactly are they trying to do? Here are five questions we’ll likely see answered in some form at the NHL Draft on Thursday.
Will the Senators Trade Their First Round Pick?
It seems as though it’s all anyone can talk about right now – which player could the Senators target with their seventh-overall selection? For weeks, the target looked like it was Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala, who was coming off a career-high 33-goal, 85-point season. However, the Los Angeles Kings beat them to the punch, sending their 19th-overall pick with top prospect Brock Faber to the Wild, then signing their newly-acquired winger to a massive seven-year deal worth over $7.8 million per season. Attention then turned (briefly) to Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Alex DeBrincat, but that was all but quashed when it was reported that the team was looking for multiple first-round picks and turned down a massive offer from the Vegas Golden Knights.
So who’s left? Clayton Keller has generated some interest from fans, but it seems unlikely that the Arizona Coyotes would trade their most expensive player while struggling to get to the cap floor. Teammate Jakob Chychrun, on the other hand, has been rumoured to be on the move for several months now, dating back to the 2022 Trade Deadline. There has been talk about a move, potentially with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fifth-overall pick, but as of now, general manager Bill Armstrong believes the defender will be staying put.
The Vancouver Canucks are shopping Tyler Myers, and while he checks a lot of boxes for the Senators, he’s no longer a top defenceman and certainly not worth a top-10 pick. However, if paired with winger Conor Garland, then they may be tempted to part ways with their selection. The speedy winger is two years removed from his career-high of 22 goals, but he just put up 52 points this season on a struggling Canucks team, which is promising for the Senators who struggled to score in every situation. With a cap hit just under $5 million, it’s a far lower risk than the other names the team has been attached to, and if there’s a chance he could be moved, Ottawa needs to pursue it from every angle.
Will Ottawa Target a Top Defenceman?
There has been little reported movement from the Senators’ front office and that could be because they are waiting to see how the first round shakes down. The draft consensus has been anything but over the past few weeks, with Bob McKenzie suggesting Juraj Slafkovsky could go first overall, while Corey Pronman at The Athletic projected Shane Wright to fall out of the top three. With so much change and speculation heading into Thursday’s draft, it’s no wonder some teams are holding off on making a move, waiting to see how things play out on the day.
As for the Senators, there are likely two names they’re paying very close attention to – Simon Nemec and David Jiricek. Both defencemen are exactly what the team is looking for to shore up their top-four in the future – strong, two-way players with right-handed shots and very high potential. Currently, both are expected to go in the top five, but with all the recent upheaval, it’s difficult to say how that will turn out. Will one of them slide down to seventh? At one point, that seemed like an impossibility, but now, no one seems too sure. If it does happen, Ottawa would happily scoop one of them up, which could transform their blue line in just a couple of seasons.
There are a few other defencemen projected to be high picks, but they don’t quite fit the Senators’ needs as nicely and thus would be a bit of a riskier selection at seventh overall. Kevin Korchinski has been shooting up the draft rankings lately and is now generally projected to be a top-10 selection. He’s an excellent offensive force and has good size, but with a left-handed shot, he would have to likely compete with Thomas Chabot for a spot, which would be a losing battle. The same goes for Pavel Mintyukov and Owen Pickering, who both have been placed within the top 15 and offer plenty of upside, but don’t fit as well into the Senators’ future.
The one defenceman outside of Nemec and Jiricek who does fit, however, is Ryan Chesley. He’s the shortest of the aforementioned group at 6-foot-0, but possesses a highly-coveted right-handed shot and, at 200-pounds, already plays a strong physical game on top of a well-rounded offensive style. He’s been compared to Ryan McDonagh and although he’s lower ranked than the others, the Senators have never been afraid to reach for their player, for better or worse. If this is who they want, they may try to jump the gun at seventh overall.
Will the Senators Fill in Their Top-Six?
If Jiricek and Nemec are both gone by the seventh pick, and there are no reasonable trade offers, then the Senators will be looking at selecting a player who can come in and help out their top six in the future. Their biggest weakness is on the right side and thus most mock drafts have the team going for Finnish phenom Joakim Kemell. A shoulder injury shortened his season, but before that, he was on pace to set records in the Finnish Liiga. He’s fast, has a great shot, and is an excellent playmaker, all of which would look excellent alongside fellow youngster Tim Stutzle on the second line.
