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Ottawa Senators Prospect Report: Will Tyler Kleven put pen to paper?

The Senators are an organization that has built much of its core through successful picks at the draft table. Players like Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, Jake Sanderson, Shane Pinto, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson are homegrown. They have provided general manager Pierre Dorion with the confidence to invest draft capital and add other key pieces to the roster (most recently Jakob Chychrun) through trades.

It’s important to recognize the job Trent Mann, and his amateur scouting staff, have done over the years. In my last year with the Florida Panthers, I was the only cross-over scout in North America (in addition to my responsibilities in Europe). I know first-hand how difficult it is to set schedules globally with a small staff.

The Senators are led by Dorion (who has an extensive scouting background) and Mann. But contributions from Don Boyd, George Fargher, Bob Janecyk and the rest of their staff have been remarkable given the size of their group. As I write this today, I count nine amateur scouts on their staff.

Here’s a look at the Senators’ picks in the next three draft cycles:

Note: There are several conditions on the first round picks the Senators gave up in the Chychrun deal. Find all the details at

The pick that hurts the most on this grid is the 2023 second-round slot the Senators gave Chicago to take on the full amount of the Nikita Zaitsev contract. The Senators got “future considerations” in return.


Jorian Donovan, D

The Senators selected Donovan in the fifth round last summer in Montreal. The left-shot defender is playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Ontario Hockey League. He is deployed in all situations and averages over 23 minutes of ice time.

Donovan is best described as a two-way/transitional defenceman at the junior level. He leads the power-play breakout and shows willingness to press up ice, with and without the puck, at even strength. He’s a solid skater who can escape pressure in his zone. He also absorbs contact to make outlets. Donovan isn’t a physical/heavy defender, but he does gap up to take away momentum – and occasionally sneaks up on opponents with a big hit.

On the power play, Donovan leans distributor more than shooter. He has only scored one of his 12 goals with the man advantage. He is the leading point-producing defenceman for the Bulldogs by a wide margin. The closest teammate (Lucas Moore) is eighteen points behind Donovan in the category.

Donovan is a capable defender. He reads the play fine. On the penalty kill, he uses his reach to intercept pucks and provide an obstacle in the shooting lane. There are times, like any young defenceman, when his routes/angles are off, resulting in opponents slipping down the boards away from his check. In short, there is room for improvement defensively, but it’s not due to a lack of effort or awareness. He needs more miles before eventually turning pro after next season.

NHL Projection: Third pairing / Trending second pairing / NHL 2-way “D” / Power-Play Distributor

Leevi Merilainen, G

The Senators have been juggling their goalies this year due to injury. With Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese being thrust into duty, it’s interesting to see the progression Merilainen is making in his first year of pro.

The former Kingston Frontenac is finishing up his first season playing for Karpat in Finland (Liiga). He was selected in the third round of the 2020 draft. His stats, this season, have been excellent. He has (eight!) shutout’s this season. At the time of writing, he had appeared in 42 games and posted a 2.02 GAA and .917 save percentage. His stats are obviously impressive.

Merilainen is best described as a butterly/hybrid goalie. He has good size and sits tall when down making saves. He has long legs, providing width with his pads, when in the butterfly. He rarely ranges outside his posts, which leads to good positioning in his crease when fronting pucks. Merilainen has average gloves. He doesn’t have an exceptionally quick catching hand. His second stop/scramble ability is below average when pucks spill to his side. He has room for more lateral push/quickness/explosiveness.

I’ve seen some good, great, and below-average from Merilainen.

Here are some examples of what I’m describing:

In this clip, the play ends up attacking through the middle of Merilainen’s zone. Several things break down before the shot on goal actually occurs, but the goalie is the last line of defence. Merilainen fronts the puck fine, but he subtly doesn’t get set. He’s moving forward, his legs open in the process, and his stick is out of position. The result speaks for itself. It’s a save that an NHL goalie needs to make.

This next clip shows how Merilainen can use his size and positioning to his advantage. He recognizes the middle lane and back side pos, are well defended by his teammates. He sets himself square, takes away the net, and shows good low pad (stick side) quickness by making a high-danger save. An argument could be made that he didn’t kick the puck in a safer direction, but the speed of the play doesn’t allow for anything but a first-stop analysis. He did his job by stopping the initial shot in this sequence.

Merilainen is only twenty years young. He has loads of development time ahead of him. There have been nights that his rebound control, second-stop quickness and “set positioning” have been a bit off. His body of work, over the entire season, has been positive, however. I don’t have a crystal ball, but it’s my opinion that although it won’t stunt his development remaining in Liiga for another season, Merilainen would benefit from some extended time in the AHL as his next development stop.

NHL Projection: G2 / Possible G1B / requires at least two more seasons at minor league level

Here’s a look at how some other Senators prospects are trending worldwide:

Stephen Halliday, F, Ohio State (NCAA)

NHL Projection: Middle Six – Trending Top Six – Secondary Scorer / Power-Play

Card created by Jason Bukala and The Pro Hockey Group

Oskar Pettersson, F, Rogle BK / Rogle BK J20 (Sweden)

NHL Projection – Bottom Six Forward / Penalty Killer / Physical / Competitive Role Player

Card created by Jason Bukala and The Pro Hockey Group

Tomas Hamara, D, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

NHL Projection – 2-Way (7D) / Secondary Power Play Distributor / Even Strength / Not Likely PK

Card created by Jason Bukala and The Pro Hockey Group

Filip Nordberg, D, Sodertalje SK (Sweden)

NHL Projection – 2-Way (5D / Potentially (6D)

Card created by Jason Bukala and The Pro Hockey Group

Zack Ostapchuk, F, Winnipeg (WHL)

NHL Projection – Middle Six / Power / All situations / Secondary Scorer / Physical

Card created by Jason Bukala and The Pro Hockey Group


Tyler Kleven, D, North Dakota (NCAA)

Tyler Kleven has completed his junior season at North Dakota. Indications are the Senators would like Kleven to join the organization as soon as he’s ready. The question remains whether Kleven is interested in signing with Ottawa, or does he intend on returning for his senior season and choosing what team to sign with in free agency in the summer of 2024?

If Kleven alerts Ottawa that he will not be signing with the Senators, look for his rights to be traded ahead of the draft in Nashville.

NHL projection: Two-way 5D (potential to be 4D). Physical penalty killer.

Card created by Jason Bukala and The Pro Hockey Group


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