Senators 2005 draft review

By Sean Keogh

With the draft held in their own backyard at the Westin Hotel in downtown Ottawa, the Senators made eight selections in the 2005 entry draft’s seven rounds. As usual, the club spread their picks around the hockey world, taking three Russians, two Canadians, and one player from each of the United States, Finland and the Czech Republic. The Senators first two Russian picks were also the first two Russian players selected in the entire draft. It is also interesting to note that for only the second time since 1996, the club did not select a goaltender.

Brian Lee, D
Round 1, 9th overall
Moorhead HS (USHSW)

The Senators are used to drafting near the end of the first round and being reactive rather than proactive. But heading into Saturday’s draft, they would be able to take the player that GM John Muckler liked the most, rather than the player that fell into the Senators lap, as was the case with Andrej Meszaros last year.

Defenseman Brian Lee was voted Minnesota’s 2005 Mr. Hockey and Associated Press Player of the Year this year, after a stellar campaign with his high school team, Moorhead HS. He notched 38 points in 25 games, after collecting 48 points in 29 games in 2003-04 for the state powerhouse. On top of his high school play, Lee played 16 games with Lincoln of the USHL, tallying eight points. Next year he will head to the University of North Dakota, one of the top college programs in the country, and one that the Senators know well, having watched top prospect Brandon Bochenski play there for three years.

The Senators have little history drafting high school players, but have always shown a willingness to draft players from all countries and leagues, so it is not surprising. There is a lot to like about Lee, a 6’2.5, 202 lbs. rearguard who is strong in his own zone, and is very gifted offensively. Many, including Lee himself, compare him favorably to future Hall of Famer Brian Leetch. While he would do well to gain some strength, that should come with time.

He is also low on experience against top competition, although there is one important exception — Lee was selected to play for the United States this past winter at the World Junior Championships. His selection was surprising, considering the higher-profile Jack Johnson, who went third overall to Carolina at the draft, was left off the team in favor of Lee. Although he barely played in the tournament this time around, it was surely a valuable learning experience for the young blueliner. Considering the strong US 1987 draft crop, he will return on a very talented squad next year, where he will certainly be a key contributor.

While some believed that after acquiring two strong defense prospects in last year’s draft, the club would opt for a forward this year, but that was not the case. Muckler stated soon after the draft that the Senators had Lee ranked fourth overall on their list, so this was clearly the best player the club saw available.

Vitaly Anikeyenko, D
Round 3, 70th overall
Yaroslavl (Russia)

For the fourth straight year, the Senators second selection on draft day was a Russian, following Alexei Kaigorodov, Igor Mirnov and Kiril Lyamin in previous years. Although this was a generally weak year for Russians, many teams were additionally hesitant to use a pick on a Russian player because of increasing concerns about the ability to get them to commit to coming over to North America. Such apprehension meant that until the Senators took Anikeyenko 70th overall, no Russian player had been selected that day, just a year after two potential superstars from Russia, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, went first and second overall.

One year really can make a difference though, something Anikeyenko can personally attest to. Last summer, Anikeyenko was considered as good a bet as any to go second overall in 2005. Unfortunately, the big Russian blueliner’s stock dropped most of the year, although he still went ahead of any of his countrymen at the draft.

Anikeyenko’s strengths are his physical abilities. At 6’4 and 198 lbs, he has the type of size that NHL clubs covet. What adds to his appeal is that unlike many large defensemen who have gone in the first round in recent years, Anikeyenko is actually a strong, capable skater. With little offensive tools aside from a heavy shot, the Yaroslavl native’s upside appears limited. Anikeyenko has also yet to fully take advantage of his size and strength, as his physical play leaves plenty to be desired.

Anikeyenko played for Russia at the Under-18 World Championships this past year. He collected a goal and an assist, as well as 12 penalty minutes, in six games for a Russian squad that finished a disappointing fifth. While some were very impressed, including the Senators, overall reviews were mixed. Considering Russia’s lack of talent in this age group, he should get a chance to represent his country in a World Junior tournament in the next two years. In the meantime, he will play at least the next two years in Russia, hopefully in the Super League with his club team, his hometown Yaroslavl.

