|Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson has grown from a first-round pick in 2008 into a finalist for the James Norris Trophy four years later (Getty Images).
It is a huge cornerstone for any successful National Hockey League team.
Much as there are other avenues to get there, the annual NHL draft provides the biggest source of talent to feed the pipeline that exists in every organization. Most specifically, the league’s 30 teams count heavily on the players they select in the first round to be key long-term contributors to their success.
Case in point: the Ottawa Senators, whose roster at season’s end included eight first-round draft picks. Mind you, a couple of them (Kyle Turris, Phoenix, and Milan Michalek, San Jose) were originally high selections by other teams, but there is no denying their importance to the Senators over the course of the 2011-12 campaign.
That total, of course, doesn’t include the three forwards (Mika Zibanejad, Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel) the Senators took in the opening round of the 2011 draft in St. Paul, Minn. All three are players Ottawa hockey management is counting on to be vital building blocks down the road, and sooner rather than later.
With that thought in mind, here is a capsule look at every Senators first-round pick in modern franchise history and where their respective hockey paths have taken them:
2011 – Mika Zibanejad, centre: Made NHL debut as an 18-year-old in Senators’ season opener in Detroit against the Red Wings. Recorded one assist in nine games before being returned to Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League for the rest of season, for whom he recorded 13 points in 26 games. Scored overtime winner for Sweden against Russia in gold-medal game at 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Alberta.
2010 – Kyle Turris, centre (via trade): Yes, it’s true Turris was the third overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Phoenix Coyotes. But, if you follow the trail, he now represents Ottawa’s first-round selection in 2010. The Senators originally traded that pick to the St. Louis Blues for defenceman David Rundblad, a 2009 first-rounder. But last Dec. 17, Ottawa shipped Rundblad and a second-round pick to the Coyotes to obtain Turris, who totalled 12 goals and 29 points in 47 games after joining the Senators. Scored the overtime winner in Game 4 of Ottawa’s opening-round playoff series against the New York Rangers.
2009 – Jared Cowen, defenceman: Finished first full NHL season in Ottawa, scoring 17 points in 82 games. One of only three Senators to suit up for every regular-season game and was also in the lineup for all seven games vs. the Blueshirts in the playoffs.
2008 – Erik Karlsson, defenceman: In just his third season in Ottawa, led all NHL defencemen in scoring (19-59-78) and set franchise records for assists and points by a blueliner. The 22-year-old Swede is a finalist for the James Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman.
2007 – Jim O’Brien, forward: In third full pro season, made the jump from Binghamton (AHL) to Ottawa, where he finished the season. Saw action in Senators’ final 28 games, scoring six points. Recorded first NHL goal against Florida Panthers on Feb. 15 in Sunrise, Fla. Also saw action in all seven playoff games against the Rangers.
2006 – Nick Foligno, forward: Finished fifth season with Senators, setting career highs in goals (15) and points (47). One of only three Senators to see action in all 82 games.
2005 – Brian Lee, defenceman: Started season in Ottawa, but traded to Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 27 in exchange for Matt Gilroy. Totalled 16 points in 55 games split between the two teams in 2011-12.
2004 – Andrej Meszaros, defenceman: Traded Aug. 29, 2008, to Tampa Bay Lightning. Has since moved on to Philadelphia Flyers, for whom he scored 25 points in 62 games in 2011-12.
2003 – Patrick Eaves, forward: Traded to Carolina Hurricanes, along with defenceman Joe Corvo, on Feb. 11, 2008, in exchange for defenceman Mike Commodore and forward Cory Stillman. Recorded one assist in 10 games with Detroit Red Wings, but season was cut short by concussion suffered when hit in face by a shot in Nov. 26 game against Nashville Predators.
2002 – Jakub Klepis, centre: Traded Feb. 25, 2003, to Buffalo for Vaclav Varada and Sabres’ fifth-round pick (Tim Cook) in 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Scored 14 points in 44 games in the Kontinental Hockey League, splitting his 2011-12 season between Ufa Salavat Yulayev and Moscow Dynamo.
2001 – Jason Spezza, centre: Finished ninth season with Senators, scoring 84 points in 80 regular-season games. It was the highest point total in four years for one of the team’s alternate captains; Tim Gleason, defenceman: Scored 18 points in 82 games for the Carolina Hurricanes.
2000 – Anton Volchenkov, defenceman: Signed with the New Jersey Devils as a free agent following the 2009-10 season. Scored 11 points in 72 regular-season games for New Jersey and is currently playing in Stanley Cup final. Credited with Devils’ lone goal in 2-1 overtime loss in Game 1 to Los Angeles Kings.
1999 – Martin Havlat, forward: Traded July 10, 2006, with Bryan Smolinski to Chicago Blackhawks for Tom Preissing, Josh Hennessy, Michal Barinka and Chicago’s second-round pick in 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Scored 27 points in 39 regular-season games for San Jose Sharks this season.
1998 – Mathieu Chouinard, goaltender: Signed as a free agent by Los Angeles Kings on July 7, 2003. Now out of hockey. Made one NHL appearance for Kings in 2003-04 season.
1997 – Marian Hossa, forward: Traded Aug. 23, 2005, with Greg de Vries to Atlanta Thrashers for Dany Heatley. Finished third season with Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 77 points in 81 games.
1996 – Chris Phillips, defenceman: Finished 14th season with Senators as one of team’s assistant captains. The ‘Big Rig’ celebrated a memorable 1,000th career NHL game by scoring twice as the Senators edged the Nashville Predators 4-3 on Feb. 9. He is only the second player to suit up for 1,000 games in an Ottawa jersey, following captain Daniel Alfredsson.
1995 – Bryan Berard, defenceman: Traded Jan. 23, 1996, with Don Beaupre and Martin Straka to New York Islanders for Wade Redden and Damian Rhodes. Last played for Chekhov Vityaz (KHL) in 2008-09 season.
1994 – Radek Bonk, forward: With Senators until traded to Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2004, for a third-round pick (Shawn Weller) in 2004 NHL entry draft. Finished third season with Trinec Ocelari HC of Czech Elite League, scoring 25 points in 48 games.
1993 – Alexandre Daigle, forward: With Senators until traded to Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 17, 1998, for Vaclav Prospal, Pat Falloon and a second-round pick in 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Spent six seasons in Swiss Elite League through 2009-10, but hasn’t been active professionally since then.
1992 – Alexei Yashin, forward: With Senators until traded to New York Islanders on June 23, 2001, for Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt and Isles’ No. 1 pick (Spezza) in 2001 NHL entry draft. Scored 20 points in 43 games in first season with CSKA Moscow of Kontinental Hockey League.