Senators 2004 draft preview

By Sean Keogh

Senators Top 10 prospects

1)Ray Emery
2)Patrick Eaves
3)Alexei Kaigorodov
4)Igor Mirnov
5)Brandon Bochenski
6)Jan Platil
7)Billy Thompson
8)Chris Kelly
9)Kelly Guard
10) Christoph Schubert

Team Needs

The Senators certainly do not lack talent in their organization. With players like Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza all established in the National Hockey League and yet to hit their prime, the Senators have some great talent up front. That being said, there is little on left wing at this point. Antoine Vermette is a natural center who could very well end up as the Senators second line center at some point, but for now he’s the best hope for a legitimate scoring line left wing in Ottawa. Some prospects including Igor Mirnov, have scoring line upside and can play the left side, so there is some potential hope there.

Perhaps the biggest problem though is that the Senators do not have a power forward up front. While Brandon Bochenski has scoring line upside, and the size to play physical, he’s hardly a sure-fire solution. Unfortunately, drafting power forwards is often hit or miss, and even in a situation where it is a hit, a power forward takes about as long to develop as any type of player, so drafting for a present need may be pointless.

On defense, the team needs a right-handed shooting defenseman, preferably one with power play upside. With Karel Rachunek dealt at the deadline, Brian Pothier is left with the only right handed shooting defenseman on the roster. This is a gaping hole and a long-term need as well.

Organizational Strengths

There are many who would argue no team is more prepared for the next five to ten years in the NHL than the Senators. With the exception of team captain Daniel Alfredsson, virtually ever core player is in their mid 20s or younger. There is always talent in the organization. After drafting players like Hossa, Havlat, Spezza and Vermette over the years, the Senators continually find a way to come up with young high-end potential forward prospects. Take for example last year, where the Senators picked speedy Russian forward Igor Mirnov at the tail end of the second round, 67th overall to be exact. Mirnov goes on to put up 11 goals and 22 points with Dynamo Moscow of the Russian Super League. All this while Canadiens’ top pick (10th overall) Andrei Kastsitsyn failed to even establish himself in that league, although there were other circumstances that came into play in that situation.

Overall, the Senators boast an impressive array of forward prospects, with Patrick Eaves, Alexei Kaigorodov and Brandon Bochenski joining Mirnov near the top of the Senators prospect rankings. These four prospects all could be valuable players in the future, although Eaves is the only one who can be considered a well-rounded, likely contributor at this point.

The organization has a large quantity of middle of the road defense prospects. Jan Platil is the best of a group that includes Neil Komadoski, Julien Vauclair, Christoph Schubert, Mattias Karlsson, Phillipe Seydoux and Sergei Gimayev. None of these blueliners have top four potential, but all could find their way to the NHL if they develop well. Vauclair in particular is ready for the NHL next year.

In goal, the Senators have one of the top prospects around in Ray Emery. Not only that, but there is Billy Thompson, who is vastly underrated by many because he was never on a good team in the Western Hockey League. To cap it off, they just signed Kelly Guard, who was in the opposite junior situation from Thompson, playing for the WHL equivalent of the New Jersey Devils in Kelowna. Guard is coming off a Memorial Cup victory where he was named the tournament MVP. That is three good goalie prospects, not to mention major dark horse Brian Elliot of the University of Wisconsin. Interestingly enough, all four of these goalies possess one common trait: the ability to cover a lot of the net with their size.

Organizational Weaknesses

The biggest weakness in the organization at least for the future is the lack of defensemen. Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden are getting close to the point where they could become unrestricted free agents in the near future should the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement lower the age of unrestricted free agency. Chris Phillips is already in his mid 20 as well, leaving the promising Anton Volchenkov as the only spring chicken on the blueline. There really is no potential top four defenseman among the team’s prospects. Therefore, if a potential top four defenseman falls to the Senators in this year’s draft, expect them to take him.

