• Drew Weber

Which Teams Might Be Willing to Trade the Lafreniére Pick to Ottawa?

The 2020 NHL Entry Draft has been a strange process for the league, especially after the controversial Phase 1 lottery revealed the first-overall pick would go to a team in the play-in round.

But that is all in the past, and we now know which franchises have a chance to win the Alexis Lafreniére sweepstakes: The Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets.

However, there is one team outside of the group that wants that pick more than everyone else: The Ottawa Senators.

The Senators had a 25 percent chance to win the first-overall selection in the Phase 1 lottery between their own first rounder and the one they acquired from the San Jose Sharks in the Erik Karlsson deal. Instead, those picks turned out to be fifth and third overall, respectively.

Missing out on the Lafreniére selection was devastating for Ottawa, who could use the generational winger to fill out an already deep group of young players that consists of Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom, and AHL Rookie of the Year winner Josh Norris.

But getting the first pick still isn’t out of the question for the organization. The third and fifth overall selections they possess are projected to be centerman Quinton Byfield and defenseman Jamie Drysdale—two blue chip prospects who will become impact players in the NHL.

With eight teams in the running for the Phase 2 lottery—some of them ranking in the top half of the league last season—there could be a situation where the winner makes a deal with the Senators, giving up number one in exchange for numbers three and five.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the eight lottery-eligible teams and determine whether or not they may be willing to trade the first overall pick to Ottawa based on their current roster, prospects, and trajectory.

Edmonton Oilers - Could Not Trade

This one is easy: There is zero chance general manager Ken Holland would pass up the opportunity to put Lafreniére on Connor McDavid’s wing.

That’s not to say trading down to get the third and fifth overall picks would be a horrible idea—the team is starved of depth in all positions, and two blue-chip prospects might be more helpful than one elite one—but this is an irresistible situation for the Oilers.

Edmonton has had a top-five pick six times in the last decade, but still only managed to have three 20-goal scorers last season. Lafreniére would give a boost to the team’s offensive numbers and make a deadly player like McDavid even more potent.

Florida Panthers - Could Trade

The Florida Panthers are trapped in a web of mediocrity that even 90-point seasons from Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau couldn't get them out of. And while a player of Lafreniére’s status would help with the situation, the two prospects that would come out of a potential deal with Ottawa would help even more.

The biggest issue with Lafreniére is he's a winger, not a center—and the Panthers desperately need a center behind Barkov after trading away Vincent Trocheck at the 2020 trade deadline. A young and talented player like Byfield is someone who can quickly step into that position and bolster the team down the middle.

And if Sergei Bobrovsky continues to struggle in goal, then defense needs to improve. Drysdale would serve as a high-caliber blueliner who would help bring talent to a defensive group that lacks depth beyond Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle.

Minnesota Wild - Could Not Trade

The Minnesota Wild have been in NHL limbo for most of their history. They’ve never been a bottom-feeder team, but they’ve also never made a deep playoff run or been a Stanley Cup contender.

However, the franchise has a lot of good pieces in place. Their defensive group consisting of Mathew Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Ryan Suter is on par with some of the best teams in the league. They also have some top-tier forward talent in Zach Parise and Kirill Kaprizov, who they signed to a two-year entry level deal this summer.

Lafreniére would be a major piece in the Wild’s push to break out of the middle of the pack and is someone the team could build their forward corp around in the near future—something Minnesota certainly needs.

Nashville Predators - Could Not Trade

The biggest disappointment for Nashville has undoubtedly been Kyle Turris. Since acquiring him from the Ottawa Senators, the once-consistent 20-goal scorer has failed to put up more than 15 goals in a season.

Lafreniére could be a way out of that $36-million mess.

After being projected to play as the second-line center, Turris has been demoted to third-line duties where he most recently played with Rocco Grimaldi and Craig Smith. But putting Lafreniére on his wing in a second-line role could re-spark his career trajectory and bring more scoring depth to the Predators’ lineup.

Even if Lafreniére doesn’t turn Turris’ play around, he would still be the best forward on the roster and wreak havoc on a line with either Filip Forsberg or Matt Duchene.

New York Rangers - Could Not Trade

This would be my favorite place for Lafreniére to end up.

The New York Rangers made giant strides last offseason after bringing in Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and Kaapo Kakko. They also saw the emergence of Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin, not to mention centerman Mika Zibanejad bringing his game to a new level. Add Lafreniére to the mix, and you have a team that could make the conference finals as early as next season.

New York is a destination where Lafreniére could not only contribute, but be successful as well—avoiding the fates that have plagued McDavid and Jack Eichel for their entire careers.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Could Trade

Sooner or later, the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era will come to an end in Pittsburgh. And right now, the team doesn’t have the prospect talent to replace them. In fact, they have the 28th-rated prospect pool in the league, according to The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler.

So why would they trade down instead of taking Lafreniére first overall? Because the one place they do have enough young talent is at wing. Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust are two skilled players who will fill those spots for years, and Jason Zucker is still on the right side of 30.

Trading with Ottawa and getting the third and fifth overall picks would help restock the prospect cupboards in the places where they need to be restocked. Byfield would be a great centerpiece in the post-Crosby/Malkin age and Drysdale would fill in nicely when Kris Letang either retires or declines.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Toss Up

This is a team I could see going either way.

The Maple Leafs have a star-studded roster up front, built to outscore any problems they may have. The issue, however, is the salary cap limits how deep they can make their lineup, and in turn, how competitive they can be.

Drafting good, young talent is important for a cash-strapped team like Toronto, as the rules on NHL contracts keep prospects on cheap deals for the first three years of their career. If they win the lottery and draft Lafreniére, they’ll have three chances to win the Stanley Cup before they’re forced to make a financially-based move of one of their key players.

But, they already have elite skaters in their lineup: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, etc. What they need is depth beyond them, and trading down to get two great players would add even more skill down the lineup without chewing up cap space.

That said, I think the most likely outcome is them picking Lafreniére and either trading his RFA rights when he needs a new contract or moving out a highly-paid forward like Marner.

Winnipeg Jets - Could Trade

Four out of Winnipeg’s top five scorers last season were wingers: Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers. Of those four, only Wheeler is over the age of 23.

While the addition of another star winger like Lafreniére would add more depth to the roster, what the Jets really need is to find a centerman to play behind Mark Scheifele and to fill the defensive holes left by the departures of Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien. Trading down and taking Byfield and Drysdale would accomplish both of those things before the draft even reached its sixth-overall selection.

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