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Senators like their draft position

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray traded up to the 15th spot to select defenceman Erik Karlsson with his first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
Nine is just fine with the Ottawa Senators.

That’s the position the club currently holds down in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. And it’s a slot that has yielded some true gems – Brian Leetch, Cam Neely and current National Hockey League stalwarts Dion Phaneuf, Rod Brind’Amour and Tuomu Ruutu, to name a few – in past drafts.

While the June 26-27 selection in Montreal might not produce Hall of Fame talent in the nine hole, the Senators figure it’s a spot from which they can scoop up a key future building block for their franchise.

“We’re pretty confident we’re getting a good player at nine,” said Brent Flahr, the Senators’ director of hockey operations. “We feel it’s a pretty solid draft, one through 20. We think the top five or six guys are high end.

"Right after that, there is maybe a bit of a drop off, but we still feel confident that we’re going to get a very good player with a quality upside, whether it be a top-four defenceman or a top-six forward that we’re really looking for. We never know what teams in front of us are going to do but we’re comfortable with the number of players that are (available) there. We’ll be happy with the player we get, for sure.”

The last time the Senators picked this high, they selected defenceman Brian Lee in the 2005 draft held at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa. It was the first draft held coming out of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season and the selection order was determined by a lottery involving all 30 NHL teams.

Truth be told, this is a team that would rather not make a habit of top-10 selections – it’s the place where non-playoff teams reside in the draft, after all. But the Senators surely want to make the most of this opportunity while they have it.

“Picking ninth is a great spot. We’re going to get a quality player,” said Pierre Dorion, the Sens’ chief amateur scout. “We’re going to get someone who’s going to be a top-two line player or top-four defenceman down the road and someone who is going to help us win. There are a lot of good character hockey players at the top of the draft.

“For one year, we’ll be fortunate enough to be picking that high and after that, we’ll get back on the track of picking after 20.”

Don’t be surprised if that ninth pick becomes something even better by draft day. A year ago, general manager Bryan Murray made a deal with the Nashville Predators to move up three spots in the first round. That trade allowed Ottawa to select Erik Karlsson, a gifted blueliner from Sweden, with the 15th overall pick of the 2008 draft.

"Picking ninth is a great spot. We’re going to get a quality player. We’re going to get someone who’s going to be a top-two line player or top-four defenceman down the road and someone who is going to help us win." - Pierre Dorion
“I’ve worked with Bryan for a number of years and he likes to be aggressive at the draft table, much like we did last year for Erik Karlsson, and it turned out very well,” said Flahr. “If we feel that there is a player that’s slipped a couple of spots and there’s a chance to move up in the draft and get him – and the cost isn’t too high – we’ll try to do that. We have a couple of extra picks, two second (rounders) and two fifths, and it allows us some (flexibility) and we’ll consider that at the time.”

That’s a sentiment seconded by Senators assistant GM Tim Murray.

“My philosophy is to move up if you can and not pay a huge price,” he said in a radio interview with Edmonton’s Team 1260. “To me, it’s always quality over quantity. I’ve talked to other GMs who may feel they’re in a rebuilding phase that feel the need for quantity (of picks) to restock their minor leagues and get going that way. But I’ve always felt, in this position, that the quality pick was more important than the quantity of picks and I still believe that.

“In this draft, the top six, seven or eight guys have separated themselves from the pack. We haven’t talked about it a lot but Bryan certainly knows my philosophy is that if you can move up, you move up.”

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