|Goaltender Robin Lehner, a second-round selection by the Senators in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, impressed the team's management during both rookie and main training camp. He'll spend the season with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
They’re supposed to be key building blocks for the future of any National Hockey League franchise.
But the Ottawa Senators might not have to wait long to reap some of the benefits of their past two NHL entry drafts. In fact, the future might indeed be now for some of the top prospects stockpiled by general manager Bryan Murray and his staff at the annual NHL selection in 2008 and 2009.
“If we can draft and feed into the system players that are candidates to push the veterans aside, then our staff has done a heck of a job,” Murray said in reference to some of the young talent pushing for roster spots to start the 2009-10 season.
”And that’s starting to show. Our picks in the last two years … there’s no question that there are some (good prospects) here now. That’s what’s supposed to happen in an organization if you’re going to get better.”
Even the most recent of the drafts – the one held just three months ago in Montreal – has opened some eyes among Senators management. Their top pick, hulking blueliner Jared Cowen
, saw action in two pre-season games after spending the bulk of the past eight months recovering from major knee surgery.
While Cowen will spend 2009-10 with his junior team (the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League), it isn’t hard to imagine the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Saskatchewan native finding a full-time home in Ottawa next season.
“I could just see him, in November, being able to play at a very good level in this league,” Murray admitted on Wednesday before making Cowen’s move back to Spokane official. “But long term, this was the (right) thing to do.”
The Senators also think they’ve landed a future top stopper in Swedish goaltender Robin Lehner
, a second-round pick (46th overall) in the 2009 draft. Lehner will spend the coming season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds but he didn’t look out of place as an NHLer during a couple of pre-season stints.
Murray also liked what he saw in a brief look at forward Mike Hoffman
, a fifth-rounder (103th overall) from the Montreal draft.
“With the one little game he got, he appeared to be a real good prospect,” Murray said of Hoffman, who has been returned to the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Naturally, some of the Senators’ high selections from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft – held in their own backyard at Scotiabank Place – are closer to earning regular duty in the rink in which they were selected.
"If we can draft and feed into the system players that are candidates to push the veterans aside, then our staff has done a heck of a job. And that’s starting to show. Our picks in the last two years ... there’s no question that there are some (good prospects) here now. That's what's supposed to happen in an organization if you're going to get better." - Bryan Murray
Most notable among that group, of course, is Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson
. The Senators’ top pick (15th overall) in the 2008 draft has been a pre-season standout who’s already shown the kind of impact he can have on the Ottawa power play.
Will he start the season with the Senators? Murray suggests it’s a “very strong possibility” that he’ll line up against the New York Rangers on Oct. 3, the night the Senators open the 2009-10 regular season at Madison Square Garden.
"There are areas in which he has to improve his game, but he's no different than any 18- or 19-year-old player that hasn't played in the (NHL)," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "He's definitely progressed to where we want him to be ... Right now, he's shown he can be an NHL player right away."
Gritty forward Zack Smith
, a third-rounder (79th overall) in the 2008 draft, has also been pushing for a spot on the roster. And second-round pick Patrick Wiercioch
, a 6-foot-4 defenceman heading into his sophomore season at the University of Denver, is considered a huge part of the Senators’ future on the blue line.
Cowen and Wiercioch, it should also be noted, are both considered big candidates to suit up for Canada at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Saskatoon and Regina.