Hope remains for Ottawa Senators 2007 draft class

By John Henkelman
Photo: Taken 29th overall in 2007, Jim O’Brien has gradually developed into a forward capable of playing a regular shift in the NHL. His upside however is still relatively unknown though he should at least develop into a capable checking forward. (Photo courtesy of NHL)

Bryan Murray became the Senators new General Manager in June of 2007 shortly before the NHL Entry Draft in Columbus. The Senators scouting team was led by Frank Jay, who was at home recovering from surgery at the time of the draft itself but was in communication with Murray and staff during the selection process. The prospects for the 2007 draft were not considered to be exceptional and Ottawa emphasized drafting the best player available with additional consideration placed on size, influenced by the recent success of the Stanley Cup winning Anaheim Ducks.

The Senators dealt their sixth round pick to the Washington Capitals along with Andy Hedlund for Lawrence Nycholat. They also received Phoenix’s seventh round pick along with Oleg Saprykin for their second round pick in 2008. As the draft progressed there were no late-round gems targeted by the scouting team still available, so the organization packaged their fifth round pick and two choices in the seventh to Tampa Bay in return for the Lightning’s fourth round pick in 2008 (Derek Grant).

The Senators came away with four long-term prospects – three forwards and one defenseman – to add to their pipeline. Of the four, three are still prospects with the organization.

O’Brien, C, U of Minnesota (WCHA) – 1st round, 29th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 9

The Senators first-round draft pick was a potential power forward playing for the University of Minnesota Gophers. As a 17-year old freshman and the youngest player in NCAA hockey during the 2006-07 season, O’Brien spent most of the campaign on the Gophers’ fourth line on an impressive roster which included future NHLers Blake Wheeler (WPG), Kyle Okposo (NYI), Erik Johnson (COL), and Alex Goligoski (DAL).

Following the draft, O’Brien made the decision sign an entry-level contract with the Senators and move to the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. After converting from a defenseman to a forward a few years prior, the move was viewed as an opportunity to play more games and enhance his offensive game. He placed fourth and third in Thunderbird scoring his two seasons with the club totaling 117 points in 133 WHL games with a WHL Player of the Week nomination and an appearance for Team USA at the 2009 WJC.

Upon graduating from the WHL, the developing power forward joined the Binghamton Senators for six games at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season where he garnered one assist. The 2009-10 season was the gritty forward’s first full campaign in the AHL and he was used mostly in a checking-line role collecting eight goals and nine assists while playing center ice man on the penalty kill unit. In 2010-11, his continued solid play earned him a six game audition with the Ottawa Senators where he was held off the score sheet while playing mainly in checking and energy roles.

When originally drafted, the organization knew they had a long-term project on their hands with a good head to go along with his size and other attributes. This season has been challenging for O’Brien as has been the case with the entire Binghamton squad which had undergone a drastic facelift after their championship run. At this point he’s being groomed as a future checking line center in Ottawa, although he may still have the potential to develop into a solid top-nine player in time. O’Brien was just called up by Ottawa.

Ruslan Bashkirov, LW, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) – 2nd round, 60th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Bashkirov impressed scouts with his skill level, great hands, outstanding shot, and decision to play for Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL in 2007. Ottawa selected the 5’11 186lbs winger after his one and only season with Quebec where he finished fifth in scoring and third in goals with a 30-37-67 clip, producing 117 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating along the way. His season with the Remparts concluded when they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs and one week later he announced he was homesick and wanted to play in the KHL the following season. This caused his draft stock to fall from a likely late first round pick into day two of the draft. Even though Murray has never had an aversion to drafting prospects from Russia, he definitely gambled on Bashkirov, knowing full well he would be playing in the KHL the year following his draft selection and was counting on his ability to convince the talented scorer to come back to Canada.

For 2007-08 the winger signed on with Kazan AK Bars of the KHL but didn’t appear in any games. He eventually transferred to Khimik Mytischi where he was held off the score sheet in four league games. That season he also suited up for 12 games with Crystall Elektrostal in the Russian second division scoring four times and registering 22 penalty minutes.

Bashkirov attended the Senators 2008 development camp before returning to play again in the KHL with Lada Togliatti where he dressed for two games without scoring a point. He played most of the season in the Russian second division with HK Rys where his nine goals and eight assists placed him fourteenth in club scoring.

The Senators lost his rights when he was not signed by the June 1, 2009 deadline. His 2009-10 campaign was split between Molot-Prikamie Perm in the Russian second division and Oktan Perm in the Russian third division. Without a contract and with limited ice time in the previous three seasons, Bashkirov’s agent arranged for him to attend the 2010 Senators development camp which came as a surprise to many. This may have contributed to him landing a contract in the VHL, where he currently plays with HK Ryazan.

Louie Caporusso, F, St. Michael’s Buzzers (OPJHL) – 3rd round, 90th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

After leading the St. Michael’s Buzzers in scoring and taking his club to the OPJHL final for in his second season, the scoring forward from Woodbridge, ON was selected by the Senators in the third round with the knowledge he had planned to go the NCAA route for his development.

In his first CCHA season he finished with 21 points, just behind fellow freshman Carl Hagelin (NYR) for ninth in team scoring. By the end of his sophomore season, the 5’10 188-pound center was named team MVP, finished second in club scoring with 24 goals and 25 assists, and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist. Rebuffing overtures by the Senators to sign an entry-level contract, he continued his college career with a solid junior season garnering 43 points which placed him second in Wolverines scoring. More quick than fast, he was named an alternate captain for his senior season and led his team to the NCAA Championship game where they finished as the runner-up. Although finishing second on his team in scoring for the third consecutive season, he suffered through an extended scoring slump and had to deal with knee injury late in the season.

Always playing with a high motor, Caporusso is shifty in his movement with the puck and relentless in is intensity. Whereas in previous years Senators’ development camps his talent stood out, this past summer the level of prospects closed the skill gap. He has good hands and offensive creativity but does not have separation speed and needs to get stronger to be more effective in professional hockey. Sent down to Binghamton to begin the season, he was not able to lock up a roster spot and is now developing in the ECHL with Elmira where he has 13 goals and 15 assists in 27 games. He’s also suited up for seven games with the Baby Sens and has yet to gain his first AHL point. With the influx of offensive prospects added to the Senators system the last few seasons, the 22-year-old will need to increase his strength and improve his use of his linemates to continue to have a realistic shot at an NHL spot.

Ben Blood, D, Shattuck St. Mary’s (Minn HS) – 4th round, 120th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Senators chose the 6’3 212-pound defenseman from the Shattuck St. Mary’s hockey factory to augment their desire to add size to the organization. After his prep school career was over, he opted to play in the USHL, first with the Des Moines Buccaneers, where he managed seven assists through 11 games. Once drafted, he spent another year in the USHL, this time with the Indiana Ice, where he would post 10 goals in 46 games.

The tough rearguard joined the University of North Dakota in 2008-09 and in his freshman season registered one assist and 12 penalty minutes in 31 games. Blood stepped up in his sophomore season, totaling five goals, nine assists and 96 penalty minutes in 43 games, demonstrating some of his offensive skills specifically his hard, accurate shot.

He would managed 12 points in 44 games during his junior campaign and help lead the Sioux to their WCHA-leading 15th league championship. Blood and his teammates however were eventually eliminated in the Frozen Four by Caporusso and U of M.

Now playing in his final collegiate season, he’s produced 13 points and 42 penalty minutes in 27 games. Unfortunately Blood has been recently stripped of his role as UND’s assistant captain after an incident following a game against the University of Minnesota. The aspects of his game that need the most improvement for his pro aspirations are his lateral movement and foot speed.