|Though they're targeting a centre or forward with their top pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Senators won't shy away from selecting Skelleftea blueliner Adam Larsson if he's still on the board when the No. 6 pick rolls around Friday night in St. Paul, Minn. Larsson is the top-ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting and considered the draft's elite defenceman by most observers (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images).
Like any sharp poker player, the Ottawa Senators won't play their hand until it's time.
But with a raft of picks in the opening two rounds of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Senators will surely have a number of options to consider when the league's teams gather later this week at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
In addition to the sixth overall pick in Friday's first round, the Senators also currently own another first-rounder (21st overall), courtesy of the Mike Fisher trade with the Nashville Predators back in February. Two other deals involving Chris Kelly (Boston) and Chris Campoli (Chicago) added a pair of second-rounders to their own, giving Ottawa five of the draft's first 60 selections.
While the Senators are confident they'll land a quality player at No. 6 overall, the ammunition is certainly there to move up if they'd like a shot at the likes of forward Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers, ranked second among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, or centre Jonathan Huberdeau of the Memorial Cup-champion Saint John Sea Dogs, who rates third.
"You would certainly trade picks away to get better quality than what's (still) on the board," said Ottawa assistant general manager Tim Murray, who confirmed the Senators are open to such a move. "We're ready for any situation — moving up, moving down, staying pat. We have the confidence that we can make any one of those situations work for the team.
"If the scenario works, we will do it but if you don't have a trade partner, you can't make a trade. We're certainly willing to move up to three or up to (No. 1). But if that doesn't work, we'll look at our list and if we can move down two spots and get another asset and still get the same player we like (we'll consider that)."
The Senators have a recent history of making such moves. Three years ago, general manager Bryan Murray traded his first-rounder and another pick to the Predators to move up three spots in the first round. That deal yielded defenceman Erik Karlsson
, who's considered one of the Senators' blue-line cornerstones and made his first NHL all-star game appearance earlier this year.
A year ago in Los Angeles, Murray dealt away his first-rounder to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Skelleftea's David Rundblad, who was the top blueliner in the Swedish Elite League in 2010-11 and is expected to challenge for a roster spot this fall. He's considered a major part of the Senators' future.
"We've gone through this a hundred times, formally and informally," Tim Murray said of the potential draft options. "You're sitting at home watching TV and you're making notes. That's what we're getting ready for ... the higher you can get, the better player you can get, so we'll see what happens."
Likely, it's a decision that won't be made until draft day.
"We know the price is going to be high," said Murray. "When you're in the one to six range, to move up from sixth ... it's a high price. There will be lots of homework done, but that decision will be made at the (draft) table. A team is going to tell us what they want, which they haven't done to this point. Then it's just a quick decision.
"We've run over all the scenarios and we're pretty confident that we have an answer for anything that's thrown at us."
With a dozen total picks in what is considered a deep draft, Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion said "you never know what we can do." But even if they hold on to their current two positions in the first round, Dorion believes Ottawa can win big with its choices.
"We feel we're going to get a very good pick at 21," he said. "So we feel we're going to get a good player at both six and 21."
Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the consensus choice to go No. 1 overall to the Edmonton Oilers, though some have suggested Skelleftea blueliner Adam Larsson is also worthy of that choice. Landeskog and Huberdeau are considered next in line, but the Senators are also high on the group that follows — centres Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs and Mika Zibanejad
of Sweden's Djurgarden.
While bolstering forward depth seems to be the Senators' preference at the moment, they won't shy away from Larsson if he's still on the board at No. 6. Top ranked among European skaters all season by NHL Central Scouting, Larsson is considered by many to be in the same class as Victor Hedman, who went second overall to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2009 NHL draft.
"If we're picking sixth and five forwards go and Larsson is still on the board, we'll be picking Larsson," said Tim Murray, who suggested that scenario might also make a trade down possible. "We can't walk away from a guy that we think is a top-end player and take a lesser player. We're going to take the guy we think is the best player available and Larsson's a hell of a player.
"We're fully prepared to take Larsson if it's a certain scenario and we would have no problem with it."