Prospect Ramblings: What to do with Multiple First Round Draft Picks

Brayden Olafson

2020-08-28

 

Much of the recent discussion around the 2020 NHL draft has been related to the teams who hold multiple first round picks in the draft’s first round. In particular, the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators have received a particularly high amount of attention, most related to the rumor of a 3+5 for 1 trade. 

With Pierre Dorion’s unequivocal denial of  that speculation, the current amount of team’s holding more than one selection in the first round stands at four – Anaheim, New Jersey, New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators. 

Although there’s no tangible evidence to support it, a commonly discussed draft strategy for teams who are in possession of more than one draft pick in the first round is that one pick should be safe, while the other should be a swing for the fences. In the case of teams possessing more than two picks in the first round, such as this year’s New Jersey Devils who are currently looking to select at 7th, 18th and 20th, teams usually incorporate extra risk into at least one of their selections – see 2018 New York Rangers (Kravtsov); 2015 Boston Bruins (Zboril/Seynshyn); 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets (Dano)… Calgary in 2013 and Vegas in 2018 were minor exceptions. 

With this theme in mind, I thought it would be a fun exercise to go through each of the teams who own more than one first round pick in the upcoming draft, and make mock selections based on these rough theories. 

 

Anaheim Ducks | 6 and 31

In Anaheim’s case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team take more perceived risk at the top-end of the draft than at the bottom. The Ducks are in a position where their elite core is approaching retirement, and the youth that they’ve already begun to infuse should shortly be capable of inheriting fulfilling roles in the NHL. Each of Trevor Zegras, Sam Steel and Max Jones seem to be on the brink of making an offensive impact in the NHL, indicating that the Ducks might be in a position to seek an elite prospect defenseman. While the logical selection to support their depth chart would be either one of Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson in the six-spot, the will almost certainly be a second-tier defense prospect remaining when they are back to the table at 31. A conservative second-tier defenseman such as Lukas Cormier, Justin Barron or William Wallinder can be heard in the same discussion as any other defenseman who will be selected after the top-two, and there’s a very slim chance that the three of them, plus each of Braden Schneider, Kaiden Guhle, Helge Grans and Jeremie Poirier are off the board by the end of the first round. 

On the other hand, the Ducks will not have the opportunity to select a second-tier forward that late in the draft. If the team has a similar line of thinking, I believe there is a decent chance that they unload their first pick on the 5-9 Marco Rossi, one of the smartest players in the draft, with an eagerness for winning puck battles that will rival some of the NHL’s top power forwards.

Possible Outcome: Marco Rossi, Lukas Cormier

 

New Jersey Devils | 7, 18 and 20

With arguably the third-best collection of picks in the draft, the New Jersey Devils draft board is bound to look a bit peculiar. With Tom Firzgerald stepping up to his first National Hockey League draft, we could see one of two things:

 

  1. A GM who wants to lay low and keep his job, OR;
  2.  Go full Don Sweeney and, well…

 

While the second option actually paid off well for Sweeney in the long run, I doubt we’ll see anything similar to that for a long time. In the case of Tom Fitzgeralds’ first draft at the helm of an NHL team, I think we’re more likely to see a combination of conservative selections at the top end, and savvy reaches with the later selections. 

The likely candidate for a conservative selection at 7th overall is HIFK’s Anton Lundell. The quality two-way center is a future Selke contender who could be capable of slotting into the Devils’ lineup as soon as 2021-22. This selection would also give Fitzgerald the ability to be flexible when it comes to the ~18th and ~20th selections. 

The band of players who are projected to be selected in the 15-25 band is a Hodge-podge of highly skilled forwards and projected third-line/fifth-defensemen type of players. In this case, anyone’s guess is as accurate as mine, but I would be hard pressed to pass up on any of Jacob Perrault, Connor Zary, Braden Schneider or Kaiden Guhle if they’re available for the Devils at this position. 

Possible Outcome: Anton Lundell, Braden Schneider, and Jacob Perreault

 

New York Rangers | 1 and 23

The New York Rangers hold the keys to the most desirable draft selection in 2020 and all signs point toward the team drafting the near-consensus top prospect, Alexis Lafreneiere. The Ranger’s have done well drafting in the first round over the last few years, with their later selections often developing into players of comparable value to their early selections. By inspecting the 2017 and 2018 NHL Entry Drafts, we can see that the Rangers certainly do incorporate some risk assessment into their selections, at least by the standards of most independent evaluators. In the year where the Rangers’ made a pick that was perceived to be safe in the top-10 (Lias Andersson), they went a bit off the board with their second pick in the first round by finding Filip Chytil. In a year where they targeted pure skill in the top 10 (Vitali Kravtsov), they gave favor to two-way defensemen in the next two selections with K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist. 

This year, by inheriting a player who possesses strength in almost every aspect of the game, the Blueshirts could afford to go in any direction with the Hurricanes pick, which is likely to land somewhere in the early 20’s. With as close to guaranteed NHL skill as can be hoped for in Lafreniere, the Rangers will have an opportunity to go wild around 20th overall. With another selection not coming Jeff Gorton’s way until the early third-round, he will need to ensure that the Rangers’ brass is 100% confident in thier list so that they can get their guy when the pick is available. Combing draft rankings for a player who just MIGHT fit this bill, JJ Peterka seems like someone who could be the ideal selection. While he could be considered a be a bit of a reach postion, the German winger posesses the tactical skill and speed that could elevate him to a position where the Rangers could feel motivated to pull the trigger.

 

Possible Outcome: Alexis Lafreniere, JJ Peterka

Ottawa Senators | 3, 5 and 21

In Ottawa’s case, extravagant risk would simply be irresponsible if explored in the top-five selections. The organization will have the opportunity to select two players who in many years would be lock’s for top-three selections. Whether it’s Stutzle & Raymond, Byfield & Drysdale, Stutzle and Rossi or any combination of them, it’s tough for the Sens’ to justify much deviation from the players who provide the ideal compromise of ceiling and floor. 

Where Ottawa could get a little wild is around 21 where they own the Islanders’ first-round pick. Although the exact order has not yet been finalized, the exact slot where Ottawa could pick is mostly irrelevant, especially if they decide to swing hard. 

If the top-four selections go as expected, Ottawa could very realistically end up with two of the top forwards in the draft. This would enable them to take a hard look at some of the riskier defensemen who can be found later in most projections based on their ineptitude for a full spectrum of ability.

Someone like Jeremie Poirier of the Saint John Sea Dogs seems like just the type of player who would fit this ticket. While Porier’s defensive reliability is questionable on most nights, his offensive ability is undeniable. If given proper development opportunities, his offensive abilities could be leveraged into a top-four defenseman with 60-point upside. This in contrast to other safer quality defensemen who could still be available at this point in the draft such as Helge Grans, Braden Schneider or Kaiden Guhle, each of whom provide a desirable balance of ability with and without the puck. Although the certainty of a 60-point projection is quite low, the Sens should be able to afford rolling the dice on a player just like Porier.

Possible Outcome: Quinton Byfield, Lucas Raymond, Jeremie Porier

 

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