Senators 2002 draft evaluation

By Derek Cheng

The 2002 NHL Entry Draft, held at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, has not turned out to be one of the better drafts for the Ottawa Senators.  It seems rather fitting that such an unproductive crop was selected at the home of the team’s most bitter rivals.  Ottawa selected eight players in the 2002 draft and only one has seen significant NHL action.  There is also one draftee currently playing for the Binghamton Senators in the AHL.  He remains the last hope for the Senators in this draft class.  

In all, the eight draftees have combined for 72 NHL games averaging only 9 per pick.  This is the seventh-worst average in the league on the draft class.

Jakub Klepis, C – 1st round, 16th overall, Portland Winter Hawks, WHL
Age: 22
NHL Games: 66
Rights: Washington Capitals
Status: NHL player

Jakub Klepis entered the 2002 Draft with a lot of promise.  He possessed an attractive package of size, speed and vision.  Scouts raved about his playmaking ability and willingness to get dirty.  Some projected him to be a top-two center, or at worst, an excellent checking line center

Klepis progressed steadily in the two years following being drafted and demonstrated leadership qualities with the Czech national team.  His potential made him a hot trade commodity in the NHL.  He has already been traded twice, first going from Ottawa to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Vaclav Varada, and the following year heading to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Mike Grier. 

In the past two seasons with the Capitals organization, Klepis has put up decent AHL numbers, his best coming last season when he scored 32 points and a plus-22 rating in 31 games, but thus far, he has failed to demonstrate his talents at the NHL level.  In 2006-07, Klepis appeared in 41 games and managed 3 goals and 10 points.  In all, Klepis has recorded 4 goals and 10 assists in 66 NHL games.  Klepis may still become a successful NHLer, and the trade to Washington could end up being a blessing for the 22-year-old center as the organization lacks forward depth.  But Klepis will have plenty of competition from other young prospects such as Niclas Backstrom and will need to work to keep a regular spot on the roster.

Alexei Kaigorodov, C
– 2nd round, 47th overall, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Russia
Age: 23
NHL Games: 6
Rights: Phoenix Coyotes
Status: NHL Prospect

Ottawa was fortunate enough to have Alexei Kaigorodov fall to them in the second round.  The talented center spent the next five seasons with Metallurg Magnitogorsk often playing alongside Evgeni Malkin.  Kaigorodov was touted as being an intelligent player with excellent vision, mobility, and passing, but was easily intimidated by bigger players.  It was expected that he would need an adjustment period before becoming a regular NHLer. 

Kaigorodov signed with the Senators in the summer of 2006 and started the season with the team.  It was easy to see that he was not ready for the intensity and physicality of the NHL, but Ottawa kept him on the roster.  He dressed for six NHL games early in the season and recorded one assist.  Kaigorodov was eventually assigned to Binghamton, but never made it there.  The Senators suspended him for refusing assignment when he returned to Russia.  Kaigorodov rejoined Magnitogorsk and posted six goals and 17 points in 32 games.  Kaigorodov suggested in interviews that he would never again play for the Ottawa Senators

In early January 2007, Ottawa traded Kaigorodov to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for center Mike Comrie.  There is a good chance Kaigorodov will get another shot in the NHL with the rebuilding Coyotes.  The defining factor in his potential NHL career will be whether or not he’s willing to accept the learning curve which may include development in the AHL.

Arttu Luttinen, F – 3rd round, 75th overall, HIFK Helsinki, Finland
Age: 23
Rights: Ottawa Senators
Status: NHL Prospect

Arttu Luttinen entered the 2002 draft unranked by Central Scouting.  It was departing Director of Player Personnel Jarmo Kekalainen who recommended his selection and the Senators traded two picks to the NY Rangers to move up six slots in order to secure his rights.  Luttinen was a long shot, but his game seemed well suited for the North American style of hockey. 

In Luttinen’s final two seasons with HIFK Helsinki, he became a star, potting 30 goals and 39 assists in 102 games, which is excellent production in the very defensive-oriented league.  In 2005-06, his breakout year totals of 18 goals and 44 points were good for seventh overall.  He also picked up 7 points in 12 playoff games while posting 39 penalty minutes that year.  Luttinen’s terrific play in Finland earned him a contract with Ottawa in the summer of 2006 and he would begin his professional career with Binghamton in the AHL.

Luttinen’s transition has not gone as smoothly as hoped.  In his first North American season, he played 74 games for Binghamton and registered 12 goals and 17 assists, 53 penalty minutes, and a minus-22 rating.  Luttinen is still quite young and has the tools to become an effective checker at the NHL level, but he will likely spend another full season with Binghamton to improve his game.  Given the depth Ottawa has in their forward ranks, it could take several injuries before he gets a taste of the NHL. 

