Senators NCAA prospects update

By Sean Keogh

It has been pointed out numerous times that the Ottawa Senators will draft players from just about anywhere in the world. Whether it’s Denmark or the Eastern Junior Hockey League, the Senators scouting staff travels far and wide. That being said, it was not until 2003 that the Senators used a first round pick on a college player. The player taken with that pick was Patrick Eaves, who decided to forego his senior year at Boston College to turn to the professional ranks over the summer. This past July, the Senators used their first round pick on a college-bound player, Brian Lee. Lee is by far Ottawa’s highest profile college player, although there is another Brian making waves this season.

Overall, the club has eight players in college this season. All but one is eligible to return next year. The club also has prospects on three of the top five ranked teams in the nation, as well as a top contender for another prestigious honor, the Hobey Baker award.

Tim Cook, Defense
Michigan (CCHA), Junior
Drafted 142nd overall (5th round), 2003 Entry Draft

Statistics can be very deceiving when evaluating a player’s contributions to his team. Junior defenseman Tim Cook is an example of that. After not scoring a single point in his sophomore season and not registering his first goal of his college career until his 83rd game, Cook doesn’t have much offensive upside. He is, however, a valuable defenseman for a young Wolverines squad.

A reputed joker in the dressing room, and an impressive academic scholar off the ice, Cook has solid intangibles. The Wolverines blueliner brings great size, a strong work ethic and good defensive awareness to the ice. With an increased role and added confidence, Cook’s puckhandling has also improved, even if his three points on the year won’t blow anybody away.

Joe Cooper, Right Wing
Miami – Ohio (CCHA), Junior
Drafted 219th overall (7th round), 2004 Entry Draft

The Miami University RedHawks have been arguably college hockey’s biggest surprise on the ice this season. The unheralded Ohio school currently ranks third in the country, and has at times held the top spot overall. Depth and a strong team game are two big reasons behind the RedHawks’ success this year. Every player has a role, and for Joe Cooper that is to play physical hockey.

The Toronto native scored only one goal in each of his first two seasons in college, and has improved offensively this year. Although his three goals and ten points are modest, he nonetheless provides depth. Cooper’s greatest asset is his hitting ability. Even his offensive production can be largely attributed to using his strength around the net. Nonetheless, Cooper is a valuable role player for the RedHawks.

Brian Elliot, Goaltender
Wisconsin (WCHA), Junior
Drafted 291st overall (9th round), 2003 Entry Draft

Over the years, the Ottawa Senators scouting department has had success even as late as the ninth round. In consecutive ninth rounds in 1996 and 1997, the club nabbed a pair of talented future NHLers in Sami Salo and Karel Rachunek. Heading into the 2003 draft, the Senators had the second last pick in the entire draft. Their selection was Brian Elliot, an unknown Junior A goaltender from Ajax, Ontario. Only three years later, Elliot has established himself as a very legitimate prospect who is a top candidate for college hockey’s most prestigious individual honor, the Hobey Baker award.

One glance at Elliot’s numbers this season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers illustrates why he is a top candidate. Of the 23 games he has played in, Elliot has lost only two, with an overall record of 18-2-3. His goals against average is a stingy 1.51, with a save percentage of .939. He comfortably leads all college goalies in those two categories as well as wins. This is in spite of the fact that between Jan. 14 and Feb. 18, he did not play.

The knee injury that sidelined him for that period may have also cost him the Hobey Baker award. Wisconsin is currently ranked second in the country, and its chances hinge on Elliot returning to form. Although the Badgers play a stingy defensive style, their 3-5-0 record without Elliot is telling of his value to the team.

Elliot’s success can be attributed to a tremendous head for the game. After playing sparingly behind Bernd Bruckler in his first two years, the Newmarket, Ontario native has thrived as a starter, starting and finishing every game for Wisconsin before his injury. Consistency and efficiency are vital to Elliot’s success. He follows and anticipates the play very well, and is confident in his abilities. If Elliot is capable of picking up where he left off, he may win more than the Hobey Baker. The Badgers were nearly unbeatable before his injury, and are counting on the Senators prospect to guide them to a national championship.

