The 2007 draft crop was widely regarded as one of the weaker groups in recent memory. It seems the Ottawa Senators agreed with this assessment as they decided there were no particular players of interest after the fourth round. The Senators made just four selections on June 22-23 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, the lowest number in franchise history. Ottawa packaged their last three picks (150th 183rd, and 210th overall) to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a 2008 fourth-round pick. Newly-appointed General Manager Brian Murray felt that an extra pick in next year’s draft (to be held in Ottawa) would allow the Senators to make a move or select a player they want in a draft that is already considered to be deeper. With no gaping holes in the prospect system, Ottawa continued drafting the best player available on their list, although Murray did put an emphasis on size.
“You saw Anaheim — in the league now, no matter how good and how skillful you are, you have to have a little bit of size on your team. This is what we talked about a lot,” said Murray.
As usual, there were a lot of rumors flying during the draft, but Murray admitted that the timing was not right to make a deal.
“I’m talking to teams, and we will continue to talk — but because of the lateness of me getting (the GM position), we had to focus a fair amount on getting ready for the draft and getting our lists in proper order. I’ve had lots of talks, but we’ll wait and see how it develops.”
Ottawa continued to draft from a variety of leagues, selecting a player each from the NCAA, QMJHL, OPJRA, and US high school. Although all four draftees played in North America last season, Ottawa still managed to get some geographic diversity by selecting a Russian-born player. The other three picks included two Americans and one Canadian.
The Senators had to tackle the draft without the presence of Director of Amateur Scouting Frank Jay, who was at home recovering from surgery. Despite his absence, Jay still played a major role in the selections as Murray and his staff made frequent calls to discuss available players.
All four selections are several years away from making an impact in the NHL. Three selections are college bound this fall with two slotted to become freshmen and one entering his sophomore year. The Senators left Columbus with three forwards and one defenseman.
Jim O’Brien, C, 1st round (29th overall) – University of Minnesota, WCHA
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 184, Sh: R
Born: 1989-01-29 – Maplewood, Minnesota
Projection: Power forward
Jim O’Brien spent the 2006-07 season with the University of Minnesota Gophers. The depth of the Gophers roster, which included 2006 top ten picks Erik Johnson and Kyle Okposo, forced the 17-year-old freshman into spot duty on the team’s fourth line. Though he saw limited ice time, O’Brien’s raw skills, complimented by a solid 6’2 frame, were undeniable. He registered 12 points in 36 games with the Gophers and was a key contributor in Team USA’s silver medal at the IIHF U-18 World Championships in Finland. O’Brien was the youngest player in college hockey last season and was the first current college player selected in the 2007 draft. The soft-spoken native of Maplewood, Minnesota was thrilled to be a first-round pick.
“It’s a big relief to get it done with. It feels good,” O’Brien said moments after being selected. “It’s a great honor – [Ottawa] had a great team this year. They almost won it at the end. It feels good to be part of a great organization like that.”
Though he is excited to play in the NHL, it may be several years before he is ready for the NHL and he fully understands that.
“I’m going to stay [at Minnesota] as long as it takes for me to develop as a player,” said O’Brien. “I need to work on my game. I need to keep on working — get bigger, stronger, and faster.”
When asked about the possibility of playing defense next season, O’Brien responded that he is equally comfortable playing defense or forward. After all, he has been playing defense since the end of his freshman year in high school.
“It’s a possibility. Growing up I played defense my whole life. Coaches said ‘at the start of the year we might be bouncing you back and forth to see which one you look better at and which one you can best help our team at.’”
Such versatility gives Ottawa another player reminiscent to Christoph Schubert, but Ottawa Scout Bob Janecyk insisted it wasn’t the main reason for drafting O’Brien. Though he could very well develop into a solid defenseman, Ottawa is hoping they have landed the power forward they’ve been seeking for quite some time.
“We didn’t take that into consideration. We like him as a power forward center ice man,” said Janecyk. “We feel that we got lucky in this draft. Jim’s got size, grit, character, puck skills, and a good head on his shoulders. I believe he’s going to develop into a solid second line center ice man in time.”
Janecyk also acknowledged that O’Brien is a work in progress and needs to add muscle. The Senators will be patient with him and make sure he’s ready before bringing him on board.
“His size,” said Janecyk when asked what O’Brien’s main weaknesses are. “He’s got to develop his upper body, all the kids are like that. Hopefully he’ll be ready, but we won’t push him.”
