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What will the Senators do with their 2018 first-round draft pick?

The Ottawa Senators would consider handing over a top-10 draft pick to the Avalanche

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Ottawa Senators were one game away from competing in the Stanley Cup Finals. Most saw them as overachievers, but GM Pierre Dorion saw his team as a legitimate contender. That’s why he made the Matt Duchene trade. The Senators put together a package for the Colorado Avalanche that would sacrifice part of the future in order to win now.

And then what happened?

Now the Senators have the third worst record in the NHL. They are on the verge of a very obvious re-build and thanks to the Duchene trade, they don’t have the draft picks to do it properly.

In order to get the trade done, Ottawa sent a first round pick to the Avalanche. When he made the deal, Dorion likely thought he was trading away a pick somewhere in the 20s - nevertheless, he had the foresight to protect the pick. If something went wrong this season, he was protected against handing over a top-10 pick. Fortunately for the Avalanche, the pick isn’t protected next year.

With the likelihood that they trade away their superstar this summer, the Sens have the potential to be even worse next season. So now comes the tough decision, does Dorion bite the bullet and hand over a top-10 pick this summer in order to focus on a true re-build?

According to Pierre LeBrun, it’s a legitimate option:

First of all, the draft lottery next month will have a huge bearing on how [Ottawa Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion’s decision on 2018 first-round pick] plays out because where it gets interesting for the Senators, a lot of people assume, well, if it’s going to be a top-10 pick, which it will because the Senators currently have the third-worst record in the National Hockey League, the Senators will go ahead and use that pick this year and give Colorado the pick in 2019. Not so fast. What if the lottery ball puts them at seven or eight, nine, 10? I think the decision gets a little more interesting because, again, next year’s pick is not lottery protected. Are you giving away, potentially, the Jack Hughes, number one overall, pick if in your rebuild, which the Senators have announced they’re rebuilding, you’d have another season that’s a struggle next year. So, there’s a couple factors here like Erik Karlsson. If you sign him and he’s a part of the team moving forward and then maybe your bounce back is better and you’re not worried about a lottery pick next year, but if you’re trading Erik Karlsson this off-season, then this is obviously a massive rebuild and maybe you have to protect next year’s pick. I’ve talked to a couple GMs today and they said it’s around seven, eight, nine [overall in the draft] that they’d start to consider giving that pick to Colorado and protect next year’s pick.

That’s a pretty appealing option if you’re the Colorado Avalanche - and probably the smartest one for the Senators.

As LeBrun mentioned, Jack Hughes is the prize of the 2019 draft. He’s good. Better than Rasmus Dahlin good. More talented than every player to come in the NHL in the last decade (not named McDavid) good. If you miss out on Hughes, there’s also Kaapo Kakko, a 17-year old right winger that is producing better than Patrik Laine did in the same league at the same age. With those two star prospects dangling in your face, you don’t want to be caught without a 2019 first round draft pick.

Whichever way it goes, the Avalanche are sitting pretty. They’re a team fighting for the playoffs that, one way or another, is going to end up with an extra - very high - first round pick in the next two years. If it’s next year, beautiful, we get a season to sit back and watch the Senators flounder their way into re-doing the Tyler Seguin draft.

If it’s this season and the Senators choose to hand over a pick in the 5-10 range, things will be very fun at the draft. Adding a prospect like Oliver Wahlstrom, Joe Veleno or Quinn Hughes to the team’s young core would be perfect - and Sakic would still have his own pick to play with.

It’s going to be an agonizing decision. The Senators have a whole lot to lose if they make the wrong one. Meanwhile, Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche can just sit back and watch while the return for Matt Duchene only gets better.