Senators 2005 draft preview

By Sean Keogh

Senators Top 10 Prospects

1. Antoine Vermette, C
2. Ray Emery, G
3. Andrej Meszaros, D
4. Patrick Eaves, RW
5. Alexei Kaigorodov, C
6. Brandon Bochenski, LW
7. Igor Mirnov, LW
8. Kirill Lyamin, D
9. Jan Platil, D
10. Billy Thompson, G

Team Needs

Seemingly since their inception, the Ottawa Senators’ most specific team need is for a power forward. There is no shortage of offensive firepower in the organization, with forwards like Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Jason Spezza around, nor is there a lack of hard-working, maximum-effort types, with Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette and Patrick Eaves on board. As incredibly strong on the puck as Hossa may be, and regardless of how many big hits Fisher can deliver, Ottawa media and fans alike still crave a power forward.

One who can play left wing would be particularly valuable, as it would kill two birds with one stone as the other long term team need is on the left side. The Senators have not had a natural offensive left winger since Shawn McEachern’s departure. Peter Schaefer is the team’s top returning natural left winger. Most of the club’s top forward prospects are capable of playing the left side, however, which could fill the need.

The defense remains strong in Ottawa, which was always the case in the Jacques Martin era. With Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips, as well as young players such as Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Meszaros, the top end talent is there. As a result of the new liberalized free agency though, Chara and Redden are both eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2006, so this position could be significantly less secure in a year’s time.

The goaltending position has been overhauled since the last time the Senators were on the ice. Patrick Lalime was dealt before being driven out by frustrated fans with pitch forks, and the sensational but elderly Dominik Hasek was brought in by John Muckler, who worked together in Hasek’s glory days in Buffalo. Either Martin Prusek or Ray Emery will back up the future hall of famer. It is the goaltending situation that is the most intriguing heading into the new season.

Organizational Strengths

Developing and maintaining a deep organization has long been a priority for the Senators organization. There is always a good mix of prospects in the organization, and the present crop of players is no different. Convincing Russian Super League superstar Alexei Kaigorodov to come over and try out for the Senators could give the club yet another dynamic offensive player. Another impressive sign of a deep organization is that in Ottawa, every year they seem to have at least one or two young blueliners pushing to break camp with the big club. Christoph Schubert and Andrej Meszaros are the top contenders looking ahead to this year’s training camp.

While the goaltending situation in Ottawa may be a tad unsettling, there remains plenty of talent in the organization. The club’s goaltender of the future, Ray Emery, struggled for the bulk of his third AHL season, but picked it up late in the season, and was one of the few players to thrive in the team’s short playoff run. In junior hockey, Jeff Glass, had a season to remember, first leading the Canadian entry at the WJC to a gold medal, and later capturing the CHL Goaltender of the Year award, three years after Emery won the same award.

Organizational Weaknesses

Heading into the 2004 draft, there was a definite lack of talent among the club’s blueline prospects. None of them at the time appeared to have top four potential, or to be close to ready for NHL action for that matter. The emergence of Schubert as a consistent force in the AHL, and the fact the club did very well to steal defensemen Meszaros and Kiril Lyamin with their first two picks last year, went a long way to helping fill this void, but another good blueliner would certainly be welcome. The aforementioned lack of a true power forward remains a weakness as well.

Draft Tendencies

One thing that is clear from looking at the Senators drafting history is that they will take players from just about every corner of the hockey world. Last year, they had with two picks from Russia and the USHL, and one from each of Slovakia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL), the CCHA and the WHL. In their last three drafts, they’ve only even used four selections on players out of the Canadian Hockey League.

Some clubs in recent years have shied away from taking players from Russia because of a fear that Russian players will be hard to convince to come across the ocean and work towards an NHL career. This is not the case with Ottawa, who have used each of their last three second round selections (Kaigorodov, Igor Mirnov and Lyamin) on Russian prospects. The fact that they have enjoyed success drafting out of Russia, with those three picks and 2000 first rounder Anton Volchenkov all looking like strong picks suggests that such a trend will likely not change.

The reason the Senators have gained a reputation for being an elite team at the drafting table, is that they always go with the best player available. Some of their greatest draft selections, like Martin Havlat in 1999 and Andrej Meszaros last year, were simply players that slipped on draft day and the Senators quickly grabbed, regardless of the questions other teams had about the player, or their own specific team needs.

Since taking over the reins from Marshall Johnston in 2002, Muckler has said that he wanted to focus on drafting gritty players, rather than the high-upside scorers like the club has traditionally taken. His intention last year was to use the middle round selections on character players, and yet the club’s insistence on going for the best player available is the reason they took skilled forwards Peter Regin and Alexander Nikulin in the third and fourth round respectively last year. As much as any club in the league, the Senators value every selection they make, and have had great success turning middle and late round selections into valuable assets.

This year, the club’s first selection may provide more insight into Muckler’s true preferences at the draft table. After generously receiving the ninth overall selection in this year’s league-wide weighted lottery, the Senators first round selection falls in its highest spot since 1996, when they selected Chris Phillips first overall. At the ninth overall selection, Muckler will likely have a good forecast of the players that will be available to him at that spot.

The club could go many directions at ninth overall. There are several players with the type of character that Muckler values, whether it’s a future captain in center Ryan O’Marra, a sparkplug left winger in Alex Bourret, or a steady, well-rounded blueliner like Marc Staal. It is also possible Muckler opts for a goaltender like Carey Price, or even to make a splash with the draft in Ottawa, and trade up a few spots and take one of the stud offensive prospects.

Player most likely to be taken with the team’s first pick (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Marc Staal, D, Sudbury Wolves

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