Top 10 Ottawa Senators draft picks of the first 20 years

The odds are long that the Ottawa Senators will land a superstar with the 15th pick in the first round of this year’s draft. They’ll get a competent NHL player, certainly. Given the recent track record of director of player personnel Pierre Dorion and his scouts, it’d be a disappointment if they didn’t.

Top 10 Ottawa Senators draft picks of the first 20 years

The odds are long that the Ottawa Senators will land a superstar with the 15th pick in the first round of this year’s draft.

They’ll get a competent NHL player, certainly. Given the recent track record of director of player personnel Pierre Dorion and his scouts, it’d be a disappointment if they didn’t.

But the blue chippers are usually long gone by then, so optimism should be tempered.

Then again, who knows?

Over their 20 years, the Senators have unearthed a goodly number of expected gems.

Forward Colin Greening, for example, was selected 204th overall in 2005. Defenceman Sami Salo was picked 239th overall in 1996. And goalie Brian Elliott was selected 291st overall in 2003.

There were some clunkers, to be sure.

Goalie Mathieu Chouinard was picked twice, 15th overall in 1998 and 45th overall in 2000, and played just one NHL game for the Los Angeles Kings.

But if the draft is as much about luck as it is about the science of hockey, the Senators have had more good than bad. They’ve by and large selected players that have not only helped on the ice but also represented Ottawa with class and dignity.

So as the Senators begin their second 20 years in the league, here are my top 10 draft picks of the first 20 (with the general manager who selected him in parentheses).

Let the debate begin.

1. Daniel Alfredsson (Randy Sexton)

It would be heresy to suggest that anyone but the 39-year-old Alfredsson is the franchise’s best pick ever.

Chosen in the sixth round of the 1994 draft (133rd overall), Alfredsson has become the face of the franchise, its heart and soul.

The number of games he has played for the team (1,131) and the points he has scored (416 goals, 666 assists) along the way speak for themselves. Five minutes after he retires, his sweater will be lifted high in Scotiabank Place.

But his most important accomplishment might have been the way he has guided the team as its captain through some of its darkest days, beginning with the year-long holdout of previous captain Alexei Yashin in 1999-2000, through the missed pay cheques and bankruptcy in the early years of the decade, through the Dany Heatley debacle, and finally through its resurgence.

He’s been a Hall of Famer, on and off the ice.

2. Jason Spezza (Marshall Johnston)

Spezza was one of the prizes from perhaps the most lopsided trade in NHL history, when, to start the 2001 draft, Johnston traded Yashin to the New York Islanders for Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and the Islanders’ first-round pick (second overall), which turned out to be Spezza.

Spezza has both confounded and delighted fans since then, but there’s no arguing he has become the top-line centre he was projected to be. And as he enters the prime of his career, he’s getting better.

With 34 goals and 50 points last season, he finished fourth in league scoring and, to disappoint the critics who slight his defensive game, he was plus-11.

It’s not easy to find top-line centres, and Spezza is one of them. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him play his entire career in Ottawa.

3. Chris Phillips (Pierre Gauthier)

Phillips, taken first overall in 1996, is not the most talented defenceman the Senators have ever drafted. It’s easy to name a couple of others who were more skillful. Phillips is just the stay-at-home, solid defenceman he was projected to be.

But 16 years after he was drafted, Phillips, now 34, is still here. That says as much about his value to the franchise as any number of goals and assists.

With Alfredsson, and possibly Spezza, Phillips will be one of the last NHL players to play his entire career with one team.

And it’s important to remember that teams don’t keep players around just to be nice.

You can be sure that if some team had offered the right price, or if one Ottawa general manager or another had felt that Phillips was over the hill, a way would have been found to show him the door.

But he’s still here.

4. Marian Hossa (Pierre Gauthier)

He’s here as a personal favourite, but also as perhaps the most naturally talented player the team ever drafted.

Taken 12th overall in 1997 (and how would you like to be among the first 11 teams that missed him?), Hossa was a beautiful and powerful skater, even after ACL surgery on his left knee in the summer of 1998, the result of a cheap shot on the last play of the Memorial Cup.

He was as conscientious defensively as he was explosive offensively, and one of the nicer players ever to wear an Ottawa sweater, funny and warm and honest.

