Senators 2000 draft evaluation

By Sean Keogh

The Ottawa Senators made ten selections in June of 2000 at the annual NHL Entry Draft under then Ottawa GM Marshall Johnston, including selecting a former top pick a second time around, and making three selections in a row in the fifth round. For the third time in four years, the club used its first round pick on a player from Eastern Europe, taking Russian defenseman Anton Volchenkov with the 21st pick in the draft.

With two second round picks, the club picked a pair of QMJHL prospects in Mathieu Chouinard and Antoine Vermette. In the four drafts since 2000, the club has yet to go back to La Belle Province.

Each of the club’s first three 2000 selections has played in the NHL, two of them as regulars in Ottawa. Beyond the top two rounds, only one player remains in the system, uncharacteristic for a team that seems to find at least one late round gem every year. Nonetheless, the club acquired two players who are etched into Ottawa’s plans for the next decade, which certainly makes it a successful draft.

Anton Volchenkov, D, 1st round, 21st overall (CSKA Moscow, Russia)
NHL Games: 76
Status: NHL Player

The first ever selection made by the Ottawa Senators was used on a Russian prospect — Alexei Yashin in 1992, who despite everything was a great selection for the club. Eight years later, the club used another first round pick on a Russian prospect in Volchenkov.

Volchenkov was drafted out of the Upper League in Russia. Even though he was considered a top prospect, he did not see any time in the Super League the year after being drafted. The burly defenseman’s stock did however rise after a strong 2001 World Junior Championship performance, and his reputation as a feared hitter began to grow. In 2001-02, he really took off, putting up 19 points in 47 games with the Soviet Wings of the Super League. He was also the captain of the Russian WJC club in 2002, where he turned in a fantastic performance.

The following fall he came over to North America to try to earn a spot on the Ottawa blueline. By the time he was through the Senators rookie camp, the hype was building around him. The tournament was a showcase for Volchenkov’s ferocious open ice hits, something that continued through his rookie season in Ottawa. In 2002-03, he played 57 games and along with delivering many memorable open ice blows to opponents, showed the poise and offensive potential that had led Johnston to compare him to Wade Redden at the time of his selection.

The Moscow native’s sophomore campaign was ravaged by injuries as he saw only 19 games, but he bounced back nicely this past season with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL. Volchenkov opted to play for the club’s minor league affiliate during the lockout rather than return to Russia, which had to impress the club’s brass. Volchenkov has long had serious conditioning problems, as evidenced by the fact he weighs in at nearly 230 pounds despite being only about six feet tall. He was relatively healthy this year though, especially in the second half, which is the only thing hindering Volchenkov’s ascent into a stud NHL blueliner.

Mathieu Chouinard, G, 2nd round, 45th overall (Shawinigan, QMJHL)
NHL Games: 1
Status: NHL Bust

In 2000, the Senators selected Mathieu Chouinard for the second time, this time ironically using the compensatory selection they were granted when Chouinard opted to re-enter the draft after failing to come to terms with the team. As is almost always the case when players re-enter, Chouinard did not go as high, which meant that he was forced to sign for even less than the Senators were offering before he opted to re-enter.

After being selected the first time in 1998, the Laval, Quebec native put together two stellar but inconsistent years with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL. A big butterfly goaltender considered the goaltender of the future for Ottawa, Chouinard was solid in his first professional campaign with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the now defunct IHL, but struggled the next two years, and was eventually released by the club. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he saw his first NHL action in 2003-04, albeit for two minutes. This past season was split between four minor league teams, three in the ECHL. The talent was always there with Chouinard, but his work ethic, conditioning and mental game held him back, and he and Alexander Daigle remain the two poor first round picks in Senators history.

Antoine Vermette, LW/C, 2nd round, 55th overall (Victoriaville, QMJHL)
NHL Games: 57
Status: NHL Player

Historically the Senators have avoided drafting positional players out of the QMJHL, and none since Vermette. It has nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with Vermette though, who is one of the club’s most prized young players and one of the fastest skaters to ever wear a Senators jersey.

Following his draft, Vermette had a breakout season in the QMJHL, registering 57 goals and 119 points, an increase of almost 30 goals and 50 points from the year before. Disaster struck the following summer, however, when he sustained a concussion at a summer camp for the Senators. He struggled to recover and his career appeared in doubt before doctors finally realized it was a neck condition rather than post-concussion syndrome that had caused him to miss almost his entire final year of junior. Vermette then went to Binghamton, where he was expected to come along slowly after missing almost a full year of development time. To the surprise of many, the St-Agapit native led the club in both goals and points as a rookie.

