Senators 2006 draft review

By Sean Keogh

With the recent graduation of among others Andrej Meszaros, Ray Emery and Antoine Vermette, the Senators went into the 2006 Entry Draft needing to restock their farm system. While there was no gaping hole, there was no position of obvious strength either. Naturally this seemed to suit the club’s classic mindset of drafting the best player available regardless of position, style, nationality or league.

The club made seven selections, two from the OHL, and one each from the USHL, QMJHL, KIJHL, NCAA and Latvia. The club selected three blueliners, along with two left wingers, a right winger and a goaltender. Surprisingly, aside from a single foray into Latvia, the club neglected to select prospects from Europe. For only the second time since 1997, the club did not draft a player out of Russia. Nonetheless, the club continued its history of drafting from a wide variety of places and leagues.

Nick Foligno, LW
1st round (28th overall)
Sudbury, OHL
Ht: 6’0, Wt: 188

It seems almost unfair for a first round pick to have to be compared to his father. For Nick Foligno, until he forges his own identity as an NHL player, the comparison will undoubtedly linger. Mike Foligno had a fine career in the league, registering 355 goals and 727 points in 1018 games. Known as a tough player, the elder Foligno also collected 2049 PIMs.

“Well, he plays very much like his Dad,” said GM John Muckler of Nick on draft day. “He’s got the same type of spirit that his father had.”

The fact that his father also coaches his junior team in Sudbury only serves to link Nick even more to his father. Of course Muckler uses the comparison as a compliment to Nick’s abilities, and not simply in reference to his 146 penalty minutes.

“He’s got some sandpaper to him, and he can score goals,” he added. “He’s got an offensive threat to him and he works hard and he has a lot of courage.”

This past season in Sudbury, his second in the OHL, Foligno put up 24 goals and 70 points. Those numbers could have been even more impressive had Coach Foligno allowed the team to play a more open style of hockey. Teammate Benoit Pouliot, the fourth overall pick in 2005, only scored 65 points on the defensively-oriented team.

Foligno is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has good vision and distributes the puck very well. His goals come from hard work and determination, rather than the type of flashy moves Jason Spezza and Martin Havlat make in Ottawa. Combined with his rugged style, he is the type of player the Senators have long lacked.

“He’s not going to pop right in to a Senators sweater,” said Muckler. “He’s got a few years of junior left, and we’ll see how his development is and bring him to training camp, he’ll come to training camp this year, and as an 18-year-old and 19-year-old, and then we’ll see where he is.”

It is once he does finally crack the Senators line-up that Nick can cast aside the comparisons to his father and begin his own career in Ottawa.

Eric Gryba, D
3rd round (68th overall)
Green Bay, USHL
Ht: 6’3, Wt: 215

With the club’s second round pick belonging to Chicago thanks to the Tyler Arnason trade, Ottawa’s second selection was not until the third round. The 68th overall was the draft pick given as compensation for Peter Chiarelli leaving the organization to become General Manager of the Boston Bruins.

Speculation leading up to the draft suggested the Senators might restock the blue line with their first pick. After opting for a forward at that spot, the club grabbed big Eric Gryba with its next pick. A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Gryba first gained notice in 2004-05 when he led his midget team to the Telus Cup, the trophy for the winner of the Canadian National Midget Championships. Perhaps not too coincidentally, the tournament that year was held just over the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec. For his part, Gryba was named National Defensive Player of the Year.

The big blueliner attempted to play in the BCHL in 2005-06, but was deemed ineligible having played the previous year in Saskatchewan.

“I wanted to play out in B.C., and the rule is you’re not allowed Inter-Branch transfer, from province to province, for junior hockey,” Gryba explained. “So, I actually went down to B.C. in the summer and became a B.C. resident by getting a driver’s license. I went to school and graduated in B.C. this summer, I worked in B.C., I had my guardianship partially transferred to my aunt, who lives right in Nanaimo.”

Gryba’s fallback plan was to play for Green Bay of the USHL. He put up 15 points and 205 penalty minutes while playing significant minutes for the Gamblers. Next year he will begin his college career at Boston University. Gryba opted to pursue a college career as opposed to playing for the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL. At 6’3, 215lbs, he clearly has the size and toughness suited for WHL hockey, but believes his game will develop better in the more skilled college game.

“I think obviously the WHL is a lot more physical, a lot bigger players, more fighting, it’s more of a physical league,” said Gryba. “Watching college hockey, it’s a very, very fast physical game. You don’t have these big goons out there, guys who can’t play, who are out there to fight, that sort of thing. It’s very skilled, but yet very, very physical and very high-paced, high-tempo game.”

Although a very physical player, and a good fighter as well, Gryba has some skill to his game as well. He makes a strong outlet pass, has a hard point shot and will carry the puck as well. His weakness would be his skating, but that is exactly what he will be able to work on in college.

“I’ve been really working on trying to improve my foot speed, my overall skating, because it is a very, very fast game in college,” he said.

Kaspars Daugavins, LW
3rd round (91st overall)
Riga, Latvia
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 181

Every year the Senators seem to take at least one player from a very obscure league or country. In 2004 for example, the club took third round picks from the Eastern Junior Hockey League (Shawn Weller) and Denmark (Peter Regin). This year they plucked Kaspars Daugavins out of Latvia.

