Senators draft busts and finds

The draft remains the best way to build a successful franchise, but not every pick turns out to be a Crosby or Ovechkin.

Since Senators fans don’t have much to look forward to before the summer-time, I thought I’d re-publish this story I wrote ahead of last years’ NHL entry draft. Enjoy! Please note I’ve removed Brian Elliott from the ‘finds’ section. If he remains in the NHL next season, I’ll be shocked.

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Sometimes the National Hockey League entry draft feels like a complete crapshoot.

Sure, there are the can’t-miss picks like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but today’s sparkling prospects often become tomorrow’s Swiss Nationalliga depth wingers.

As the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have shown recently, however, the draft remains the best way to build a successful franchise under the iron fist of the salary cap.

Following the summer selections two years ago, statistical hockey website Puck Prospectus studied and ranked the best-drafting teams over the previous 15 years.

While you might expect the Detroit Red Wings near the top of that list, given their ability to unearth franchise players like Pavel Datsyuk (171st), Henrik Zetterberg (210th) and Nicklas Lidstrom (53rd), the Winged Wheel didn’t even crack the Top 10.

Chalk it up to lousy first-round draft positioning as a result of perpetual success.

Topping the list instead were the Ottawa Senators, who will pick sixth overall in Minnesota this summer. They’ve been extremely successful in the first round (Alexei Yashin, Radek Bonk, Chris Phillips, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Anton Volchenkov, Jason Spezza, Andrej Meszaros and Erik Karlsson), while also plucking solid NHLers from obscurity later on.

That’s not to say Ottawa hasn’t dug up its share of fools’ gold in Round 1 to go along with the hidden gems.

Here’s a look at the Senators’ worst firsts and best finds since 1992:

BUST No. 1

Alexandre Daigle, first overall (1993): Rivalled only by 1999 top pick Patrik Stefan for sheer disappointment, the supremely talented Daigle was expected to lead Ottawa’s fledgling franchise on the ice and be its handsome, charming ambassador off of it. He failed on both counts. Unmotivated by either passion for the game or the riches it provided him, Daigle wound up posting just 327 points in 616 games while playing for six different teams. He’s best remembered here for wearing a nurse’s outfit in a photo shoot and boasting “nobody remembers No. 2″ at the draft. Oops. If you still need a reminder Alex, check the Stanley Cup final pretty much every year.

Passed on: Chris Pronger (2nd), Paul Kariya (4th), Jason Arnott (7th).

BUST No. 2

Mathieu Chouinard, 15th overall (1998), 45th overall (2000): He rolled the dice, so they drafted him twice. Shawinigan’s Chouinard and Sarnia Sting netminder Patrick DesRochers (selected 14th) were considered goalie prospects 1 and 1A heading into the selection process. In the end, both faded quickly into obscurity. DesRochers played 11 games in the NHL, which was 10 more than Chouinard managed. The Senators’ pick initially refused to sign a $700,000 U.S. contract and re-entered the draft two years later, only to get nabbed by Ottawa again. He then inked a deal believed to be worth much, much less. Bad gamble.

Passed on: Robyn Regehr (19th), Simon Gagné (22nd), Scott Gomez (27th).

BUST No. 3

Jakob Klepis, 16th overall (2002): The Senators redefined the word “ineptitude” with this draft performance. Their seven selections played a grand total of 67 NHL games, 66 of which came from Klepis. Alexei Kaigorodov, continuing the Ottawa tradition of selecting Russian malcontents, played the other before he was shipped off to Phoenix. It was believed Czech Klepis would develop nicely alongside buddy Martin Havlat, but his North American career fizzled instead. He posted just 14 NHL points before heading back over the Atlantic.

Passed on: Daniel Paille (20th), Alex Steen (24th), Cam Ward (25th).

BUST No. 4

Brian Lee, ninth overall (2005): It’s a little unfair to lump Lee into the bust category, given he’s only 23 years old, but the circumstances surrounding his selection demand it. The Sidney Crosby Draft took place in Ottawa the summer after the NHL lockout and every team was slotted according to a weighted lottery. The Senators lucked into a Top 10 pick despite finishing the previous season with 102 points, then stunned many (including Brian Lee) with their selection. Lee has been unable to wrangle a solid roster spot since.

Passed on: Anze Kopitar (11th), Marc Staal (12th), Tuukka Rask (21st).

FIND No. 1

Daniel Alfredsson, 133rd overall (1994): Alfredsson is everything Daigle wasn’t. The Senators celebrated his 1,000th game with an on-ice ceremony last April and witnessed his 1,000th point this season. He carries the pressure of captaincy in a Canadian city with great confidence and dignity, and his No. 11 will hang from the rafters at Scotiabank Place whenever he decides to hang up the blades for good. Not bad for a sixth-round draft pick.

Other finds: Evgeni Nabokov (Sharks, 219th), Richard Zednik (Capitals, 249th), Tomas Holmstrom (Wings, 257th).

FIND No. 2

Pavol Demitra, 227th overall (1993): While age and injuries finally caught up with the Slovak centre, Demitra was a very productive NHLer over the years. He posted 768 points in 847 career games, including a 36-goal, 93-point campaign in 2002-03 with St. Louis.

Other finds: Hal Gill (Bruins, 207th), Mike Grier (Blues, 219th), Kimmo Timonen (Kings, 250th).

FIND No. 3

Sami Salo, 239th overall (1996): The Canucks have another Ottawa find in Salo, who was taken with the last-overall pick in 1996. While somewhat injury-prone throughout his career, there’s no denying his talent and booming shot. Salo was named to the NHL’s 1998-99 all-rookie team and remains the only Senators defenceman to score a hat trick.

Other finds: Willie Mitchell (Devils, 199th), Tomas Kaberle (Leafs, 204th).

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