As stated previously, there is a lack of a power forward in the organization. In fact, of the fab four forward prospects (Eaves, Mirnov, Kaigorodov and Bochenski), only Eaves can be considered a consistently gritty player. As such, look for John Muckler to strongly consider taking more of a heart and soul type of player in the first round, if he does not go for a defenseman that is.

Draft Tendencies

Over the years, the Senators draft philosophy has rarely varied. Take the best player available, because in the end, prospects just like players and draft picks, are assets first and foremost. Hence the reason that the Senators have bothered picking players like Mirnov in the early rounds despite having numerous comparable but more accomplished players already in the NHL. Whether it is Martin Havlat, Anton Volchenkov or Tim Gleason, the Senators identify their best players and take them. Gleason is really the only time that the Senators have ever traded up on draft day, which shows how highly they thought of the blueline prospect later dealt to Los Angeles.

The reality though, is that every team will say they take the best player available in the first round of a draft. That is because no team drafts for a specific need, just like the Senators will not attempt to find a left wing power forward and nothing else in the first round. It is foolish to say the Senators are the only team that identifies their best player available and takes them. What is interesting is that the Senators value pure skill and upside very highly. Some teams such as the Vancouver Canucks use character as a major determinant in their drafting of players in the first round. The Senators over the years have used pure offensive skill as a huge determinant. Both Martin Havlat and Marian Hossa were drafted with serious questions about their character, work ethic and willingness to play an all-round game. Of course, these two players, Hossa especially, are now quite complete NHL players, in large part due to Jacques Martin’s demanding coaching style.

In comes John Muckler, though. Just as Martin has been swept aside, one might think so has the old drafting tendency. The selection of Eaves last year came as a surprise to many fans. Not because Eaves had injury problems, but because this coach’s son is projected to be more of a valuable third liner than a boom or bust potential scorer. Just as many would say Muckler is going to use his “lets get physical” mentality in drafting as well, he uses his second round pick on Mirnov, who is pure skill. Therefore, it is hard to say whether Muckler really wanted a guy like Mirnov, or if he simply felt Mirnov was too good to pass up. This draft will help shed more light on Muckler’s draft objectives for the present and future.

One thing the Senators have consistently been able to do is draft well in the late rounds. For the longest time, they seemed to pluck about a player a year out of Europe in the later rounds. Names such as Daniel Alfredsson, Sami Salo, Martin Prusek, Pavol Demitra and Karel Rachunek are all in this category. Lately though, the Senators have been able to utilize their late round picks to get steals in North America as well. Brooks Laich, Jan Platil and Brandon Bochenski were all selected in the sixth round or later by the Senators in 2001, and all have progressed impressively well, although Laich has since been dealt.

When drafting defensemen, the Senators are harder to read. In drafting Anton Volchenkov, they valued his hockey sense and poise, comparing those aspects of his game to present Senator Wade Redden. On the other hand, they selected Tim Gleason despite questions about his hockey sense and decision making. While the Senators liked Gleason more than most teams, he was completely different in his strengths and weaknesses than Volchenkov. First round aside, the Senators have been equally as varied in drafting defensemen. For every stay-at-home type like Neil Komadoski there are puck movers like Julien Vauclair.

The last notable thing about the Senators is they shy away from taking project power forwards in the early rounds. Even though this has been an organizational need for as long as the team has been respectably, they have not taken a supposed potential power forward in the early rounds of the draft in a long time. Their last potential power forward pick was Teemu Sainomaa in the second round of 1999. This is simply not something the Senators have shown a willingness to do so far, considering the unpredictability of project power forward prospects.

All in all, it will be interesting to see what direction John Muckler goes in the draft. Depending on how much he is swayed by organizational need, he could go with a defenseman no matter who’s still on the board. More likely Muckler will look defenseman first, but will go other directions if the viable options are not around at No. 23. Patrick Eaves is the type of forward prospect Muckler would likely take, a character forward that has many strengths about his game, and some offensive upside to boot.

Player most likely to be taken with first round selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): David Bolland, C