All signs point towards Brady Tkachuk (drafted 4th overall in 2018) signing with the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators, who seem to be in a bit of a rebuild, do not have their 1st round pick this year, as a result of the Matt Duchene trade early last season.
As such, Ottawa (who elected to keep their 4th overall pick to draft Brady Tkachuk) needs their pick to fall outside the top 5 to justify that decision. Essentially, they can’t give up Jack Hughes (widely predicted to be number 1 in 2019) to the Avalanche. This puts Ottawa in a tough position: they can’t lose too many games, but they also need to rebuild.
Fortunately, Ottawa has some talent on their team and they can easily pull off missing the top 5 (if you don’t account for lottery luck). Here is a list of my advice to the Senators:
- Play Brady Tkachuk for 9 games
In the NHL, any player who is on their entry level contract can play 9 games in the NHL before burning one year off of their contract. Based on their current situation, they have to give him a look during the regular season. While usually I’m a fan of letting prospects develop a little before giving them NHL time, Ottawa has to take their future into account and they cannot afford to enrich Colorado any further.
Fortunately, Tkachuk is listed currently at 6’3, 193 lbs (according to eliteprospects.com). He has also played college hockey, where he produced 31 points in 40 games, while adding 9 points in 7 games for USA at the World Junior Championship-U20. Those are decent numbers to build off of, and demonstrate that he is more ready than average to take the next step in his career. He doesn’t have to play top line minutes for the Senators. They could easily develop him in a middle six role, while still gaining the benefit of his skillset for at least 9 games.
- Hold Down the Center Depth, For Now
The beauty of the 9 game mark is that it allows a team to experiment. Fortunately, as of now, Ottawa has some depth down the middle. Matt Duchene is easily a top center, while Jean-Gabriel Pageau (currently on the third line) projects to be a middle six center. Each are above average at faceoffs and can distribute the puck, as well as score goals. The Sens also have Zack Smith who can produce in a more limited role. These three need to be the anchors. Whether Smith plays 3c or 4c is really irrelevant. They just need to stabilize their core with these players.
- Youth Movement
The Sens really have a lot of under the radar talent. Logan Brown, Colin White, Filip Chlapik, Alex Formenton, Maxime LaJoie, Christian Wolanin, and Thomas Chabot are all going to be good NHLers. Additionally, Julius Bergman (acquired in the Hoffman trade) and Cody Donaghey have shown some potential as AHL defensemen and could be ready for an expanded role. These are guys to keep an eye on during training camp and preseason. If two or more can crack the roster (Chabot is virtually a guarantee), it will go a long way to helping Ottawa stay afloat.
- Hold Onto Expiring Deals for Now
With Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Chris Wideman, Tom Pyatt, and Ryan Dzingel all set to become UFA’s, it puts the Sens in a tough predicament. Ottawa needs to win for the first half of the season. Thus, unless you get some stellar young, NHL ready players in exchange for them (at equal value long term of course), don’t move them yet. It’ll also allow the Sens to control the Trade Deadline and stock up on first round picks and prospects for next season.
This move also give you the option of extending anyone you want to keep, especially players like Duchene, Dzingel, and Stone.
- Roster Construct Carefully
As of now, the Sens can put together this roster at camp:
Ryan Dzingel, Matt Duchene, Bobby Ryan
Mikkel Boedker, Jean Gabriel Pageau, Mark Stone
Brady Tkachuk, Filip Chlapik/Colin White, Marian Gaborik
Magnus Paajarvi, Zack Smith, Tom Pyatt
Thomas Chabot, Erik Karlsson
Mark Borowiecki, Cody Ceci
Christian Wolanin, Chris Wideman
While very young, there is more than enough scoring and passing skill on that team to keep them alive in games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a contender or anything on paper, but there are some decent pairings and skill. This setup (or something similar) allows younger players to be integrated more seamlessly, while still allowing veteran players to produce.
- Grab Some UFA’s for Insurance
Every team has the option to bring players into training camp and see if they make the team. I would use these if I was running the Senators. Usually, you don’t find elite players, but you can plug holes. For example, that left side d could use some work. Why not try Tobias Enstrom, Alexei Emelin, Luca Sbisa, Jakub Jerabek, or Jason Garrison. If Ottawa could get any of these three on a camp invite for for less than $1.5 million cap hit for one year, it would help them with their depth. Then, if they excel, move them at the deadline for more assets.
Similarly, add another forward in case Tkachuk isn’t ready for the long NHL season. The best candidate would probably be Mark Letestu who can play bottom 6.
Another option would be taking a chance on non-qualified players, since you have nothing to lose (really you don’t) by signing them to minor league deals. Sometimes, a change of scenery and an opportunity can do wonders. Take a shot on Nick Shore, Tomas Jurco, on Emile Poirier.
- Monitor Waivers
I wrote an entire article about how waivers helped the Avalanche return to the playoffs by providing them with great players for nothing. At the end of training camp, some great claims are possible over waivers (Patrick Nemeth and Malcolm Subban ended up claimed last year). Use this tactic smartly and restock your organization.
- Hold Tight Until the Deadline
After the Trade Deadline, I expect the Senators to lose a lot of games. Fortunately, it’s only about 6 weeks worth of the season, so if they can stay around .500 until then, they can pull it off. They also play the Islander, Canucks, and Rangers once each in March/April. That should also give them some help.
*line combos from Leftwinglock.com
*contract info from capfriendly.com