He's the kind of low-round pick that can make a scout look like a true genius.
But even Bob Lowes, the man the Ottawa Senators credit the most with bringing Mark Stone into their ranks, will tell you he never imagined the offensive monster that the 178th pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft has grown into today.
"To be honest, I didn't know that he would be that good," said the Regina-based Lowes, who scouts the Western Hockey League for the Senators. "But I thought with his size (6-2, 188 pounds), with his hockey sense and he had enough of a skill set ... he would be able to find a fourth-line checking role. He exceeded that, obviously."
Has he ever. Stone, who turned 20 on Sunday, produced back-to-back 106 and 123-point seasons — including 78 goals — in his final two years with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings. When the Senators inserted him into their lineup during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final against the New York Rangers last month, Stone was anything but overwhelmed by the bright lights and big stage that is Madison Square Garden.
Now Stone, who set up what turned out to be the game-winning goal by Jason Spezza in his NHL debut, is considered someone who could crack the Senators lineup as a regular as soon as next season. That would seem more than just a mighty leap for a guy who, in his draft season, notched just 11 goals and 28 points in 39 games during his draft year, when the Wheaties played host to the Memorial Cup.
But Lowes, who's from the West and had a previous coaching background in Brandon, knew there was much more to the Stone story than those numbers showed. Memorial Cup host teams often load up on veterans, usually at the expense of younger talent. But Stone — who signed a three-year entry level contract with the Senators last fall — wasn't an asset the Wheat Kings considered moving as part of their Cup quest, which told Lowes something.
"He had been hurt that year and there was a situation where he played lower in the lineup, based on all the trades they made and the experience they had," Lowes said during a break from the Senators' annual pre-draft scouting meetings, which started in earnest over the weekend. "But I knew they didn't want to trade him. He was asked for in a lot of trades, but they felt they couldn't give him up."
The next two seasons showed exactly why. While skating has always been the knock against Stone, Lowes saw enough to push for the Winnipeg native at the draft table two years ago in St. Paul, Minn. The Senators pulled the trigger in the sixth round and wound up with someone who figures to be a large part of their future. And that's why the people who run the draft in Ottawa so eagerly give a voice to everyone on their scouting staff.
"I've mentioned in every interview that I've ever done that Bob Lowes should get most of the credit for drafting Mark Stone. From the fourth round on, he wanted to take him. It's my job to know exactly the guy we should take (in each round), but it's a credit to him for fighting so hard for Mark Stone, and a feather in his cap for drafting such a good player and someone who's going to be a big part of the Ottawa Senators down the road." - Pierre Dorion
"I've mentioned in every interview that I've ever done that Bob Lowes should get most of the credit for drafting Mark Stone," said Pierre Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel. "From the fourth round on, he wanted to take him. It's my job to know exactly the guy we should take (in each round), but it's a credit to him for fighting so hard for Mark Stone, and a feather in his cap for drafting such a good player and someone who's going to be a big part of the Ottawa Senators down the road."
Lowes, however, gives the bulk of the credit to Stone himself — in concert with Randy Lee, the Senators' director of hockey operations and player development, and conditioning coach Chris Schwarz — for becoming the player he is today. Stone also spent time in Ottawa last summer working extra time with power skating coach Marc Power.
"It's him and our development people," said Lowes. "Randy and Chris have done a tremendous job with him in order to work on his skating, and then work on him getting stronger and work on his weaknesses. And then it's his character to do everything and come back stronger, work on his skating ... he wants to be a player and guys who want to be a player find ways to get better.
"He has some things you can't teach, but the intangibles are going to be what makes him a player as well."
And someone who'll make a lot of teams wonder why he lasted until the sixth round. Lowes can't help grinning when he ponders how well it appears to have turned out for the Senators.
"I'll be honest with you," said Lowes. "I thought he would be (Brandon's) top scorer and one of their better players, just based on the opportunity he would get because of all the players (who moved on) after the Memorial Cup. I thought he'd get more of an offensive shot. But to say he would do that well ... I'd be lying if I said that."
World hockey update
Senators forward Stephane Da Costa assisted on Johann Auvitu's goal with 1:17 remaining as France edged Belarus 2-1 on Monday at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, a result which kept the upstart French in the playoff picture at the 2012 IIHF world hockey championship.
France (3-3-0) faces fourth-place Slovakia (4-2-0) in its final round-robin test on Tuesday (9:15 a.m. ET) and would earn a stunning quarter-final berth in Group H (Helsinki) with a victory.
Also today, Kaspars Daugavins and Latvia fell to Denmark 2-0, ending their playoff hopes.
In other games Tuesday involving Senators players, Sweden — which includes captain Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson and Jakob Silfverberg among its ranks — faces off against Latvia (2:15 p.m. ET), while the Czech Republic meets Germany (10:15 a.m. ET), both in Stockholm. The Swedes (5-1-0) and Czechs (3-2-1) are likely to finish second and third in Group S (Stockholm).
Quarter-finals at the worlds are set for Thursday in Helsinki and Stockholm, with Saturday's semifinals and Sunday's medal games to be contested at Hartwall Arena. All playoff action will be televised by TSN.