November 31-in-31: Ottawa Senators

Tony Ferrari


Photo courtesy of Icethetics


Typically a summer series, the November 31-in-31 series is taking place of the annual July 31-in-31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing the NHL season back to the summer, making for an atypical fall offseason. The November edition of the series will focus on the 2020 NHL Draft and the team’s off-season acquisitions through free agency and trades and how they affect the development paths for the team’s prospects. December will feature part two of the 31-in-31 series and focus on the team’s depth charts, fantasy outlook, and begin to look at how the roster will shakedown when the next NHL season starts. 


The Ottawa Senators were blessed by the “Hockey Gods” coming into the 2020 NHL Draft. Things seemed to be breaking right for the team in the Canadian capital. The Senators successfully tanked and finished second from the bottom of the league with only the historically bad Detroit Red Wings finishing lower. Ottawa was also gifted with another top-five pick as the San Jose Sharks imploded this season, finished just one point ahead of Ottawa for third-worst in the NHL. This was important because the Senators owned the Sharks first-rounder after the Erik Karlsson trade just prior to the 2018-19 season. The icing on the cake came when the Senators acquired a third first-round pick when they sent Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the New York Islanders prior to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline.  


With three first-round picks, along with four second-rounders and 12 total picks over the two-day event, The Ottawa Senators had a chance to alter the path of the franchise for years to come. The prospect of adding seven prospects in the top-62 picks would have made any scout or talent evaluator salivate. The added bonus was the fact that the 2020 crop of talent was considered quite strong at the top with some real quality depth in terms of players with high-upside despite some flaws. It was an enticing class overall and the Senators went into the day with all the ammo needed to take not just one step, but three or four, in the right direction.  


“And then what happened?” – Almost everyone


Draft Picks and Analysis


3rd Overall, Round 1: C/W Tim Stützle – Adler Mannheim (DEL)


When draft day began, the Senators knew they were going to select either Quinton Byfield or Tim Stützle. With the Kings selection of Byfield at number two, Stützle fell into the Senators laps and they made the pick in style. The recently passed Alex Trebek came onto our screens in his ever so welcoming way, announcing and greeting the newest Senator with what was one of the two best moments of the first round. Rest in Peace Alex Trebek. 



In picking Stützle, the Senators are getting a player who has insane skating ability and dynamic playmaking talent. His speed and pace can overwhelm opponents at times. The young German rose up draft boards as the season wore on. His impressive play to start the year in the DEL, the top German men’s league, with Adler Mannheim helped put him on the map. His skill and strong play early last season in Champions Hockey League games also helped the cause. 


While he was out of most rankings top-15 to start the year, he was firmly in the top-10 leading into the World Juniors. His play at the annual under-20 tournament was high-paced, flashy and filled highlight reels. The World Juniors put his name on the forefront of the conversation among hockey fans when you began to discuss the top-five players in the 2020 NHL Draft. 


While the second half of the season in the DEL was a bit less productive, Stützle’s continued to put his predatory offensive game on display. He was an aggressive and confident attacker with the puck on his stick, rarely allowing the fact that he was playing amongst men play a real role in his game. With impressive hands and quick-twitch action in his skating, he can be a difficult player to play against. 


The projections on Stützle are a bit rangy. There is the faction of evaluators who believe he could play center at the NHL level and if he does turn out to be a true number one pivot, this pick could look even better in the future. His playmaking and speed would make him a dangerous center. There is another sect of scouts who believe that the more likely case is that he is a high octane winger who can change the game at a moment’s notice. Either way, the Senators seem to have found a pretty good player to add to their promising prospect pool. 


5th Overall, Round 1: LHD Jake Sanderson – U.S. National Team Development Progam (USHL)


The first defender taken in the 2020 NHL Draft went to the Senators at fifth overall as they selected the NTDP top blueliner, Jake Sanderson. Committed to the Ottawa Senators Official (unofficial) NCAA program at North Dakota, Sanderson will be in a great situation to continue his development. He will be joining a blueline that features fellow Sens prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker which could give them some good development time together and very well could see them on a pairing together. 


