Sink or swim time for several Ottawa Senators prospects

Assistant general manager Tim Murray turned up the heat on defencemen in the system, while also revealing the team will take a goalie at Friday’s draft.

Sink or swim time for several Ottawa Senators prospects

PITTSBURGH — Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray believes he and the team’s scouts deserve a big pat of the back for the work they’ve done at the draft table over the last four years.

And who’s to argue?

Heading into their fifth draft today, where they will have the 15th pick in the first round to start, they’ve done a terrific job of rebuilding an organization that was looking at a bare cupboard when Bryan Murray took over as general manager just before the 2007 draft (which was essentially John Muckler’s last, since it was his staff that did the picking).

The most obvious success was the selection of Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson with the 15th pick in the 2008 draft.

But the scouting staff has also picked a handful of budding prospects in right wing Mark Stone (2010), centre Mika Zibanejad (2011), goalie Robin Lehner (2009), defenceman Jared Cowen (2009), left wing Jakob Silfverberg (2009), defenceman Mark Borowiecki (2008), defenceman Patrick Wiercioch (2008), right wing Stefan Noesen (2011), left wing Matt Puempel (2011) and right wing Andre Petersson (2008).

Of the 34 players drafted under the Murray regime since 2007, 32 remain in the organization as prospects, and of those 32, 12 have already played an NHL game.

Depending on the source, that has the Senators ranked among the top five teams in depth of prospects — The Hockey News had them fifth in its “Future Watch” list, while Hockey’s Future had them ranked No. 2.

Ah, but there’s the rub, according to Tim Murray.

These prospects are really only worth anything to the team if they become full-time players. If they don’t, they’ll be nothing more than wasted draft picks. Chances don’t last forever.

“I think you have guys in Binghamton who are entering their second and third seasons, and these are crucial times,” said Murray.

“These are times for guys to step up and become more than a prospect. We want to see them play games (in the NHL).

“And if they’re not full-time players, they’ve at least got to be depth players.

“There’s always somebody coming behind you. It’s a cruel game. If your turn comes and you’re not ready for it, somebody else is taking your spot.”

Murray was talking about three players in particular, all defenceman: Wiercioch, Borowiecki, and Eric Gryba.

Given that the team is hoping for one of these three to fill a hole on defence, this is a big time for them.

Borowiecki has a bit of leeway, because he’s only finished his first full year as a pro.

But both Wiercioch and Gryba (who was selected in 2006 by Muckler) are entering their third seasons as pros.

“They’re going to get a turn here shortly and they better grasp it,” said Murray.

Murray and the scouting staff, with director of player personnel Pierre Dorion, spent five hours on Thursday finalizing their list and running through various scenarios. They’ll do it for Bryan Murray again this morning.

Then they’ll see what happens leading up to their pick.

“You’re at the mercy of 14 other teams,” said Tim Murray.

He said the Senators will do what they usually do and pick the best player available at the time.

But there is some flexibility in that, said Dorion. If, for example, the team takes three defencemen with its first picks, it might try to balance it out with some forwards.

Dorion did make one guarantee, though. The team will take at least one goalie.

“We feel as an organization we have a lot of good quality forwards coming,” he said.

“We have good young defencemen in the organization.

“But right now, after Craig Anderson, Ben Bishop, and Robin Lehner, we don’t have another goalie under contract, and we don’t have another one playing in junior or the minors, so we will draft a goalie.”

One obvious target would be Belleville Bull Malcolm Subban, the No. 1-ranked North American goalie, who has been interviewed by the team.

But they could also go for one closer to home: Gatineau’s Francois Brassard, who plays for the Quebec Remparts. His father is Marc Brassard, sports editor of the Le Droit.

Marc is here in Pittsburgh this weekend, but not as a reporter. He’s here as a proud father to see his son get drafted.

2012-13 SCHEDULE RELEASED

The Senators will open the 2012-13 schedule on the road for the second straight year.

They’ll play the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday, Oct. 11, before returning to Ottawa to open their home season on Saturday, Oct. 13, against the Washington Capitals.

That’ll mark the first time in the team’s modern history that its home opener is against Washington.

The 82-game schedule finishes with a home game against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, Apr. 13.

The 2013 all-star game will be in Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 26 and 27, when the Blue Jackets host the event at Nationwide Arena for the first time.

The Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings will visit to Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 15, for the only meeting between the teams next season. The 2 p.m. game will also be one of five afternoon games at Scotiabank Place next season.

Here are some of the schedule’s other highlights:

— The longest homestand will be five games from Dec. 13-23.

— The longest road trips will be from Dec. 1-11 (five games) and Feb. 27-March 8 (five games).

— The team will play back-to-back games 13 times, three fewer than in each of the last two seasons.

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