With deep prospect pool, Senators enter draft in position of strength

After the housecleaning that Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray conducted in the spring of 2011, tossing bodies such as Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher over the side for draft picks, there was a lot of pressure on director of player personnel Pierre Dorion and his scouting staff to turn those draft picks into players.

With deep prospect pool, Senators enter draft in position of strength

After the housecleaning that Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray conducted in the spring of 2011, tossing bodies such as Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher over the side for draft picks, there was a lot of pressure on director of player personnel Pierre Dorion and his scouting staff to turn those draft picks into players.

And at first blush, Dorion did a commendable job, using the three first-round picks to select Swedish centre Mika Zibanejad, Plymouth Whalers forward Stefan Noesen, and Peterborough Petes forward Matt Puempel.

All are not only projected to play in the NHL, but are also projected to be big parts of the team’s offensive future.

But this year, Dorion will be confronted by a completely different scenario.

The Senators will have only one pick in the first round — the 15th — nothing in the second round, and two in the third.

“It’s a different kind of pressure,” Dorion said in an interview.

“If you’re picking fifth, for example, you’re looking to get a player who is going to play as quickly as possible.

“When you’re picking 15th, you’re just trying to make sure you get someone who is eventually going to be a very good player.

“With the way the 2010-11 season ended, with us trading away a lot of assets, we approached last year as a very big draft.

“I think we go into this draft with a different mindset in that we know we’re not going to pick as often as we did last year.

“But we still go into it with the mindset that you never know what’s going to happen.”

Dorion’s confident he’ll get a good player with Ottawa’s first-round pick, a top-six forward or a top-four defenceman, and given his track record there’s no reason to doubt him.

In the four drafts that Dorion and assistant general manager Tim Murray have overseen since Bryan Murray became general manager (the 2007 draft, Murray’s first, was overseen by former general manager John Muckler’s scouting staff), the Senators have drafted an impressive group: Erik Karlsson, Patrick Wiercioch, Zack Smith, Andre Petersson, Mark Borowiecki, Jared Cowen, Jakob Silfverberg, Robin Lehner, Mark Stone, Zibanejad, Noesen, Puempel, Shane Prince, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Fredrik Claesson, and Darren Kramer.

That has given the team an enviable depth that was only a dream five years ago. It was a mess when Murray arrived.

“When Bryan and Tim took over, if I remember correctly, we had only three players returning in Binghamton and a few players in junior we were going to sign, so the cupboard was really bare,” said Dorion.

“We’re dealing from a position of power now when it comes to the quality prospects we have. A number of these players won the Calder Cup (in 2011), and a number of them played and contributed on our team this year.

“I think at every position we have what I would call blue-chip prospects. Some are playing right now, some will be playing down the road.”

That has not only given the team some breathing room it didn’t have five years ago, it has given the team options it didn’t have.

That became important last season when Bryan Murray traded an asset — Swedish defenceman David Rundblad — and a second-round pick in this draft to Phoenix for Kyle Turris.

The name of the game, said Dorion, is to go into each draft with the goal of building a solid foundation for the team’s future.

Over the last five years they’ve done that so well that there’s considerable optimism about the team’s chances over the next few years.

While this draft has been characterized by some as not as strong as in recent years, Dorion disagrees.

“There are some bigger names at the top, but I see quite a few good players,” he said.

“Whether they make it next year, or whether it will take them one year or three years to make it will depend on their learning curves, physically and mentally.”

As usual, the Senators will aim to take the best player available, regardless of position.

Dorion concedes that sometimes in the past, the team has steered away from one position that it already had a surplus at, but that doesn’t mean the team took a lesser player.

In general, though, he said, “If you get caught up in drafting by position, you’re not drafting the best asset.”

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