The optics of this pick were debated by some. The feeling that the Senators played it safe has been prominent amongst fans, a theme we will come across a few times as we go through the draft class. With names such as Marco Rossi and Cole Perfetti on the board, not to mention fellow top defender Jamie Drysdale, picking Sanderson was surely the safest pick but it could come with great reward. 



The young American defender is on the younger side of the draft with a June birthday and he was also one of the biggest risers throughout the year. While the year started with Drysdale as the clear-cut number one player on the blueline, Sanderson closed that gap and eventually, at least in the Senators’ eyes, surpassed him. If the season hadn’t been cut short and we had the chance to evaluate the two head-to-head at the World U18’s in March, Sanderson very well could have continued his rise up the board.  


Jake Sanderson is a talented player who can help anchor a backend defensively and his offensive development has been consistently on the rise over the last two years. His ability to excel in transition both offensively and defensively is impressive. He can move the puck up ice on his stick with his fluid and crisp skating, generating speed through the neutral zone and attacking off the rush. He also has an accurate and intelligent passing game in all three zones, breaking the puck out to forwards at an outlet point or placing the puck perfectly on the tape of a forward in motion. His ability to shut transitions down defensively is even more impressive, often killing plays before they ever get the chance to develop. 


In the end, the concerns of the Senators playing it safe with the Sanderson pick may have been warranted but the reality is that they may also be a bit overblown. This was a player who was already one of, if not the best defensive players available at the defense position who showed excellent ability in transition both ways and an ever-evolving offensive game. His runway is long still and he is going to a good program in North Dakota where he will be able to step in and play a big role right away. The Senators likely grab two of their top-four prospects with the third and fifth picks in the 2020 NHL Draft. 


28th Overall, Round 1: LW/C Ridly Greig – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) 


A strong-willed, two-way forward who plays the kind of game that gets under his opponent’s skin while also possessing some sneaky skill that can add salt to the wound. The theme of playing it safe was truly on display with this pick. While Grieg is certainly a talented player, the upside may not be there as it could have been for a player such as Jacob Perreault or Mavrik Bourque. However, the floor for Greig is higher than either of those players and while his role may be up in the air, there is an air of certainty around Grieg’s NHL likelihood. 


What likely sold the Senators on Greig outside of his NHL projectability was his versatility. He is a player who can play center or on the wing and play up-and-down the lineup. Whether you need him to play a shutdown line role where he can chip in offensively while playing a good 200-foot game and helping shut the opposing team’s best line down or you want him to play in the top-six and contribute as an offensive presence with his motor and dual-threat ability, Greig can fill any role you ask of him. 



He plays the game with speed, making his non-stop motor a bit of a nuisance for opponents as Greig buzzes around the ice in all three zones. His puck skill is above average and he has the ability to bust out some high-skill plays from time-to-time but the consistency on that high-level skill isn’t quite up to the level you’d hope for a player who can play top-line minutes which likely relegates him to a second-line role. His speed and anticipation help him seemingly generate a breakaway at least once or twice a game. He has very good hands in tight, able to control the puck in small space quite well. 


The Senators leaned towards assuredness over upside with this pick. There is no doubt about that. In the same light, there is no doubt that Ottawa added another intriguing and talented prospect to their pool. They may not have swung for the fences but the doubles they are hitting seem to be scoring some runs nevertheless. 


33rd Overall, Round 2: RW Roby Järventie – KOOVEE (Mestis)


We’ve talked about safe players and picks that the Ottawa Senators made but kudos to the management team for taking a swing on Järventie to kick off their second day of action at the draft. Ottawa took the goal-scoring winger who played in the Mestis in his draft year, the Finnish second-level men’s league, with the hopes that the highly talented winger can work through some of his issues off the puck and defensively. This is the kind of swing that the Senators fans appreciated. 


