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Sens scouts set table for NHL draft

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Upon the advice of one of their area scouts who had watched Zack Smith closely, the Ottawa Senators made the gritty forward from Saskatchewan a third-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
They're making their list and checking it much more than twice.


And by the time they adjourned from a week's worth of meetings today, the Ottawa Senators scouting staff felt more than prepared to tackle what lies ahead at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Even with the annual lottery more than a month away.

"It's just a matter of getting ready for the draft and being prepared as if the draft was tomorrow," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray said of the gathering of the team's amateur scouts this week at Scotiabank Place. "The (team's ranking list of prospects) could change a bit based on the (upcoming NHL scouting) combine but if the draft was tomorrow, we'd be ready for it."

As it is, there's still six weeks to go before the National Hockey League's 30 teams arrive at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the June 25-26 draft. But Murray and the Senators scouting staff worked diligently this week to finalize their ranking of the current crop of prospects so that it's pretty much in place before the NHL Scouting Combine, which goes May 24-29 at the Westin Bristol Place in Toronto.

"You judge what players you have a chance to get in each round and those are the players you want to interview (at the combine)," said Murray. "So we like to get our list in place before the combine, then we go down there and interview 50 or 60 kids that we feel we have a chance to get in every round and go from there."

Putting the finishing touches on that list is anything but a one or two-step process. It's actually an amalgamation of several lists, starting with separate listings for major junior, U.S. college and high school, and Tier II junior leagues, along with a ranking of European talent.

"Then we amalgamate into a North American list and a European list, before we amalgamate them again into an overall list," said Pierre Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel, who oversees the club's scouting staff.

As yes, there is plenty of debate among a far-flung group of amateur scouts who have their own geographical areas of expertise in either North America or Europe. It's almost a given that every one of them has seen a prospect that he's particularly high on and brings that sentiment to the table. Which is just the way that Murray and Dorion want it.

"There’s lots of debate," admitted Murray. "We’ve had lots of coverage (by the scouts). This is our official meeting, but these guys discuss these players all the time unofficially over breakfast, over coffee or having a beer at night. So there are no surprises here. Guys still feel strongly about who they like and that’s what we pay them for. We want them to debate and make their feelings known and they’ve done a good job of that.

"Then you have to make a decision. You can spend 20 minutes (talking about) one player but ultimately, you have to decide if he’s the guy (you want to pick) or the other guy is the (right) guy. That’s what they’ve done here since Monday."

"There’s lots of debate. We’ve had lots of coverage (by the scouts). This is our official meeting, but these guys discuss these players all the time unofficially ... So there are no surprises here. Guys still feel strongly about who they like and that’s what we pay them for. We want them to debate and make their feelings known and they’ve done a good job of that. Then you have to make a decision. You can spend 20 minutes (talking about) one player but ultimately, you have to decide if he’s the guy (you want to pick) or the other guy is the (right) guy." - Tim Murray
Murray points toward forward Zack Smith, a third-round pick by the Senators in the 2008 draft, as a player that the team selected because one of its scouts — Regina-based Bob Lowes — pushed hard for Smith, a Saskatchewan native.

"Zack Smith comes to mind with Bobby Lowes, Derek Grant (fourth round, 2008) comes to mind with George Fargher, and Michael Zdao (seventh round, 2009) comes to mind with Bobby Janecyk," said Murray. "The (scouts) all have their guys that other guys also saw, and they really push Pierre or somebody else to go watch them.

"That's what we want our scouts to do. We want them to step up and be forceful when they really like a guy."

The Senators currently own the 16th selection in the first round of the 2010 draft, along with picks in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds. While the team has loaded up on defencemen in the last two drafts — including top choices Erik Karlsson (2008) and Jared Cowen (2009) — it isn't automatic that the Senators will shift their focus to shoring up the organization's front-line depth this time around.

"Without a doubt, we'll take the best player available (in the first round)," said Dorion. "Just as an example, we saw what teams had to give up to get defencemen at the trade deadline (in March). So you can never have too many defencemen. When you can draft a good defenceman, it really helps."

Murray agreed, saying "we’ve seen in the past in this league that things change very quickly. Defencemen are huge assets,  you can never too many and they’re very valuable if you do have too many.

"We’re not afraid to take defencemen in this draft. Ideally, we’d like to get a skilled forward but if the best player available at 16 for us is a defenceman, that’s what we’ll take."


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