Though we couldn’t pinpoint it then, the team’s slide into the coaching mess that lasted from 2008 until Paul MacLean’s arrival last summer might have begun when then-general manager John Muckler signed Hossa to a three-year, $18-million deal on Aug. 23, 2005, and then dealt him that afternoon to Atlanta for Dany Heatley and Greg de Vries.

Initially the deal looked great and Heatley helped take the Senators to the 2006-07 Stanley Cup finals.

But it all soon fell apart into a prolonged mess when Heatley, unwilling to bend to the will of coach Cory Clouston, requested a trade in the summer of 2009.

In the aftermath, three coaches lost their jobs and it cost a fortune to buy out Jonathan Cheechoo’s contract.

In retrospect, the Senators should have kept Hossa.

The esteem with which he’s held throughout the league was most evident when he finally won a Stanley Cup in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks. Everyone was happy for him.

5. Erik Karlsson (Bryan Murray)

Karlsson, picked 15th overall in 2008, is off to a fast start.

He was spectacular last season, getting 19 goals and 59 assists, and on Wednesday won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman.

Could he still flop? What if last season was once in a career? What if he becomes complacent after signing a big, fat contract?

All possibilities, but I’m going to take a gamble and say he’s going to be the team’s most valuable player for at least the next five years.

6. Alexei Yashin (Mel Bridgman)

Taken second overall in 1992, the first pick of the new franchise, Yashin was one of the two or three most talented players the team has ever drafted. But we never really got the chance to appreciate him fully.

Two nasty contract disputes, one of which led him to sit out the 1999-2000 season, and a public relations debacle over his $1 million donation to the NAC, which he cancelled after it was revealed that the NAC would be required to pay $425,000 in fees to his parents, was nothing but trouble.

It’s a shame, but at least he left a fine parting gift in Jason Spezza and Zdeno Chara.

7. Martin Havlat (Marshall Johnston)

As skilful as they come but also an enigmatic player who danced to his own music.

I used to love it when Jacques Martin would torture lumbering Islander defenceman Eric Cairns by throwing the speedy Havlat on against him. It was the best two minutes in hockey.

Picked 26th overall in 1999, Havlat was given away for next to nothing by then general manager John Muckler in a three-way trade in 2006.

In return, the Senators got Tom Preissing (gone), Michal Barinka (gone), Josh Hennessy (gone) and a second-round draft pick (Patrick Wiercioch).

Meanwhile, Havlat is still enjoying a productive career.

8. Sami Salo (Pierre Gauthier)

After getting picked 239th overall in 1996, Salo played for the Senators until 2002, when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for wing Peter Shaefer.

Muckler viewed Salo as injury prone, which of course he was, and unloaded him for Shaefer, who was briefly productive but then became more of a problem.

Salo hasn’t had it any easier in Vancouver, suffering a string of devastating injuries there.

But he’s one tough Finn, and despite all those injuries has played more than 700 NHL games.

That’s not bad for a ninth-round pick who still has one of the NHL’s heavier shots.

9. Anton Volchenkov (Marshall Johnston)

Not at all flashy, a stay-at-home guy, Volchenkov was picked 21st overall in 2000 and has carved out a solid career as a defenceman known for blocking shots and making big hits.

General manager Bryan Murray let him go to free agency in 2010, unwilling to pay what the New Jersey Devils ultimately did: a six-year contract worth $25.5 million.

Murray was worried that Volchenkov’s style of play would begin to take its toll on his health as he gets older, and it might, though so far, through 557 games, Volchenkov is still standing.

10. Mike Fisher (Pierre Gauthier)

One of the nicer players ever to wear an Ottawa sweater, Fisher was picked 44th overall in 1998.

There was always the feeling that he was on the verge of breaking out into superstardom. But he never really did.

His best season was in 2009-10 when he had 25 goals and 28 assists

With a big contract on his head ($4.2 a season through 2012-13), Fisher became a target during Murray’s housecleaning of 2011 and was traded to Nashville, where he was reunited with wife Carrie Underwood.

He had a respectable 2011-12 season for the Predators, getting 24 goals and 27 assists.

Whether he returns after next season is the question that will be on a lot of minds.

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