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Stone showing he might be a late-round gem

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
One never knows what kind of gems a National Hockey League team can dig up in the late stages of the annual entry draft.

The Ottawa Senators have mined several of their own over the years — captain Daniel Alfredsson, a sixth-round selection in 1994, being the most notable among them. Current Senators forwards Colin Greening (seventh round, 204th overall, 2005) and Erik Condra (seventh round, 211th overall, 2006) also fit into that category.

Brandon Wheat Kings forward Mark Stone just might be on the way to proving himself to be that kind of a player. The 18-year-old Winnipeg native ranked third in the Western Hockey League with 106 points, including 37 goals, during a 2010-11 season that earned him first team all-star status in the Eastern Conference. The Wheaties lavished five year-ending team awards on Stone last week, including being named their most valuable player.

Not too shabby for a player the Senators landed with a sixth-round selection (176th overall) in the 2010 draft. But then again, Stone was coming off a season during which he was limited to 39 games by injuries and produced only 28 points.

"We had (scouts) that really liked him," said Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray. "But he played 39 games last year. I don't know how anyone could have predicted (his 106-point season). We knew he had hands, we knew he missed a lot of time and we knew that some independent scouting services projected him to go early in the third round last year.

"But after he got hurt, that's what happens. Guys get passed by but lucky for us, we had a couple of guys that saw him early and really liked him. It's kind of a bonus when you can get a guy like that in the sixth round, that's for sure."

Stone saw important minutes during last year's Memorial Cup, when the Wheat Kings reached the final as the host team but lost to the Windsor Spitfires. The 6-3, 200-pound forward figures to be an even bigger key this year for Brandon, which is all square at 1-1 in its first-round playoff series with the Medicine Hat Tigers and captain Wacey Hamilton, who recently signed a free-agent contract with the Senators.

Meanwhile, defenceman Jared Cowen, the Senators' top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was named to the WHL's first all-star team in the Western Conference. Cowen, the captain of the Spokane Chiefs, set career highs in goals (18), assists (30) and points (48) in 57 games during his fourth season with the team.

The Chiefs currently lead the Chilliwack Bruins 2-0 in their first-round WHL playoff series.

Sens trio chillin' at NCAA Frozen Four

When the NCAA Frozen Four is played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the U.S. college hockey championship will feature plenty of future Ottawa Senators talent. Defenceman Ben Blood (2007 draft, fourth round, 120th overall) and the top-ranked North Dakota Fighting Sioux face off against forward Louie Caporusso (2007, third round, 90th overall) in one semifinal on April 7, while winger Jeff Costello (2009, fifth round, 14th overall) and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on Minnesota-Duluth in the other. All four teams advanced after regional finals played over the weekend. The Frozen Four championship game is set for April 9.

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