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Scouts' meetings help set draft table for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators assistant GM Tim Murray and the team's scouting staff will arrive at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft ready to roll, with the bulk of the preparation finalized during the team's scouting meetings held last week at Scotiabank Place. The draft is slated to take place June 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images).

The ultimate payoff will come amid the bright glare of draft night — and, if all goes as planned, in the National Hockey League seasons soon to follow.

But for a diligent group of hard-working Ottawa Senators scouts, the hard slugging is done long before the 2011 NHL Entry Draft takes centre stage in the hockey world on June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. Most of them have seen 200-plus games during the season, often travelling to all parts of North America and Europe. Always in search of the next big thing or that hidden gem that might bear fruit in the later rounds of the draft.

Then last week, they gathered at Scotiabank Place to compare notes, so to speak.  And out of a series of long, sometimes debate-filled meetings, Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray and director of player personnel Pierre Dorion emerged with an in-depth list that will provide a vital road map for general manager Bryan Murray as he makes the Senators’ selections at the Xcel Energy Center at the end of June.

“For us, it’s probably the most important time of the year, besides when we go to games and scout (players),” said Dorion. “It’s our whole year in review. We try to build the list for the draft, which is our biggest chore for the year. We try to put together a list in order of how the prospects should fall when the draft (picks) come around for the Ottawa Senators.”

For Dorion and the scouting staff, it will be the busiest draft in years. Thanks to several trades of veterans back in February, the Senators own 12 picks in the upcoming draft — a veritable bumper crop of talent waiting to be harvested — including the sixth and 21st picks in the first round, the latter acquired in the Mike Fisher trade with the Nashville Predators.

“It’s fantastic,” Dorion said of the wealth of draft selections. “I think every scout relishes this opportunity. We have the opportunity to draft two guys in the top 21. Not only that, we have the opportunity to draft six players we hope can help us in the future in the first 65 players (taken) in this draft. So we feel we’re going to get good assets, players who are going to help us win in the future.

“Since we went to the seven-round (NHL) draft, I think this is the most picks any of these scouts have had. It’s great because we’ll get the chance to show the diversity in our group, that we can pick all types of players. That’s what I think you’re going to see in this upcoming draft.”

Next week, the Senators will have personnel at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, which is attended by more than 100 of the draft’s top prospects. In addition to watching physical testing sessions, they’ll get the chance to do one-on-one interviews with 50 to 60 players. Five or six of those prospects will be invited to Ottawa the following week for further evaluation.

For the most part, however, the scouting staff’s job was done during last week’s meetings.

“We’ll meet again at the draft and review our lists,” said Dorion. “But these meetings are really the bulk of the work. It doesn’t change much at the draft. We might do little tweaks based on what we saw in the interviews and physical testing. But for us, what really matters is how the players (perform) on the ice. That would be about 95 per cent of the evaluation.”

While the scouts’ work is done in terms of viewing prospects, it doesn’t mean the Senators are paying no heed to the goings on this week in Mississauga, Ont., where the MasterCard Memorial Cup is being held. The Saint John Sea Dogs, in particular, have nine prospects ranked by NHL Central Scouting, including four likely first-rounders — centres Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips, winger Tomas Jurco and defenceman Nathan Beaulieu.

“It does matter a lot, because you want to see the players in the highest pressure (situations),” Dorion said about a prospect’s performance in the tournament. “For these junior players, you’re going to see them competing for the ultimate trophy at their level, which is the Memorial Cup. So you want to see if they can raise their games.”

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