Added Murray, “I think all these young people, in particular that play college or high school hockey, they need more games, they need some time. The good thing about a college player is they practice every day, they get lots of teaching, and the games are very meaningful. They don’t play quite as many as in junior, but very definitely you get a chance to develop.”
Ottawa can afford to be patient with O’Brien. They may have found the power forward they’ve been looking for, but they’ll be sure to take the necessary time to let him develop.
Ruslan Bashkirov, L, 2nd round (60th overall) – Quebec, QMJHL
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 186, Sh: L
Born: 1989-03-07 – Moscow, Russia
Projection: Top-six offensive forward
Russia’s lack of participation in the IIHF transfer agreement had a profound effect on Russian players in the 2007 entry draft. Ruslan Bashkirov was one of few to be selected, and his decision to play in North America this past season likely had a lot to do with it. He’s also an extremely talented hockey player. Along with his twin brother Roman, Ruslan came to the QMJHL via the CHL import draft, in which he was selected 22nd overall. Both spent the 2006-07 season with the Quebec Remparts under the tutelage of Patrick Roy.
Ruslan Bashkirov adjusted very quickly to the North American style and was invited to the CHL Top Prospects Game in January 2007. He performed well and earned his team’s Player of the Game award after scoring two goals. Bashkirov finished the season sixth among rookies in the QMJHL with 30 goals and 67 points in 64 games to go along with 117 penalty minutes and a +11 rating.
The Senators feel that Bashkirov has terrific skills to go along with a decent sized frame. Despite a desire to stick with North Americans, Murray felt that Ottawa simply could not pass up the opportunity to draft such a skilled player. The talented sniper possesses above average top speed and is both aggressive and competitive. But like many offensively skilled youngsters, Bashkirov recognizes that he needs to improve on his two-way game before progressing to the next level.
“I will be working hard on improving my play in the defensive zone. Making sure to play solidly in my own zone,” said Bashkirov at the Combine.
It was expected that Bashkirov would return to Quebec to play on the top line and gain valuable experience, however, recent reports have surfaced that he is now considering going back to Russia to continue his development. This could create potential problems for Ottawa should a Russian team decide to offer him a hefty contract.
Louie Caporusso, C/L, 3rd round (90th overall) – St. Michael’s, OPJRA
Ht: 5’9, Wt: 185, Sh: L
Born: 1989-06-21 – Woodbridge, Ontario
Projection: Long-shot skilled offensive forward
Ottawa Director of Amateur Scouting Frank Jay was not present at the draft in Columbus, but he still played a major role in the selection process. Jay was adamant that the Senators use their third pick to select Louie Caporusso, a diminutive forward who spent the 2006-07 season with St. Michael’s of the OPJRA. Caporusso was a 10th-round pick of St. Michael’s OHL team (the Majors) back in 2005, but he never played a game there. Instead, he went on to have an excellent OPJRA career, which included 123 points in 85 games over the last two seasons.
Caporusso is a shifty skater with terrific hands and has been a top scorer at every level he’s played thus far. One part of Caporusso’s game that really intrigued scouts is his ability and willingness to play in traffic despite his lack of size. Caporusso possesses a quick release and is a threat to score every time he touches the puck.
Caporusso will attend the University of Michigan this fall.
Ben Blood, D, 4th round (120th overall) – Shattuck-St. Mary’s, High MN
Ht: 6’3, Wt: 212, Sh: L
Born: 1989-03-15 – Plymouth, Minnesota
Projection: Long-shot top-four defenseman/PP quarterback
Ben Blood was considered to be a safe pick by the Senators who used their fourth-round selection to draft the hulking defenseman out of Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School. He finished the 2006-07 season with 36 points and 144 penalty minutes in 63 games.
Blood intrigued many scouts with his strong play in all zones and ability to play in any situation, including the power play where he is an excellent quarterback. He has tremendous size and uses it effectively, but there are questions about his skating and mobility, though some scouts consider him to be a fluid skater for a player his size. Blood possesses a heavy accurate slap shot and a quick release wrist shot to go along with some excellent puck distribution abilities.
There are several areas that need improvement if Blood hopes to land in the NHL. He is another long-term project and has taken a big step in the right direction, having committed to the University of North Dakota, where he will play with fellow Senators prospect Brian Lee.
Ken McKenna, Leslie Treff and DJ Powers contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.