Cody Bass, C
Round 4, 95th overall
Mississauga (OHL)

The 95th pick was not originally the property of the Senators. To be able to make that selection, the club dealt hometown favorite Todd White to Minnesota. In many ways, he and Cody Bass bring a lot of the same elements to a team. While neither has great size, both have great skating ability, an outstanding work ethic, and a strong defensive game. Perhaps a better comparison would be another Senators fan favorite, that being Mike Fisher. Not only is Bass a speedy player, but a feisty competitor who likes to play a physical game.

Bass will never be known for his offensive production. This past year with the Mississauga Ice Dogs of the OHL, he scored only 11 times, along with 17 assists for 28 points, in 66 games with the first place club. Bass actually went over two months without a goal at one point. Even without being an offensive dynamo, Bass was not only one of the club’s top players, but was actually chosen to join the OHL club for the Canada-Russia Challenge Series.

That is only the beginning of Bass’ experience at big national or international tournaments. As a 16-year-old, during his first year in with the Ice Dogs, Bass played for the gold medal winning Team Ontario, at the country’s U-17 tournament. Last August he was on the national team at a U-18 tournament, and this past spring once again pulled on the Canadian jersey playing at the Under-18 World Championships, where Canada won silver. In a few days, he will also be attending Team Canada’s Summer Development Camp for the World Junior team.

When playing for his country, Bass is never a frontline scorer, but rather doing what he does best, providing energy, speed and grit, along with being a fixture on the penalty kill. His defensive play is superb. In the OHL 2005 coach’s poll, he was named the Eastern Conference’s top defensive forward. The Guelph native enjoys hammering the opposition, and will be a favorite of every coach he ever plays for. At 6’0 and 191lbs, Bass has adequate size to play his style of play. For this coming year, Mississauga will look to Bass to pick up the slack offensively with superstar forward Patrick O’Sullivan having graduated. He also has a shot at being one of the checkers on Team Canada at the World Juniors at Christmastime.

Ilya Zubov, C
Round 4, 98th overall
Traktor Chelyabinsk (Russia)

While Anikeyenko was the first Russian player taken in the 2005, the country did not see its second player selected until the Senators grabbed Zubov in the fourth round.

At 6’0, 176lbs, Zubov is not going to dominate physically. In fact, he brings a very familiar skill set, with great skating ability and plenty of offensive talent. With both good vision and a strong shot, Zubov is a dangerous offensive player. Considering his size, adding strength would certainly help his chances of succeeding at the next level. Although he has been drafted as a center, his game may also play better on the wing.

Zubov has plenty of experience playing for his country. He represented the Russians at the Under-18 World Championships this past year, and was perhaps their best player. The Chelyabinsk native led the club with eight points, which was second only to American phenom Phil Kessel in the entire tournament. Without a doubt, he will get a chance to represent Russia in the World Juniors, and like Anikeyenko, should stay in Russia for the time being.

Janne Kolehmainen, LW
Round 4, 115th overall
SaiPa Lappeenranta (Finland)

The Senators have a long history of going off the board and drafting Finnish players in the middle rounds of the draft. Players such as Antti-Jussi Niemi, Jani Hurme, Teemu Sainomaa and Arttu Luutinen have all been selected by the club with second or third round picks in years past. Kolehmainen, like Hurme and Luttinen, was not selected in his first year of eligibility. Born in March of 1986, he is also similar to Sainomaa, in that he possesses great size for a winger. The Lappeenranta native stands 6’3 and a burly 209 lbs.

Although he has the size to play the part, Kolehmainen is by no means the power forward the club has long searched for. He is limited in terms of overall skill, but like fellow fourth round pick Bass, understands his limitations, and plays within them. A strong two-way player with good overall strength and a mean streak to boot, Kolehmainen is a perfect fit as a grinder in the NHL game.

While Kolehmainen was under the radar screen last year, the fact that he played, albeit sparingly, for the Finnish team at the World Junior Championships, certainly helped get him noticed. A late addition due to injury, Kolehmainen scored one goal, a game winner, for the fifth-place Finnish team. He also had a solid season in the Finnish Elite League, playing in 29 games, with a goal and an assist, for his hometown team SaiPa Lappeenranta. This coming season, he should only get more playing time with his club team, and could play a prominent role at the World Juniors.

Tomas Kudelka, D
Round 5, 136th overall
Zlin ZPS HC (Czech Republic)

The reason that the Senators have historically had plenty of success drafting in the middle and late rounds of the NHL draft is that they are not afraid to take a skilled player who is plummeting on draft day. Such is the case with Tomas Kudelka, a Czech blueliner that was generally rated a second round pick, if not a late first rounder. To see Kudelka still available in the fifth round had to be a pleasant surprise to the Senators.

