Taking Big Steps Into A Draft For The Future

Ottawa Senators - Taking Big Steps Into A Draft For The Future

While the hockey world was focused on the Stanley Cup playoffs and the excitement of a seventh game which culminated in a Boston Bruin win, the Ottawa Senators organization was quietly taking some big steps in shaping their future. The team and the city hope that this summer is the beginning of a steep climb back to the lofty heights the Senators used to perch on.

The most important move came with the hire of a new coach. Paul MacLean, an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings the past five years, was hired to by the Senators. The Sens have missed the playoffs two of the last three seasons.

“I think it’s important in the NHL today that the coach and players communicate,” MacLean said at a news conference. “Communication with the players is important in empowering them and having them invest in what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s not me against them. It’s us – the Ottawa Senators – against the rest of the league.”

MacLean helped Detroit win the Stanley Cup in 2008. He and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock also worked together for two years in Anaheim, taking the Ducks to the Stanley Cup final in 2003.

“I believe the National Hockey League is a fast and physical league and the game needs to be played that way,” MacLean said. “You have to be able to skate the whole rink, so we’re going to skate the rink, play good defense, but we’re going to attack the net and make sure we’re putting pressure on the opposition.”

MacLean spent eleven seasons in the NHL, playing for Winnipeg, Detroit and St. Louis from 1980-91. He finished with 324 goals and 349 assists. He is the fourth head coach to serve under Murray in Ottawa. Apart from Clouston, the others were John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg.

Yes, the Sens did not make the playoffs this past season and yes there will not be a parade down Sparks or Bank streets but there was a championship won. The Binghamton Senators captured the 2011 Calder Cup championship with a 3-2 win over the Houston Aeros. The baby Sens, who became the affiliate for Ottawa in 2002-03, had missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons but finally earned the city of Binghamton its first championship in 29 years of hosting an American Hockey League franchise.

Senators rookie goaltender Robin Lehner won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs. He finished with a 14-4 record, a 2.10 goals against average, a .939 save percentage, and three shutouts in 19 playoff appearances. A 19 year old native of Gothenburg, Sweden, Lehner was a second round draft pick (46th overall) in 2009 and in eight contests for the Sens during the past regular season. With the team inking Craig Anderson to a four year deal, Lehner has his time to develop properly and eventually take over at the NHL level.

In this year’s first round the Sens have two picks. They have their own at number six and they have Nashville’s at 21 which was acquired in the Mike Fisher deal. Overall the team has five picks in the first two rounds in this year’s draft. In 2010 on draft day, Murray traded first round pick and 16th overall Vladimir Tarasenko to the Blues for David Rundblad. That trade shows that Murray is not one to sit on his draft picks and rumors are swirling that the Sens are trying to move up in the draft.

This past week, the organization invited five top prospects to the city for an informal round of tests and interviews. Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau, the second and third highest rated North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings were the last to put on a show for the brass.

“I watched my first NHL game here with my Dad and it’s pretty special to see my name on the back (of the jersey),” Landeskog said. “Saying that, we don’t know what the future holds and if this is going to by my home in the next couple of years, I’d be very fortunate.”

Landeskog had 36 goals, 30 assists and 61 penalty minutes in 53 games for the Kitchener Rangers last season. Huberdeau scored 43 goals and added 62 assists while recording 88 penalty minutes in 67 games for the Sea Dogs. His club won the Memorial Cup, while Huberdeau was named the tournament’s MVP.

A day earlier, Mika Zibanejad, the second rated European skater, joined Drummondville Voltigeurs centre Sean Couturier and Niagara Ice Dogs centre Ryan Strome for a workout

The question all Sens’ fans should be asking is not who will they draft but who will be left when their draft pick comes up. The consensus is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a centre from Red Deer, will be the first overall pick. The four next teams don’t have a real need for any player available. Only the Panthers have come out saying they want immediate scoring and Huberdeau fits that role. So that leaves any of Landeskog and Zibanejed, who the Sens have worked out, or defencemen Adam Larsson from Skelleftea, Sweden and Dougie Hamilton from Niagara.

The Sens brass would be happy with any player when the sixth pick comes up. But, a big but, the organization is short on the back end and a player like Adam Larsson only comes once in a lifetime. Being from Sweden he is compared to Niklas Lidstrom but his style is very similar to Scott Neidermeyer’s. Other than Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson is the only other so-called franchise player. New coach MacLean had Lidstrom all those years in Detroit and had Neidermeyer in Anaheim. So my bet is that the Sens make a trade using either their draft picks or a player on their NHL roster to try to move up in the draft. What NHL player they would trade is another discussion but Larsson is their man.

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George Prax's picture

Sens have a long way to go, and I don't know how far they can go with Murray still in the GM's chair. But Maclean's a good choice for a coach and who ever they get at the 6th spot will be good for them. Good blog Shahab.

Andy Veilleux's picture

Larsson would be a great fit with the Sens, but I would prefer Landeskog if we can secure him. Also, have you watched Hamilton play? I would love to see him and Cowen on the ice together!