Not listed in the Central Scouting Service’s final rankings, Daugavins put his name on the map playing as a 17-year-old for the Latvian National Team at the 2006 World Championships held right in Riga. In three games, he notched one assist for the host team. He also represented Latvia at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver.

Daugavins played his 2005-06 season with Riga 2000, a powerhouse team that won the Latvian league championship last season. In 2004-05, both the late Sergei Zholtok and Colorado Avalanche blueliner Karlis Skrastins played for the club. Next year though, Daugavins will make the move to North America, having been drafted third overall in the CHL Import by the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors. Of note, the Majors are also owned by Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.

What Daugavins will bring to St. Mike’s is offensive talent. A very strong all-around skater who has plenty of offensive talent, he is an intriguing prospect with good upside. As is the case with almost all prospects from non-traditional hockey countries, Daugavins will have to round out his game. He has proven though that he can compete at a high level, which is what ultimately got him drafted by the Senators.

Pierre-Luc Lessard
4th round (121st overall)
Gatineau, QMJHL
Ht: 6’0, Wt: 180

In selecting Pierre-Luc Lessard with the club’s fourth round pick, the Senators took a player from the QMJHL for the first time since selecting Antoine Vermette in 2000. It helps that Lessard played his first two seasons in the league for the Gatineau Olympiques.

A former first round selection of the Olympiques, he improved significantly as a 17-year-old, putting up 32 points in 55 games. The Senators will not be able to keep as close an eye on him next year after Lessard was dealt to the PEI Rocket at the QMJHL Draft.

While Gryba may have classic NHL size, Lessard is built more for the “new” NHL. At only 6’0 and 180 lbs, Lessard relies on his good skating ability and hockey sense. A creative puck-handler who can make a solid outlet pass and work the power play. He also possesses poise and the ability to play in all situations. Over the next two seasons, he will continue to develop his game and improve his strength.

Ryan Daniels, G
5th round (151st overall)
Saginaw, OHL
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 205

The Senators have had tremendous success in the past five years drafting goaltenders in the middle and late rounds. Ray Emery and Jeff Glass, drafted in the middle rounds, both won CHL Goaltender of the Year the season after being drafted. Brian Elliott, the second last pick in the 2003 draft, nearly won the Hobey Baker as a junior last year. Fifth round pick Ryan Daniels has the makings of a sleeper as well.

Playing for the young Saginaw Spirit, his 4.13 GAA made him easy to overlook. He only played in 26 games as well, as the back-up to Francois Thuot. He has nonetheless had flashes of brilliance, including winning OHL Goaltender of the Month in October, where he had a goals against average of 1.57 and save percentage of .955.

Daniels combines good size with solid fundamentals playing the butterfly style. He is confident and aggressive in challenging shooters, and has good instincts and anticipation as well. A confident player, he is known as a competitor as well. Next season, with Thuot having graduated, he will be expected to step into the starting role for the Spirit.

Kevin Koopman, D
6th round (181st overall)
Beaver Valley Junior B, KIJHL
Ht: 6’3, Wt: 200

Once again, the Senators went off the board in the sixth round, selecting Kevin Koopman from the Beaver Valley Nitehawks of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. It is rare for a player to be drafted from a Junior B league. Unlisted by the Central Scouting Service, Koopman is the first player ever drafted out of the KIJHL in its 37-year history, and the only player taken out of Junior B hockey at the 2006 Draft.

Koopman must have turned the head of at least one NHL scout by winning the MVP Award for the KIJHL last season. In 38 games he put up an impressive 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists), along with 72 penalty minutes and an astounding plus/minus rating of +50. Koopman is a big defenseman with a great point shot and solid passing ability, though he is clearly not advanced in his overall development.

The native of Hope, B.C., will play next year with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL, after being cut in training camp last year. Koopman also has a scholarship commitment to Brown University, but at the moment plans to play two years in Vernon before starting his career at Brown in the 2008-09 season. Koopman is truly a long-term project.

Erik Condra, RW
7th round (211th overall)
Notre Dame, NCAA
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 180

In using their seventh and final selection on Erik Condra, the Senators took another off the board player. While Daugavins and Koopman were not listed because of the obscurity of the league in which they played, Condra’s omission has more to do with the fact he has already been passed over twice. In a draft for 1988 and 88-born players, being born in 1986 puts a player at a disadvantage.

Condra overcame that disadvantage with a stellar freshman year Notre Dame in 2005-06. Coming to the school from the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, the Michigan native became the first freshman to lead the Fighting Irish in scoring in over a decade. His 34 points (6 goals, 28 assists) also earned him a spot on the CCHA All-Rookie Team.

As is shown by 28 of his 34 points being assists, Condra’s strength is his playmaking ability. Blessed with outstanding vision and good anticipation, he is very capable of setting up his teammates. Condra is able to develop these chances by using his outstanding skating ability and natural intensity. Not a particularly physical player, he will need to get stronger over his next three years of college hockey.

Dustin Nielson and Kevin Wey contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.