Kemell is far from the only option the Senators will have to consider. A personal favourite of mine is Jonathan Lekkerimäki, a Swedish winger who could meld even more effectively with Stutzle. During his time with Djurgardens IF, he’s been primarily a finisher, which is similar to what J.J. Peterka was for Stutzle at the 2021 World Juniors, where the pair put up 10 points each and finished in the top five in tournament scoring. Armed with a great arsenal of shots, high intelligence, and speed to burn, he’s a very intriguing option for the seventh overall pick.
Having said all that, another name has recently popped up on the Senators’ radar in Austrian Marco Kasper after he was selected by the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Ottawa 67’s in the 2022 Import Draft. A modern power forward, he fits more with their emphasis on toughness and becoming incredibly difficult to play against, and with him expected to come to Canada for the 2022-23 season, he’d be playing in the team’s backyard too. However, as a center, he doesn’t slot into the roster quite as nicely, although the recent buyout of Colin White may have opened up the possibility of adding another top-tier pivot.
The Senators may have a few other names on their list. Conor Geekie, Cutter Gauthier, and Rutger McGroarty have the size that the team loves to target, but scouts have expressed concerns over their skating and overall upside. Frank Nazar and Matthew Savoie are also intriguing options, but being smaller centers, they may be passed over, despite their high potential.
Will the Senators Address Their Goalie Issues?
Matt Murray is no longer the starter in Ottawa. After two seasons of inconsistency and injuries, the team has moved on to a tandem of Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson, and while they don’t have any problem starting the season with three goalies on their roster, they would likely prefer to move Murray for something ahead of the draft. Teams are interested, too, with Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reporting that several teams have looked into acquiring his services (from ‘SNAPSHOTS: Pre-draft trade talk includes names like Alex DeBrincat, Seth Jones and Matt Murray,’ Ottawa Sun – 06/07/2022).
However, that does leave the Senators without a starting goalie. Forsberg performed well down the stretch and Gustavsson has performed brilliantly, but neither has shown that they can handle a 30-40 game workload. Does that mean general manager Pierre Dorion will turn to the trade market again? Confidence will not be high if he does, as his last big goalie trade was the one that acquired Murray two years ago on Day 2 of the 2020 Draft. But some options should be considered if they’re cheap enough. The Coyotes, one team reportedly asking about Murray, did surprisingly well with Karel Vejmelka and Harri Säteri, both relative unknowns before their debuts last season. The New Jersey Devils are also reportedly talking about Murray and may want to move MacKenzie Blackwood after a bit of a falling out.
Don’t expect the Senators to make any waves with a goalie selection, though. The team has had rotten luck drafting and developing starting goalies, and while Mads Sogaard may buck the trend, he’s still very young. The goalie crop is weaker this year and likely won’t see any selected until the third round. Tyler Brennan, Hugo Havelid, and Topias Leinonen are expected to be some of the first selected, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Senators grab at least one of them, as they have multiple third-round picks, but don’t expect them to transform Ottawa’s crease any time soon.
Who Will the Senators Pick on Day 2?
While it’s almost impossible to project how the second day of the draft will go, the Senators have exhibited some trends over the years that give us a bit of an idea of who they may try to select later in the draft. Lately, they have been drawn towards older prospects, so they may look at Ben King, Mikey Milne, Tucker Robertson, James Hardie, Zach Bookman, or Lucas Edmonds, just to name a few. They also have selected a big, defensive defenceman in the second round two years in a row, and with 6-foot-5 Noah Warren and 6-foot-7 Maveric Lamoureux expected to go somewhere in the second round, they may end up with the Senators.
Another team to watch is the Edmonton Oilers, who have been shopping their former third-overall selection Jesse Puljujarvi. He’s fallen out of favour with them and reportedly will cost a second-round draft pick. With the Senators owning two, plus another two third-round picks, and their penchant for moving second-round picks in minor trades or moving up to acquire their targets, the two teams seem to be a good pair for a draft-day trade.
Other Moves to Watch
After the hammer came down on White, the next two names seemingly on the chopping block are Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev. Brown, who has said he wants to test free agency next season, will have some trade value on the market and may be involved in a draft-day deal, but Zaitsev will be much harder to move. Maybe a team like the Coyotes, who need to acquire high-cap players to reach the salary cap floor, could be convinced to acquire his services.
No matter what happens, though, the Senators will be a team to watch. With plenty of tantalizing trade chips, several roster holes, as well as the need to continue to develop top prospects, the team is in a position of power heading into the draft. In the end, the biggest question is whether Ottawa will use it to its advantage or not.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.