Melnyk says Sens' rebuilding plan on track

Bruce Garrioch, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:52 AM ET

 Eugene Melnyk couldn’t hide his excitement.

 

“This is a huge day for us,” the Senators owner told the Team 1200 before Friday night’s NHL draft.

Melnyk was up early Friday morning in anticipation of the draft, spending time on a conference call with the scouting staff to find out exactly what their plan was going into the first round in St. Paul, Minn.

By the end of the night, Melnyk had plenty to be excited about.

The Senators restocked their cupboard by adding three top-end forward prospects after GM Bryan Murray surprisingly traded for a late first-round pick.

It was the first time in franchise history the Senators had three first-round selections. They took Swede Mika Zibanejad at No. 6, Plymouth’s Stefan Noesen at No. 21 and Peterborough’s Matt Puempel at No. 24.

The Senators dealt two of their second-round picks (No. 35 and the No. 48 they received from Chicago for Chris Campoli) to the Red Wings for the No. 24 pick.

Melnyk was thrilled with the moves.

“Bryan and his staff did an incredible job, getting three terrific talents to add to the organization,” he told the Sun in an e-mail late Friday night. “I have spoken to all three (players) over the phone and they are the type of character people we want as part of the Senators organization.”

The draft was a key component of the Senators’ rebuilding process, which started in January. After sitting down with Melnyk, Murray started to overhaul the club by sending veterans such as Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu and Campoli packing in exchange for draft picks.

Melnyk, a fiercely competitive businessman who is used to winning, said the decision to give up on the season and start revamping the roster wasn’t easy.

“It was one of the toughest decisions in sports or business I ever had to make,” said Melnyk. “It was the same for Bryan. You basically have to declare defeat. I never do that. I’ll fight until the last five seconds of a game if I could.

“At one point, you say, ‘You know what? It just ain’t going to happen with this group of players.’ We can’t continue to spend to the absolute cap, which we’ve done. The results just didn’t come the way we wanted. We wanted to get deep into the playoffs. On paper, we thought we had it. When it came to the ice, we didn’t.”

The Senators launched the new era by taking Zibanejad with the No. 6 overall pick Friday night. It looks like the rugged centre is going to be a nice fit.

While Zibanejad, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder who played for Djurgarden in the Swedish elite league last season, might not be ready to make the NHL this fall, he will be a key building block for the Senators.

Many observers probably expected the Senators to pick Drummondville centre Sean Couturier, but the club’s scouting staff had questions about him.

Zibanejad, meanwhile, has risen steadily up the Central Scouting rankings. He isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty, just like Daniel Alfredsson.

“Mika’s a real power forward but also has soft hands, good vision and fine skating skills. He has tremendous balance and is hard to knock off the puck,” said Central Scouting Bureau European scout Goran Stubb.

“He’s very strong in the battles along the boards, finishes checks with authority and has a heavy shot that he gets off quickly. Mika’s a competitive player who is willing to pay the price to score a goal.”

The Senators used their second pick (No. 21 overall) to select Noesen, a right winger from Plano, Tex. He was ranked No. 35 overall by Central Scouting and has been compared to 2011 Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry.

With its third pick, Ottawa selected left winger Puempel of the Petes, a former CHL rookie of the year who was considered a possible top-10 pick heading into last season.

A hip injury that required surgery limited the 6-foot, 190-pounder to just 55 games in 2010-11, causing his draft stock to fall. Still, he is a gifted sniper who managed to rack up 34 goals and 69 points despite missing a good chunk of playing time.

The players the Senators selected Friday and the ones they will choose on Saturday aren’t going to crack the roster right away, but they aren’t expected to, either. Rebuilding takes time, and no one ever said the process was going to be easy. But the Senators took a step towards respectability Friday — a major step in the right direction.


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