|Thanks to the drafting of prospects such as Mika Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick in 2011, the Senators have built an enviable level of depth within their organization (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
TORONTO — Last year at this time, the Ottawa Senators were coming off a disastrous season and looking toward the draft as an opportunity to fast-track what looked to be a long road back toward the playoffs.
As it turned out, that process wasn't nearly as long as some may have thought, and the Senators' performance at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft did play a part in that, even though none of the players selected in Minnesota a year ago played on the club for any significant amount of time.
What last year's haul of three first-round picks did for the Senators was solidify its prospect base, allowing general manager Bryan Murray to sacrifice some of the team's future in order to improve the present and help the Senators return to the post-season.
"I think our depth is good right now," Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion told NHL.com. "The main thing that allows you to do is to make deals like Bryan did, like trading (David) Rundblad and a second rounder for Kyle Turris, trading your second rounder next year for a guy like Ben Bishop. That's really what it allows you to do."
As a result, the Senators are not nearly as stacked in terms of picks heading into the 2012 NHL Draft, set for June 22-23 in Pittsburgh. They have the 15th pick in the first round, but as of now they won't pick again until the third round, where they have two selections.
"Our mindset is totally different. With the way the 2010-11 season ended, with us trading away a lot of assets, we approached last year as a very big draft," Dorion said. "The biggest thing is last year we were picking sixth and this year we're picking 15th. So you understand the quality of the prospect will not be of the same value."
At No. 6 last year, the Senators chose Swedish power forward Mika Zibanejad, who played nine games before being sent back to Sweden for another season of development. At No. 21, the Sens chose Plymouth Whalers forward Stefan Noesen — whom Dorion described as "the most pleasant surprise in the draft" — and at No. 24 took Peterborough Petes forward Matt Puempel. With the first pick of the second round (No. 31), they snared Ottawa 67's forward Shane Prince.
Add those names to players on the cusp like Jakob Silfverberg, Mark Stone, Robin Lehner and youngsters already on the roster like Jared Cowen, Zack Smith, Colin Greening and others, and Dorion likes where the Senators are sitting going into this draft.
"We drafted a lot of skill last year. What we've done in last year's draft and the three previous drafts is we really improved the depth of our prospects," he said. "When Bryan and Tim (Murray, assistant GM) took over, we had three players returning in Binghamton (AHL) and a few players in junior we were going to sign, so the cupboard was really bare. We're dealing from a position of power now when it comes to the quality prospects we have. A number of these players won the Calder Cup last year (in the AHL), a number of them played and contributed on our team this year.
"For instance, you look at Jared Cowen coming in from Spokane, and we don't win the Calder Cup without him. So that experience of winning the Calder Cup was a huge factor in him being able to step into the league this year. I think at every position we have what I would call blue-chip prospects. Some are playing right now, some will be playing down the road."
At No. 15, Dorion believes the Senators can find a top-six forward or top-four defenceman, though that is going under the assumption that the teams in front of Ottawa are not eyeing the same players they are.
"We really like 14 guys," Dorion said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, you'll get one of those 14 guys."
Though Dorion and his scouting staff are taking this week's NHL Scouting Combine seriously, interviewing 55 prospects — some more than once — he also says there is very little chance the team's master list for the draft will see too many changes coming out of the interviews and physical testing taking place here.
"We might do a bit of tinkering, but not much," he said. "A kid can't come out of his interview and go from 60 to 20. If you're talking about the guys who are 19 and 20 on your list, you might think about it. You have to take everything into consideration, the interview and the physical testing, but the way you played and what you were projected to be should be the biggest factor as to where you put him on your list.
"As far as making a big change, no team that I've ever worked with has ever done that based on the combine."
And when it comes time for the Senators to go to the stage in Pittsburgh for their first-round selection June 22, you can be sure that list will be adhered to strictly, no matter the position the next name on that list plays.
"You owe it to your organization to get the best asset available," Dorion said. "I know it's boring and people hate it, but sometimes when you get too focused on a certain position, you're going to get yourself in trouble."
— Author: Arpon Basu | NHL.com Correspondent