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Draft is all about projecting success

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
While nobody doubts that Matt Duchene is headed for NHL stardom, the projections get a little more tricky for draft prospects who aren't rated quite as high (Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

In the eyes of some, it’s the ultimate crapshoot.

Every year, management and scouting staffs from the National Hockey League’s 30 teams gather at the end of June for the annual entry draft. And by the end of the weekend, they hope they’ve rolled the dice on the right players to help build the future of their organizations.

Make no mistake about it, though. What goes on at the Bell Centre in Montreal this Friday and Saturday isn’t based on mere guesswork. Rather, it’s the result of hundreds of hours of scouring the globe looking for top-end talent.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: Projecting just how good a teenage phenom can be in five or 10 years and whether he has the ability to be a true impact player at the NHL level.
Most scouts will tell you the guys rated at the top of the 2009 entry draft – John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn – pass that test with flying colours. All are virtual locks to become NHL stars.

After that, though, it gets trickier, which is why you’ll see so much disagreement among the experts about where draft prospects slot in from the No. 6 spot on down. It just depends on your opinion when you get beyond what Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray calls the “ready-made” players at the top.

“Besides being great players and great prospects, there’s less projection (with the top five),” said Murray. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re a great scout or an average scout, the less you have to project, the easier it is. With (Swedish defenceman Oliver) Ekman-Larsson and (London Knights forward Nazem) Kadri and guys like that… they’re great prospects with a chance to be really good NHL players, but they’re not as big and not as strong.

“They maybe don’t play the same role on their team as Duchene does on his team or Tavares plays on his team. There’s just more projection there and sometimes, the more you have to project… it’s not guessing, but you don’t get as excited or have as good a feel as you do for the complete player or the ready-made player.”

NHL draft history, of course, is filled with stories of high picks who turned into busts and lower-round selections – Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a sixth-rounder in 1994, for example – who became stars.

“Can the (sixth- to 10th-rated) guys be as good as the top five?” said Murray. “Next year? No. Down the road? There’s a chance. By doing your homework, you hope you know their character and how hard they work up to that point.

"Can the (sixth to 10th-rated) guys be as good as the top five? Next year? No. Down the road? There's a chance. By doing your homework, you hope you know their character and how hard they work up to that point. But we’ve all seen it. We’ve seen Marty Havlat be the best pick in his draft at No. 26. That’s just the nature of the beast and the good staffs find those guys." - Tim Murray
“But we’ve all seen it. We’ve seen (former Senators forward) Marty Havlat be the best pick in his draft (in 1999) at No. 26. That’s just the nature of the beast and the good staffs find those guys.”

The Senators currently hold the ninth pick in Friday’s first round and Murray said “we feel comfortable with two or three guys that have a chance to be (available) there and we think they’re very good NHL prospects.”

It’s been suggested that, after selecting defencemen with their first two picks of the 2008 draft, the Senators will make the forward position a priority this time. But it might be hard to look past a top blue-line prospect such as Ekman-Larsson, Jared Cowen or Dmitry Kulikov if he’s still on the board.

“We’re not just picking a forward to pick a forward,” said Brent Flahr, the Senators’ director of hockey operations. “There are a couple of quality defencemen and a couple of quality forwards there. We’ve done our research and we’ll take who we think is the best player.

“We’d like to add a forward, but defencemen are hard to get. We hope we’re not drafting this high too often but if you do, sometimes (picking) a defenceman is the way to go. You can’t have too many of them.”


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