Ottawa Senators 2011 draft preview

By John Henkelman

Photo: Nicklas Jensen brings a combination of size, skill, and skating that would be welcome to the Ottawa Senators organization. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Top 10 prospects:

1. David Rundblad, D
2. Jared Cowen, D
3. Robin Lehner, G
4. Jakob Silfverberg, C
5. Patrick Wiercioch, D
6. Louie Caporusso, C
7. Bobby Butler, RW
8. Jim O’Brien, C
9. Erik Condra, RW
10. Roman Wick, RW

Team needs

The rebuild is well under way in Ottawa with ten rookies seeing action with the Senators this past season including six of their top 10 prospects. With 11 wins in their 20 games following the trade deadline, the team played competitively with much of their youth playing significant roles. The Senators finished second last in goals for, tied for 24th in goals against, 15th in power play efficiency and ninth in penalty killing. There is a definite need to improve on their even strength scoring and defense.

On the frontline they need more scoring from their wingers and increased production from their centers. Aside from Jason Spezza they received limited production from their centers especially after Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly were traded. Although they expect a bounce-back year from Peter Regin and larger contributions from Colin Greening, Zack Smith, and possibly Stephane Da Costa or Jim O’Brien, they do need to add scoring to the center position and the reality is those players combined for 13 goals last season. Among the returning wingers only five scored in double digits led by Milan Michalek with 18 goals. There are plenty of candidates for the checking and energy lines but the top two lines are relatively barren. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is nearing the end of his impressive career and Bobby Butler began to show signs of his scoring potential but is still mostly unproven at this point.

Their defense has more stability with a nice blend of experience and youth. Chris Phillips has a new contract and along with the other veterans like Sergei Gonchar will need to find better chemistry with the future stars Erik Karlsson and Rundblad and be counted on as mentors. Also there are Cowen and Wiercioch among others looking to get into the mix with the big club making for a tough competition in training camp.

The trade at the deadline for Craig Anderson brought stability to the position and he was rewarded with his stellar play with a four-year extension. UFA Curtis McElhinney finished the season as the backup and may or may not return next season. Sent back to Binghamton to get more playing time after getting into a handful of games with Ottawa, the organization’s goalie of the future Lehner was simply outstanding and once he seized the starting role early in the AHL playoffs went on to lead the team to the Calder Cup taking home MVP honours along the way.

Organizational strengths

Depth, character, and work ethic among their forward ranks and overall depth on defense are the key strengths of the organization. Most of their top twenty prospects are now playing professionally so the Senators will find out soon who among them will continue to score as the competition becomes more adept. A number of forwards had marked improvements over the course of the last year with Binghamton notably Erik Condra and O’Brien. Others such as Butler and Greening adapted very well transitioning from the NCAA and will be looked upon to lock up roles in the Ottawa lineup for years to come. Zack Smith is expected to bring his physical, high-motor play again and could see some of his B-Sens teammates on his line next season as they get opportunities to audition in the NHL. The Binghamton roster should be highly-competitive next season with a number of prospects jockeying for positions on the scoring lines with the AHL veterans.

The Senators blue line has a nice array of prospects headlined by the offensive-minded David Rundblad and potential shut-down defenseman Cowen. Behind them is the two-way potential of Wiercioch, a defensive pillar named Eric Gryba, collegian quarterback Chris Wideman and the rock-ribbed Mark Borowiecki. Ottawa has a number of other prospective defensemen playing in the NCAA as well.

Organizational weaknesses

The organization has not produced many scoring forwards in recent years and the organization’s lack of success on the NHL level is the by-product to a large extent. The drafts between 2002 and 2007 produced only a couple of scoring forwards to date and overall they had fewer high-end picks than their allotment based on traded picks used to improve their lineup in the short-term. Additionally they have to add another goaltending prospect or two to join Lehner in their pool. With 12 choices in the upcoming draft including six among the top 66 picks, there is an opportunity to supplement their existing talent base with a new influx of prospects to take the next step up in the organization’s progression.

Draft tendencies

Aside from trying to take the best available players, GM Bryan Murray, assistant GM Tim Murray, and chief scout Pierre Dorion will be looking for talent that has skill and size up front and will lean towards a forward over a defenseman. The Sens organization has targeted players in the past based on recommendations from their scouting staff and they will likely follow this method. Character and maturity does play a part in their decision-making.

The Senators have previously been successful mining talent from Sweden under the guidance of super scout Anders Forsberg who left their organization after last year’s draft to become head coach of Skellefteå in the SEL. We should expect the Senators to draft a few prospects from Sweden again. Another talent pipeline they’ve chosen to use more frequently since the Murray regime took over is the NCAA pool or Tier II Junior/USHL players who intend to go that route. This gives the club and player a longer window to develop progression and the ability to jump start their pro career at a mutually-agreeable time such as was the case with Derek Grant and Mark Borowiecki this spring. Ottawa has reached into the talent in the CHL as well but to a lesser extent with more emphasis on the WHL than the OHL and QMJHL in recent years. The organization has also not chosen a player out of a European league other than Sweden since 2006 when the chose Kaspars Daugavins out of Latvia.

We can expect the Senators to select forwards with their two choices in the first round, both Mika Zibanejad and Nicklas Jensen bring the prerequisite skill, size, and skating ability the team desires. After the first round they will be looking to mix in players at all positions they feel will fit the culture of their organization and as mentioned previously, will need to address adding a least one goaltender to their group of prospects.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No. 6: Mika Zibanejad

The 6’2 195-pound native of Sweden rose up the prospect rankings this season after putting up five goals and four assists in just 26 games with Djurgården of the SEL following a stellar World Junior U18 showing and a dominant play in the SuperElit league. The skilled right-handed center plays physically and already owns a solid two-way game to go with his impressive skating and hockey IQ. The upside is potentially great for Zibanejad who will likely need another two years of fine-tuning before he’s ready for the NHL (he re-signed with Djurgården on a two-year deal in February). 

No. 21: Nicklas Jensen

The dynamic former Danish League Rookie of the Year had an outstanding first season in North America tallying 29 goals and 29 assists in just 61 regular season games and another seven goals and four assists in 10 playoff contests with Oshawa of the OHL. At 6’3 and 186 pounds, and a fluid skater with great hands, Jensen will still have to work on his consistency. Jensen, a left-handed shot playing the right wing, will need time to develop over the next two seasons and has the potential to be an offensive first or second line winger in the NHL in time.