• By: Dave Gross

Modest Ottawa success generated through wise drafting

For the Ottawa Senators this is kind of like sneaking in a quick A+ in mathematics on the mid-term report card just before leading into Spring Break. Four consecutive wins has Ottawa rolling while heading into an extensive 10-day vacation.

Finally the team that should but wasn’t, is.

Potentially too late for a club that still sits six back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference . . . and needs to hop past five teams to reach paydirt. Philadelphia (tied with Ottawa), Florida, the new-look New York Islanders, surging Buffalo and Pittsburgh stand in the way. The Penguins hold tenuously onto that treasured spot for now.

We’ll leave the handwringing for someone else regarding who, when and where and what stuff needs to happen for the Senators to miraculously rise and compete for that rung. It’s still asking a lot of a team that is two or three decent defencemen and a top-20 NHL goaltender away from swimming with the circling sharks.

But credit where credit is due, and for that we’ll circle back to the draft table where Ottawa management truly has made its mark, in a very good way. You can also add that no chance does Ottawa compete for anything close to a sniff at a playoff position without three guys.

Let’s revisit two drafts and three picks that have built the basic structure of ‘hope’ for the team. Let’s also revisit three teams – at the very least – that will likely be kicking themselves in the back end (if that’s physically possible, go ahead, try it) for the next 10 years.

Give us the summer of 2018 to start, please and thank you. 

This was building block No. 1. The Senators held the fourth-overall selection and sat back and surely admired the jobs done by Buffalo (at No. 1, selecting stud Rasmus Dahlin) and Carolina (at No. 2, picking lightning sniper Andrei Svechnikov).

Montreal was up next. Instead of taking just-what-the-franchise-needed in Brady Tkachuk (size, character, grit), general manager Marc Bergevin opted to be much smarter than the rest of us and went for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. (In all fairness, highly projected but eventually disappointing Filip Zadina was also on the board for the Habs). Up next at No. 4, Ottawa roped in Tkachuk.

Fast forward. While Tkachuk is doing Tkachuk things in Ottawa, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and his 41 goals in 286 games is doing Jesperi Kotkaniemi things in . . . Carolina.

Thud. Commence kicking.

Two summers later at the 2020 entry draft Ottawa had moved up to land the third-overall spot (in the Erik Karlsson trade with San Jose) as well as waltzing in with its own pick, No. 5.

You know what’s coming, right? (Hint: It involves self-kicking).

After Alex Lafrenière then Quinton Byfield went 1-2, the late Alex Trebek announced Ottawa’s selection – Tim Stutzle. As Pauly Walnuts would say: “Wit all due respect” . . . to the Rangers, Lafreniere was a consensus top pick. He was the guy. Period.

But after two-and-a-half seasons, Stutzle would appear to be the real guy. Period.

His 136 points nearly doubles Lafrenière’s (74).

As for Byfield, he’s a big man and still a project (where have we heard this before, hmm). But he has the tools and could turn a corner soon.

At No. 5, the Senators grabbed Jake Sanderson. 

He’s been and will be the team’s best defenceman for years. Is he the best D-man in that draft? Jamie Drysdale, Kaiden Guhle and Braden Schneider all look pretty good as well.

We also need to mention that later in that opening round, Ottawa made what looks like another zinger of a move in nailing down Ridly Grieg with the 28th pick.

The evidence is there, and the evidence is clear. If Ottawa didn’t use the NHL draft as wisely as it did, the club would be sharing the same pond as the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets this season; not getting a whiff of success for a change.

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: The watchability chart on Hockey Night in Canada drops precipitously when Kevin Bieksa is missing from the panel . . . Ditto for Kelly Hrudey . . . For a guy who just turned 62, Hrudey looks damn spry, no? . . . Kind of reminds me of me . . . Was that not an eyebrow-raiser with Bo Horvat ending up on the Islanders? New York was reportedly not even on the radar before the swap was made . . . Someone in-the-know was talking about this after the trade and they’re right. Anthony Beauvillier is a very underrated player . . . Both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be moved by the Hawks by the deadline. Thoughts were that Kane would be on his way to the Rangers and it makes sense. Ranger star Artemi Panarin skated with Kane his first two seasons while in Chicago and had back-to-back 30-goal years . . . The thinking on Toews is he goes to either Winnipeg or Colorado . . . Might be a pipedream but wouldn’t pending RFA Tanner Jeannot be an ideal fit for the Leafs?


(All-Star break)


PHOTO: CourtesyNYPost