OTTAWA - As the Senators look to climb back into the NHL’s upper echelon, they know it’s important that they hit a couple of home runs in this weekend’s draft.
The Senators started rebuilding by unloading veterans Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarrko Ruutu and Chris Campoli in exchange for draft picks at the NHL trade deadline in February. Now, with six picks in the first 66 selections — including two first round picks (No. 6 and 21) — in the two-day NHL draft starting Friday at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the Senators have to turn all their pre-draft talk to action.
With 12 picks in total, assistant GM Tim Murray and director of scouting Pierre Dorion are confident they’ll have a strong couple of days at the draft table.
“At No. 6, I think you’re going to get a front-line player, a top two-line player or a top-three defenceman,” said Dorion. “At No. 21, you’re probably looking at a top-three line player or a top 4-5 defenceman.
“Obviously, the guy at No. 21 won’t play (next season for the Senators) barring unforeseen expectations, but will be on our team in the next few seasons.”
The big decision for the Senators is whether they move up from No. 6. They’ve talked to Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini about the No. 1 overall selection, but judging by what scouts are saying, the best-case scenario is the No. 4 pick from the New Jersey Devils.
Landeskog in sights
If the Senators do move up, the scuttlebutt is it’ll be to take Kitchener winger Gabriel Landeskog, who could go No. 2 to Colorado behind Red Deer’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Landeskog is ready to step in next season. If they keep the No. 6 pick, there is no guarantee the top selection will play next season.
“Some guys at No. 6 might be more ready than other guys we take at No. 6,” said Dorion. “Our philosophy here is always to take who we think will be the best player down the road for us.”
Murray said don’t rule out Ottawa’s top choice playing next season on what will likely be a young team.
“There are guys that can,” said Murray. “The Stanley Cup winner (Boston) picked (Tyler) Seguin (last year) and he played some games. Their philosophy was: ‘He’s going to step in and play.’ Who can argue with that? They just had a parade and he was a contributor.
“With a strong surrounding cast and a strong coaching staff, I think that a young guy can come in and play and play a certain role if that’s what you want him to do. There are a few kids that can (step in right away). Is that the best thing for them? I guess that’s to be seen when you draft a guy.”
The Senators have the bonus of the No. 21 pick from Nashville in the Fisher deal. They haven’t ruled out using one of their three selections in the second round and package it with No. 21 to move up to get a better player midway through the first round.
“We feel we’re going to get a very good player at No. 21 and that pick could change also,” said Dorion. “We have so many picks in the second round, you never know what we can do.”
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LW, Kitchener (OHL)
Ht: 6 feet. Wt: 207.
THE SCOUTS SAY: This guy could be the draft’s most NHL-ready player. Many believe he is captain material and that’s why, at age 17, he was the youngest player in 30 years to wear the ‘C’ for the Kitchener Rangers. “Gabriel does remind me of Mike Richards. He sticks up for his teammates and is as strong at both ends of the rink as any player in the draft this year,” said CSB scout Peter Sullivan. “He competes as hard, if not harder, than anybody. He’s got all the assets that you need to be a team leader and, for a potential No. 1 overall, that’s what you would want.”
D, Niagara (OHL)
Ht: 6-foot-4 Wt: 187 lbs.
THE SCOUTS SAY: Didn’t make it to Ottawa for testing because he was invited to Boston to be one of the top prospects at the Stanley Cup final. Everybody loves his size and offensive upside. “The jump off his skates is phenomenal. When he sees those opportunities to jump into the rush or lead the rush, I really believe it’s untapped what he can do. He’s a very special defenceman in our league,” said Niagara coach Marty Williamson. “Dougie gets himself very prepared for hockey games. He goes about it very business-like. He’s mature beyond his years.”
C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Ht: 6-foot-4 Wt: 197 lbs.
THE SCOUTS SAY: Has good bloodlines. His father, Sylvain, was drafted 65th by Los Angeles in 1986. Senators GM Bryan Murray actually traded for the father while GM of Detroit in 1992. Couturier played for Team Canada at the world junior championship. “At his size, he’ll be hard to pass up in the draft. He possesses a very good work ethic and he’s out there for every important faceoff,” said CSB scout Chris Bordeleau. “He’s very responsible in the defensive aspect of the game — a rare quality for such a young player in junior hockey.” If The Senators stay in the No. 6 spot, it’s realistic to think Couturier is the guy they’ll get.
C, Niagara (OHL)
Ht: 6 feet Wt: 175 lbs.
THE SCOUTS SAY: Ryan Strome made a rise up the rankings by going from No. 18 at the mid-term to No. 8. He is a guy the Senators _ including GM Bryan Murray _ have watched a lot and like. He came for a visit when all the top prospects were in town earlier this month. Strome had 106 points in 65 games. “Ryan is one of those guys that initiates contact and makes a great play. He plays in those traffic areas and he wins battles and then he makes great passes. He’s got great vision,” said Niagara coach Marty Williamson. “He’s confident, he feels good on the ice, and when you have skill and a lot of confidence, good things happen."
C, Djurgarden (Sweden)
Ht: 6-foot-2. Wt: 191 lbs.
THE SCOUTS SAY: This could be a fallback position for the Senators. If Murray and the scouts aren’t going to get what they want at No. 6, they could move back a few spots to take Zibanejad. He isn’t ready to turn pro. Great upside, but not close to being ready. “Mika’s a real power forward but also has soft hands, good vision and fine skating skills,” said CSB director of scouting Goran Stubb. “He’s very strong in the battles along the boards, finishes checks with authority and has a heavy shot. Mika’s a competitive player who is willing to pay the price to score a goal.”
C, Saint John (QMJHL)
Ht: 6-foot-1 Wt: 170 lbs.
THE SCOUTS SAY: He didn’t hurt his ranking by finishing as the Memorial Cup MVP with the Sea Dogs. He finished third in the QMJHL scoring race with 105 points. He’s got great finish and played well at an important time of year. “He competes both ways, battles for those goals around the net and competes hard in every situation,” said Saint John coach Gerard Gallant. “I can put Jonathan on the ice in any situation … the last minute of a game when we’re behind by a goal or ahead by a goal. He comes to play. His vision is outstanding, he has great puck skills and he’s the complete package.”