Scott Dobben, C/L – 4th round, 113th overall, Erie Otters, OHL
Age: 24
Rights: UFA
Status: NHL Bust

Scott Dobben’s size, strength, and versatility made him a very attractive pick in the fourth round of the 2002 draft.  Scouts liked his accurate shot and ability to finish offensive opportunities.  He was projected to be a decent depth player who could chip in offensively on occasion, but many felt that he lacked the speed and overall hockey sense to play at the NHL level. 

After failing to earn a contract with Ottawa, Dobben signed with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL in 2004.  He split the season between Cleveland and their ECHL affiliate, the Fresno Falcons.  He finished with four goals and six points in 37 AHL games.  Dobben has spent the last two years in the UHL and will likely remain there.  In 2006-07, he scored 12 goals, 27 points and 44 penalty minutes in 36 games with the Kalamazoo Wings.  In the last four years, Dobben has played for eight different teams in four different leagues. 

Johan Bjork, D
– 4th round, 125th overall, Malmo-Jr, Sweden
Age: 22
Rights: Ottawa Senators
Status: NHL prospect

Ottawa used a compensation pick in the fourth round to select Johan Bjork from Sweden.  Bjork is still property of the Senators, but it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll get an opportunity given Ottawa’s depth on the blue line. 

Bjork has not yet made the trip over to North America and has been playing for Malmo IF in the Swedish Elite League.  In 2006-07, Bjork registered 2 goals, 5 points, 59 penalty minutes and a minus-14 in 46 games. 

Bjork has good size and plays a rugged stay-at-home defensive style.  He is not known for his offense, but his physical game and attitude make him a potential depth defenseman in the NHL.  Bjork is still quite young and will definitely need a lengthy adjustment period.  It might be best for him to catch on with an organization that is not as deep on the blue line as Ottawa.

Brock Hooton, C – 5th round, 150th overall, Quesnel Millionaires, BCHL
Age: 24
Rights: UFA
Status: NHL Bust

Brock Hooton made a name for himself in his final year with Quesnel of the BCHL when he earned the MVP honors at the All-Star game as well as a spot on the First All-Star team.  Hooton was scouted as being an opportunistic player with a good shot and passing skills, but was not expected to be much more than a depth forward at the NHL level. 

After being selected by Ottawa in the 2002 draft, Hooton went to St. Cloud State where he played four seasons of NCAA hockey.  Hooton’s best season came in his final year when he recorded seven goals and 20 assists, both NCAA career highs.  Hooton was passed on by the Senators after graduating from St. Cloud State and caught on with the Phoenix Roadrunners of the ECHL.  He played in 59 contests, scoring 17 goals and 42 points in 2006-07. 

Hooton has a long way to go before getting a sniff in the NHL.  His size and speed are NHL-caliber, but there are too many aspects in his game that are not up to par.  At age 24, it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll remain a minor-leaguer.

Josef Vavra, LW – 8th round, 246th overall, Vsetin, Czech Republic
Age: 23
Rights: UFA
Status: NHL Bust

In the eighth round of the 2002 draft, Ottawa selected little known Josef Vavra.  The native of Valasske Mezirici, Czech Republic had a brief two-year stint in North America after being selected 58th overall in the 2002 CHL import draft by the Tri-City Americans of the WHL.  He joined the Americans in 2002-03, but played in only 37 games due to a serious knee injury.  Vavra produced 2 goals, 7 assists and 26 penalty minutes in his time with Tri-City.  In 2003-04, Vavra joined the Kootenay Ice where he would play just 18 games, tallying 2 goals, 4 assists and 24 penalty minutes.  

Vavra returned to the Czech Republic in the 2003-04 season and played for Vsetin of the Czech Junior League.  He notched one goal and two assists in 11 regular season matches, then went on to score two goals and three assists in seven playoff games.  No statistics have been recorded for Vavra since 2003-04.

Vitaly Atyushov, D – 9th round, 276th overall, Perm, Russia
Age: 28
Rights: UFA
Status: NHL Bust

Ottawa used its final pick in the 2002 draft to select an over-age Russian player named Vitaly Atyushov.  At the time he was drafted, Atyushov was already 23 years old.  The native of Penza, Russia was actually a very good late selection talent-wise.  He was scouted as being a reliable two-way utility/depth defenseman capable of playing in all situations.  He is an above average skater with good puck-moving abilities and excellent hockey sense.  Enticing him to come over to North America proved extremely difficult and the Senators never did manage to pry him out of his native country.  Atyushov has gone on to become a star and one of the best defensemen in Russia.  In his career, he has played for Perm Molot, Kazan Ak-Bars and most recently Magnitogorsk Metallurg.  In 2006-07, Atyushov posted career-best numbers of 7 goals and 26 points in 54 games. 

Atyushov is also well known on international ice having represented Russia numerous times.  Recently, he helped Russia capture a bronze medal in the 2007 IIHF World Championships.  Atyushov registered three assists and was a plus-3 in nine games.

It will be very difficult for any team to entice Atyushov to leave his secure position with the well-funded Magnitogorsk team.  He has carved himself a terrific career in Russia and it is highly unlikely he will ever make the trip over to North America. 

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