At this year’s National Hockey League entry draft, the Ottawa Senators will be digging for gold in their own backyard.
Scotiabank Place is the site of the 46th edition of the league’s annual entry draft on June 20-21, and it’ll be the first time the Senators get the chance to play host to the full-scale draft. Ottawa was originally awarded the event in 2005, but the NHL instead held a scaled-down version at an area hotel when the league and its players emerged from the lockout.
This year’s event promises to be a good one, with Ontario Hockey League scoring star Steven Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting heading the Class of 2008.
“I think the top 10 to 15 guys, there’s a lot of high-end guys,” Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray says of this year’s prospects. “Some years, you’re talking about a fifth, fourth, sixth defenceman. This year, you’re talking from a (No.) 1 to 3 defenceman. I think there’s probably 10 real good defencemen in the draft and when you’re talking the Stamkoses and guys like that, there’s some high-end talent for sure.”
It’ll be Murray’s first draft with Ottawa after joining the club last July, and in his previous experience with the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers, he’s seen the value of the process first-hand in building a team. In fact, the Senators think so highly of their picks, particularly their first-round selection, that they are loathe to entertain the idea of trading them.
“To me, the first-round pick is very important,” Murray says. “(After) 15 years of mostly amateur scouting, I’m pretty biased toward having a first-round pick. The (Ryan) Getzlafs and (Corey) Perrys and the guys that I’ve had the experience drafting (in Anaheim) make a big difference to your club.”
The Senators boast a rich draft history. Despite often picking from lower positions because of their strong finishes over the past decade, they’ve managed to pluck a large number of their current roster out of the junior ranks (Chris Phillips, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, Anton Volchenkov, Antoine Vermette, Jason Spezza, Ray Emery, Christoph Schubert, Andrej Meszaros, Nick Foligno) over the years. Of course, the prospect of uncovering an absolute gem like captain Daniel Alfredsson, a sixth-round pick (133rd overall) in 1994, keeps every front office eager for the dig.
“I think the organization has done a real good job,” Murray says. “I think when you’re picking late in the first (round), you want to get a player that can help you. That’s the biggest thing.
“I think a good draft is hitting on your first pick and finding two more guys. That’s a good draft.”
This year’s draft also presents the Senators with the opportunity to showcase the club, its fans and the region to the hockey world. With preparations already in full swing to welcome the world when the 2009 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gets underway at Christmastime, Hockey Country will be seeing plenty of the spotlight in the coming months.