Playing for Ilves in the Liiga this season, Järventie has been red hot to start the year which has given Senators fans even more reason to celebrate this swing. Scoring at nearly a point-per-game thus far in the 2020-21 season, the Finnish winger has stayed true to his skillset. His lethal shot has been the driving force behind his play while the complimentary playmaking has seemed to improve a bit with his willingness to involve his teammates a bit more evident. When the puck is on his stick, Järventie has the ability to be the best player on the ice at times. He has a strong frame and has some power forward tendencies and puck protection ability but doesn’t always engage in physical play despite his frame and strength. 



The concerns for Järventie come away from the puck. His defensive game is fairly average on the best nights and non-existent on his worst days. Oftentimes, the issue came down to whether the winger wanted to put forth the effort to help his team get the puck back. When he was engaged, he showed the strength and puck skills to strip the puck and gain possession but those times were few and far between. His off-puck play offensively has seemed to take a small step this year. Particularly when the team is sustaining zone pressure, he seems to be involving himself a bit more in the cycle and working through traffic. It’s far from a strength at this point but there have been signs of growth in that regard. 


Overall, while this likely wasn’t the best player available on most boards, Järventie brings an intriguing skill set and a long runway as an August birthday. He was young for the draft class and with his physical tools and his offensive ability, Järventie is a nice swing from the Pierre Dorion and the Senators management team. At the end of the day, the Senators selected a player who had first-round talent and a mid-round motor.  


Trade! Matt Murray for Jon Gruden and 52nd Overall


The first trade of the draft for the Ottawa Senators was a success in the mind of many. They acquire two-time Stanley Cup champion netminder, 26-year-old Matt Murray for a second-round pick and prospect Jon Gruden. Goaltending was an area of need heading into next season as Craig Anderson and the Senators parted ways, so acquiring a netminder with experience, pedigree, and some runway ahead of him should be considered a win. While he has struggled at times over the last two seasons, Murray still should be an upgrade in the Ottawa net and he isn’t old by any means. The chance to ascend to his previous level of play is there and with a young a growing Ottawa team, he should be a leader in the locker room as well. 


The second-round pick was an expendable asset as the Sens had four heading into the draft and were likely to use at least one to upgrade the roster now. Goaltending was a smart avenue to go as drafting one with the 59th pick, as the Pittsburgh Penguins did with Joel Blomqvist, he would be a few years away. Getting Murray fills that need now and you know what you’re getting to an extent. Here is what DobberProspects’ goalie scout Danny Tiffany had to say on Murray:


I think he’s a solid goalie and the fresh start in Ottawa will help. I think as the team grows he will also. As he becomes more comfortable behind their D, I think he will have more success. Big guy obviously, good mind for the game. He controls rebounds well and I like the way he tracks the puck. He’ll have success in Ottawa I think.


The loss of Gruden is largely seen as a low impact move, especially with the overstocking of the prospect pool that the Senators were able to do with their glut of picks in the 2020 draft. In any instance where you can upgrade a glaring hole, especially at goaltender, with a player who has upside, shown a high skill level, and brings the resume that Murray brings, you make this trade every day of the week. Kudos to Pierre Dorian and the crew. Now onto their next trade… 


Trade! Ottawa acquires pick 44 for pick 59 and 64 in a trade with the rival Toronto Maple Leafs


Ottawa traded up from 59th overall and 64th overall for 44th overall. This trade in-and-of-itself is not terrible value and they jumped up a significant margin, 15 picks, and gave themselves an opportunity to draft one of the highly touted players that had fallen to that point. Jan Mysak, Emil Andrae, Topi Niemela, and Tristan Robins were all players who would have been in that range. Players like Kasper Simontaival, Jean-Luc Foudy, or Lukas Cormier would have been interesting swings on the upside. 


The issue with what happened next is an exemplification of the theme of the Ottawa Senators draft. The Senators took hulking blueliner, Tyler Kleven, from the NTDP. Ottawa, much like many of their picks, selected a player who has some physical traits and tools but may not have near the ceiling of the players selected around him or any of the players that were mentioned above. 


What makes this trade truly reprehensible is that while the Ottawa Senators made one o