Vermette’s impressive development took another positive turn when he forced himself into the Ottawa line-up for the 2003-04 season. Once considered a one-dimensional scorer, Vermette became invaluable not because of his offense, but because of his hard work and tremendous penalty-killing ability. This past season he returned to the AHL for the lockout, where he was an all-round dynamo, both offensively and defensively, with 73 points in 78 games.

A natural center, Vermette has a decent chance at being a scoring line player in Ottawa when hockey returns, but likely as a left winger. Considering how Vermette has developed thus far, he could be very good in the future for the Senators.

Jan Bohac, C, 3rd round, 87th overall (Slavia Praha HC, Czech)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

When the Senators selected Bohac, they knew they had something of a boom or bust type of prospect. A skilled center with decent size and upside, the native of Tabor in the Czech Republic went nowhere as a prospect. His draft year was his most successful year both in the top Czech league and the junior league. Bohac never could stick in the top league, and has more or less fallen off the radar screen entirely by now, the last known league played in being France. The Senators like to take gambles in the middle and late rounds, and they pay off handsomely at times, but this is one that did not pay off.

Derrick Byfuglien, D, 4th round, 122nd overall (Fargo-Moorhead, USHL)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

Perhaps the only notable thing about Byfuglien is how many different stops he has made since being drafted out of the USHL. In 2000-01, he dropped out of the University of North Dakota after six games to play for the Erie Otters of the OHL. He then went to the professional ranks in 2001-02 and played for five different ECHL teams over the next three years. A 6’1 defenseman with both grit and some skill, Byfuglien simply did not develop as hoped.

Greg Zanon, D, 5th round, 156th overall (University of Nebraska-Omaha, NCAA)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

The first of three consecutive selections made by the Senators in the third round, Zanon completed a stellar four-year college career in 2003, with his offensive production dropping slightly each year. Somewhat undersized at 6’0 and more of an energy player than a skilled prospect, Zanon did not do enough in the Senators 2003 rookie camp to earn a contract. He opted to join the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL instead of signing a minor league deal with a Senators affiliate. Zanon appears to be carving out a solid minor league career, playing all 80 games for Milwaukee this year, but he is no longer in the organization and would be lucky to ever play more than a few games in the NHL.

Grant Potulny, C, 5th round, 157th overall (Lincoln, USHL)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Prospect

Some players just have a knack for scoring clutch goals, and in college, that was Potulny. The native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, scored an overtime goal to give his University of Minnesota club the national championship, and finished his career as one of the most popular captains in Gopher history. He played his first season in Binghamton this year and was less than stellar, but he was limited to fourth line duty, and had little opportunity to play with skilled players. He had 10 points in 50 games. The 6’2 Potulny was drafted because of grit and character, and those attributes are why still has a decent chance to carve out an NHL career at some point.

Sean Connolly, D, 5th round, 158th overall (Northern Michigan University, NCAA)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

Connolly was the final player in that string of three consecutive Ottawa picks from the draft, and the fourth Ottawa selection in a row from the United States. Just like Zanon and Potulny, Connolly’s best offensive season in college was his first. The native of Flat Rock, Michigan had solid offensive abilities and a decent frame at 6’2, but he never really filled out allowing himself to play a more physical game. He was not signed by Ottawa but started his professional career splitting time between their ECHL and AHL affiliates. At this point, he is simply an ECHL player without an NHL contract or much hope of playing at that level.

Jason Maleyko, D, 6th round, 188th overall (Brampton Battalion, OHL)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

When the Senators selected Maleyko after the Windsor, Ontario native was passed over twice before in the draft, they hoped they had a late bloomer. While Maleyko did show even more improvement the following season as an overager with Brampton, he opted to head to the CIS with St. Mary’s University rather than go straight to the professional ranks. A tough customer with amazing leadership qualities, Maleyko left St. Mary’s after two years and played this past season with the Toledo Storm of the ECHL. Like Zanon and Connolly before him, he is a solid minor professional defenseman, but has no ties to the Ottawa organization, and is by no means an NHL prospect at this point.

James Demone, D, 9th round, 283rd overall (Portland Winter Hawks, WHL)
NHL Games: 0
Status: NHL Bust

Even though Demone has never even played in the AHL, he was still on national television plenty of times this year in Canada. The 6’6, 240-pound defenseman was a contestant on the CBC reality TV show Making the Cut, and was one of the winners, eventually being selected by the Vancouver Canucks. As a result, he will attend their training camp, although obviously the odds of him making the club are very small. The Senators did not offer him a contract after his junior career, and he has since played two years at the University of Lethbridge, as well as some minor professional hockey in the ECHL and CHL. Although he has made big strides since being drafted, it is still unlikely he will ever be known for anything more than his success on Making the Cut.

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