|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels is the top-ranked prospect for the upcoming 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn. But unless the Ottawa Senators engineer a trade, he'll be out of their reach with the No. 6 pick in the first round (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).
For a fleeting instant, Bryan Murray felt he'd hit the lottery jackpot.
Instead, against all odds, it was the Devils' night.
But the Ottawa Senators hardly consider themselves losers in the NHL Draft Lottery, which cost them one slot in the first round of the 2011 entry draft.
The Senators went into the night holding the No. 5 overall selection in the 2011 draft, slated to be held June 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. When National Hockey League vice-president Bill Daly held up a New York Islanders logo representing the fifth pick, it meant Ottawa had potentially won the lottery and claimed the first overall selection.
"That’s what I thought right away," Murray said by conference call from Toronto. "I thought the odds, the way it shaked out ... I really felt, at that time, that we had a chance (at landing No. 1 overall)."
The feeling didn't last. It turned out the New Jersey Devils — who had only a 3.6 per cent chance of winning the lottery — did just that, it dropped the Senators into the No. 6 hole.
Teams winning the lottery can only move up four spots in the draft order. So the Devils, whose regular-season finish had them sitting at No. 8 in the first round, now will pick fourth. That result knocked the New York Islanders down to the fifth pick and the Senators to sixth.
For the second straight year, the Edmonton Oilers get the No. 1 overall pick in the entry draft. The Colorado Avalanche are set to select second, followed by the Florida Panthers at No. 3.
In a draft in which almost everyone agrees there is no clear cut choice for the top pick, Murray isn't concerned about slipping down a slot in the first round. Not when a player of the quality of, for example, Drummondville Voltigeurs centre Sean Couturier — who was once considered a candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick — currently sits sixth among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings.
Yes, folks, there is plenty of depth at the top.
"There’s no dominant, dominant player at the top," Murray said in echoing the prevailing sentiment about the 2011 draft. "There’s not the (Sidney) Crosby or (Alex) Ovechkin — we’ve all heard that many times ... There’s a couple of guys at the top that are more likely to be preferred by the scouts. We certainly have six or seven players on a priority list that we consider good players and have a chance to play next year.
"Whether that happens in camp or not, that would be up to the player. But we’re going to get a good player with the (No. 6) pick, that’s for sure."
Most draft experts have Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a pair of Swedes — Skelleftea blueliner Adam Larsson and winger Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers — at the top of the 2011 class. After that, opinion varies on the next half dozen or so prospects.
"Just looking at it overall, there are three quality defencemen that will probably go in the top eight or nine," said Murray. "I think there are three or four forwards that are real quality players. It just comes down to who’s there and the guy we pinpoint at the moment."
While Murray doubts the Oilers or Avalanche will be in the mood to deal, he's prepared to trade up a few spots if it means landing Ottawa's preferred pick. The Senators certainly have the ammunition to do so: They also own the Nashville Predators' first-round pick (currently 21st overall) and a trio of second-rounders.
"I suspect that the one and two picks likely would not be available," said Murray. "But I think after that, teams would be interested in talking. If there is a guy we like in particular still there at three or four, we’ll make overtures to make something happen if they’re interested in talking."
However, the depth in this draft is considered strong enough that, if the Senators stay right where they are with their first five selections, they'll likely land a bounty of prospects for the future.
"Through the point where we’re picking with our second first (rounder), our guys feel that there’s a real good possibility of getting a good player there," said Murray. "And there should be, in the second, a couple of real good players that will be available. They will play in the NHL, it’s just a matter of when they play, that’s all."