Kudelka is a smooth operator, with plenty of poise and puck skills. A good all-round skater with impressive offensive upside, his decision-making needs to improve. At 6’2 and 183lbs, Kudelka could also stand to add more strength. He is solid positionally in his own zone, but won’t make anybody pay the price in front of the net.

This past season, Kudelka spent most of the season in the Czech Junior League, where he collected 17 points in 38 games with his club team, Zlin. His development was slowed due to injuries though, and he only played four games in the top league. At the Under-18 World Championships Kudelka was probably the top blueliner, collecting four points in seven games, on a Czech club that finished fourth and was vilified for unsportsmanlike play. Kudelka also has a couple options for where to play next year, as he was selected by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the CHL Import Draft. Otherwise, he has to hope he can stick in the Czech Extraleague.

Dmitry Megalinsky, D
Round 6, 186th overall
Yaroslavl (Russia)

In drafting their third Russian prospect in the seven-round draft, the Senators signalled that they have no reservations about taking players from Russia. Megalinsky’s selection is perhaps the most calculated, because with the new rules regarding the retention of draft right for European players, a prospect has only two years to be signed. Unlike Anikeyenko and Zubov, Megalinsky is already 20 years old, and could not be far away from competing for an NHL job by the time the Senators have to make a decision on whether to sign him.

Megalinsky opted out of the draft in 2003, and then surprisingly went undrafted in 2004. A big, strong blueliner at 6’2, 212lbs, Megalinsky is at his best in his own zone. A strong defensive presence, with good positioning and solid hockey sense, Megalinsky is also an enthusiastic physical player. Although his puck skills are solid, his skating is a work in progress and remains his biggest flaw. Nonetheless, he has shown great improvement in the last two years, which is why he was selected despite being two years older than most other prospects.

While Megalinsky has only played a handful of games in the Super League over his career, he should have a chance to play a regular role with Yarsoslavl this coming season. At the World Junior Championships this past year, he was outstanding for the silver medal winning Russian team. Megalinsky was a stalwart defensively, and displayed plenty of on-ice leadership, logging big minutes. His performance at that tournament may be the reason he avoided going undrafted once again. Although he should stay in Russia at least one more year, considering he is already 20 years old, Megalinsky could be in the AHL with Binghamton sooner rather than later.

Colin Greening, C
Round 7, 204th overall
Upper Canada College (CCL)

It is quite rare to see a player from Upper Canada College get drafted by an NHL team. It is even more intriguing considering Greening is not only already a year older than most prospects, being a 1986 birthday, but will not even attend college until the 2006-07 season. The fact that the Senators used a selection on a player from such an obscure league should not be surprising considering the club’s drafting history. Last year they grabbed a player from Denmark and the year before, their ninth round pick came from a Junior “A” team in Ajax, Ontario.

The Newfoundland native was ranked 108th overall by CSS, and was expected to be drafted. In 35 games with UCC, he collected 23 goals and 43 points. Not surprisingly an incredibly raw player, Greening has good size at 6’2, 191lbs, and is thought to have some upside. Although Greening already has a scholarship to Cornell University, he will play next year in Junior “B”, with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. Greening is a long-range prospect, but considering the skill the Senators grabbed with their first seven selections, they are justified in taking a project like Greening with their final pick.

Summary

For the first time in many moons, the Senators’ own first round pick fell in the top ten of the annual draft, after receiving a generous placement in the draft lottery. Any questions about Muckler’s ability to let his scouts do their work in the lead-up to the draft should have been answered. Selecting Lee gives the organization not only a talented prospect, but another blueliner with blue-chip potential, something that will be valuable next summer if the team loses one or either of Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara.

The rest of the draft looked similar to every other year, as the club grabbed some talented players with impressive upside even in the middle rounds. Acquiring gifted prospects like Zubov and Kudelka in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively is risky, but their talent and upside could make them valuable assets if they are developed properly.

Next December, every one of the Senators’ first six selections has a chance to make their respective World Junior squads. Bass is the only one of those six players who is not likely to play, but considering Canada’s history of taking on players of his ilk to make up a “grind line”, he has a definite chance to make the squad.

On the surface, the Senators appear to have done well in the 2005 draft. Most of their players, especially Lee, may not make an impact in the very near future, but the organization once again acquired plenty of talent.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.