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Sens willing to stay the course in building contender

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators general manager Bryan Murray is confident his team can land a solid prospect for the future with the 15th pick in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, which goes tonight in Pittsburgh (Getty Images).

Stay the course or hit the gas pedal?

It's a thought process that is surely front of mind as the Senators draw ever closer to tonight's opening round of the 2012 NHL Draft. Ottawa currently holds the 15th spot heading into this evening's proceedings at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

While the draft is said to lack the depth of the previous few years, the Senators remain confident they'll land a solid asset for the future if they stay right where they are at the dead centre point of the first round.

"We feel very strongly that there are 12-14 real good players and we'll get one with our pick, I believe," Senators general manager Bryan Murray told media in Pittsburgh earlier today after one final pre-draft meeting with his scouting staff. "We certainly have a list prepared and we know we'll get one of the guys we've targeted."

While the focus this weekend is on the game's future stars, some of the National Hockey League's current big names could be on the move in trades that might reach blockbuster proportions. The Senators have been linked to Columbus Blue Jackets sniper Rick Nash, perhaps the biggest name at the centre of the speculation.

Murray confirmed today he's had conversations with the Jackets about Nash, a two-time 40-goal scorer who was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. None of those talks, he added, have involved the 15th pick.

"I've talked to Columbus about him," said Murray. "It's about whether we want to move forward or not (with a deal). At the moment, we're still talking."

The Senators embarked on a rebuilding process a year ago but, under the direction of first-year head coach Paul MacLean, surprising many around the NHL by qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs and pushing the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers to the limit in a seven-game first-round series.

While the acquisition of someone like Nash could potentially accelerate the building process, Murray is also confident the Senators have the young talent on hand to be a top contender in reasonably short order. And that's the heart of the dilemma currently facing the team's hockey management.

"We have some kids who are going to be top players," said Murray. "Let me assure you that the decision is two-fold in that you want to get the (impact) player for today, but you pay the price for the future in some cases. We have some very good young players and, if we just take our time, maybe they're not outstanding next year, but they're going to be real good players in the future and we know that.

"So that's what you have to weigh as you go forward. That's why we have these drafts, and you add to your list of candidates for future NHL spots. It's just a matter of, do you keep going that way or do you try to hurry it up? That decision will be made at some point, whether it's today or in the next week or two."

After witnessing the Senators' rapid growth in the last year, Murray said "I'd like to think we're contending anyways" and he's optimistic the 2012-13 season can produce another step forward.

"The hope is to be good next year," he said. "We can all say five years down the road, we're going to be very good. But I'd like to be as good as we can be in the very near future and if we can hurry up the process ... it doesn't change the process, but it hurries it up if we get an impact player."

The next guaranteed step in the building process comes tonight. And the Senators say they're perfectly content to work from the middle of the first round.

"The bottom line is, you have to prepared to not move and pick where you're at and pick where you are," Murray said of holding the No. 15 selection in the first round. "That's the one thing our scouts have been very good at doing."

The draft concludes on Saturday, with the Senators' current stockpile of picks including two third-round selections (76th and 82nd overall), along with one each in the fourth (106), fifth (136), sixth (166) and seventh (196) rounds.

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