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nhl draft

Road to AHL success is through the NHL Draft

July 7, 2022

It’s going to be a busy few days for the Ottawa Senators, as the NHL Entry Draft gets underway in Montreal, but the Belleville Sens are well represented as well.

While Ottawa executives will be busy determining the future course of the franchise, as they make their selections, Belleville head coach Troy Mann will be keeping a careful eye on the event that helps to provide the organization with raw roster materials to build an AHL winner as well.

Mann says Ottawa has seen considerable success on draft day in recent years, selecting several players that have shown promise at the organization’s AHL and NHL levels. He also noted that while elite draftees who can make the jump to the NHL tend to grab the headlines, those top-level athletes are rare. Most players selected need at least some fine-tuning in the AHL and it is those players that help supply the veteran coach with top-end talent.

“If you go through in general, Ottawa has done a great job drafting and putting pieces in place,” Mann said this week, before leaving CAA Arena for Montreal. “When you’re selecting high consistently, there are players like Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle that go right from their amateur year right to the NHL and then you have other guys that need more time, whether it’s a first-round pick like Josh Norris or later round picks like Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton. Now we can look at the next wave of prospects in terms of Egor Sokolov, Cole Reinhardt, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Lassi Thomson, sometimes, you don’t know how long it will take, and that’s why the AHL is so important. I think for every player that comes out of the NCAA or major junior, it’s a little bit of a wake-up call when they start in the AHL, learning not only the day-to-day grind of how to be a professional hockey player but how difficult the league is.”

The AHL, hockey’s premier developmental league in North America, perfectly suits Mann’s coaching style. He has made a career of developing NHL calibre prospects and turning them into viable professionals. At the same time, his approach does not sacrifice competitiveness. Instead, he deploys promising prospects from his NHL parent club as the core of his contending rosters. Higher-end draftees are prevalent among his top-six forwards, top-four defence, and in net. Mann has built winners and championship-level teams, many of whom have gone on to succeed at hockey’s highest level.

“When I think back over my twelve years, the league keeps getting younger, and on top of that, we tend to be one of the younger teams in the league, and I don’t think that is going to change when you start looking at players coming in. So my goal is to get our prospects to the NHL and it’s just a matter of balancing between trying to develop and having enough veteran presence to get it done and that’s how you win a Calder Cup.”

It goes without saying that this year’s draft will be critical for several franchises, and the Senators are no exception, with a total of nine picks throughout the draft. Ottawa has an excellent opportunity to restock its already impressive prospect pool further.