Brock Hooton, Center
St. Cloud State (WCHA), Senior
Drafted 150th overall (5th round), 2002 Entry Draft

The Senators have only one prospect in his senior season this year, St. Cloud State center Brock Hooton. The Nanaimo, B.C. native has stepped up and taken a greater role on the club in his final year. An assistant captain, he has also achieved personal bests offensively. Although he only has two goals, he has 17 points overall on the 19th-ranked Huskies.

Although Hooton’s offensive production remains modest, his all-round game has improved by leaps and bounds. He has stepped up as a leader on the squad, and his play in the defensive zone has become a true asset. A hard worker and consummate team player, the enthusiastic Hooton plays in all situations. Although his chances of being signed by the Senators are slim, his all-round game will help him at the professional level.

Brian Lee, Defense
North Dakota (WCHA), Freshman
Drafted 9th overall (1st round), 2005 Entry Draft

The Senators only freshman in college this season is also arguably their best prospect at the level. A first round pick in last July’s draft, Lee moved to the University of North Dakota this season after dominating high school hockey. A smooth skater with gifted offensive skills and ice water in his veins, Lee has made a good transition to the college game.

The Fighting Sioux are an incredibly young team. Four of the club’s top eight scorers are freshmen, including Lee, and only one senior plays a regular role on the club. North Dakota’s youth has showed in the standings as the perennial powerhouse currently ranks 13th overall. Last year was quite similar through the regular season, but culminated in a stellar playoff run.

Lee has settled into the college game quite well, and plays on North Dakota’s top pairing with Edmonton Oilers prospect Taylor Chorney. He quarterbacks the power play and his 15 points put him first among defensemen on the club, but the majority of those points came early in the season.

Nonetheless, Lee’s freshman season has to be considered a success. He has learned to make the right decisions at the right time, and his vision and skating ability have never been questioned. As a result, his confidence has grown as the season has progressed. The only major flaw in Lee’s game is his lack of strength, which can easily be improved upon. With improved strength, Lee could also add a physical dimension to his game. Adding that component could have Lee in the Senators line-up sooner rather than later.

Matt McIlvane, Center
Ohio State (CCHA), Sophomore
Drafted 251st overall (8th round), 2004 Entry Draft

Yet another Senators college prospect that brings many intangibles to the ice despite modest offensive totals, McIlvane has improved significantly in his sophomore season with the Buckeyes. After only registering one goal and six points as a freshman, he has three goals and 13 points thus far this year. His confidence has grown though, and his shot totals and scoring opportunities have increased.

Among McIlvane’s assets is his faceoff ability. This is just one example of how hard work has paid off for the Illinois native. He has a relentless on-ice work ethic, and a tenacity matched by few on the club. A recent rash of injuries saw McIlvane rewarded for his hard work by being promoted to the top line to play with Colorado prospect Tom Fritsche.

Jim McKenzie, Right Wing
Michigan State (CCHA), Sophomore
Drafted 141st overall (5th round), 2004 Entry Draft

After playing three seasons in the USHL, McKenzie hit the ground running last year as a freshman with Michigan State. His 11 goals put him in a tie for fourth on the team. This season, McKenzie got off to a blistering start, notching 17 points in the first half of the season. Unfortunately, 2006 has not been good to McKenzie thus far. He now has a total of nine goals and 22 points for the fifth-ranked Spartans.

McKenzie’s success thus far in his college career can be attributed to good size and strong finishing ability. He will turn 22 in July, making him a relatively old sophomore. Along with improved strength and goal scoring ability, McKenzie has worked on his all-round game, particularly adding some grit and improving his passing ability. After struggling for most of January and February, he was recently moved back to the Spartans top line, which could propel him to finish strongly over the final quarter of the season.

Shawn Weller, Left Wing
Clarkson (ECAC), Sophomore
Drafted 77th overall (3rd round), 2004 Entry Draft

Weller’s freshman season was a series of ups and downs. His Clarkson debut was delayed by paperwork problems, but also represented the United States at the World Junior Championships. His scoring was also inconsistent as well, as he only notched three goals. This season as a sophomore, he has improved significantly in that regard, with 14 goals and 21 points total.

A true power forward with great size and skating ability, Weller is capable of being a dominant force for a solid Clarkson team. College hockey remains dominated by smaller players, so a big strong frame is a true asset for a player like Weller. Along with that has come intensity and aggressiveness, which can work to Weller’s advantage but has also led him to take excessive and untimely penalties. Controlling his emotions has been a work in progress this season for Weller.

DJ Powers contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.