Looking at Ottawa’s Draft Success (05-07)

Articles reviewing draft acumen proliferate at this time of year (TSN’s Scott Cullen did one recently) and as engaging as they are I’ve always had problems with the way they are defined and presented.  Examinations of the draft that cover a long period of time fail to account for the changes in the league and the draft itself, so that the comparison isn’t particularly apt.  When articles cover more recent drafts (Hockey Futures does them at five-year intervals) they are forced to make judgements on players whose futures are yet to be defined.  All this preamble is to make two key points: 1) the attitude and approach to the NHL draft changed seismically post-lockout, 2) the typical make-or-break moment for a draft pick varies depending on what league they were drafted from.  To expand on the second point: CHL draftees take about five-years to develop (allowing for two more years of junior and then the full length of their ELC); college-bound players can take six, seven, or even eight years, depending on how much time they spend in college (eg, Ben Blood was drafted in 2007, but won’t start his ELC until the fall of 2012); European players used to be even more varied when teams kept their rights forever, but with the deals signed with the DEL, SEL, and SM-Liiga (where rights are only retained for two years) their usual range is now like the CHL (five years).

Given that, how have the Sens done with their selections?  Not enough time has passed to judge many of the post-lockout drafts, but I think I can make judgements on John Muckler’s last two drafts and give some thoughts about Bryan Murray’s first.  So, without further adieu:

2005
Muckler clearly had a hard-on for international tournaments, as every player except the one still with the Sens played in those tournaments.  Pre-KHL Muckler gambled on taking Russians who slid down the draft, but only one (Zubov) ever suited up for the organisation.  It was not a great draft for the Sens by any standard.  A few stats: there are 54/230 (23.4%) number of regular NHLers from the draft (this is based on 200+ games played and my judgement; you can judge for yourself here).  By round: 1st 19/30, 2nd 10/31, 3rd 5/30, 4th 7/34, 5th 6/36, 6th 2/31, 7th 5/36.  Players who have played over 200 games: 34 (14 1st, 6 2nd, 3 3rd, 5 4th, 2 5th, 1 6th, 3 7th); played 100-199 games: 18 (5 1st, 3 2nd, 2 3rd, 1 4th, 4 5th, 1 6th, 2 7th).  Teams that excelled: Montreal, Nashville, and Columbus each had four players make the grade, while Dallas, Detroit, the Rangers, Pittsburgh, and San Jose had three each.  Calgary, Florida, and the Islanders were the only teams to strike out.

1-9 Brian Lee (DR, US high school/USHL; WJC) – NHL (Tampa Bay); 187 NHL games played; marginal NHLer (5-6 d-man)
An enigmatic player who after five years as a professional has still not defined what kind of player he is.  He’s big, but not physical.  He makes a good first pass, but is unable to produce offensively.  He can play a limited role in the NHL, but does not dominate in the AHL.  His career, for however long it goes, will likely remain on the margins.  Many Sens fans groused about Lee because of the fantastic players taken after him (Anze Kopitar and Marc Staal), but he’s not the worst player taken in the first round (3 never played a game, 6 more played less than 50), and one can argue whether he’s better or worse than Jack Skille who was taken by Chicago at #7.  To me, the pick isn’t a complete failure, but it’s several steps removed from what it could or should have been.
3-70 Vitali Anikeyenko (DR, Russia tier-3; U-18) – deceased (Lokomotiv plane crash); bust
Other than attending one development camp (in 2005), the Sens could got a sniff of Anikeyenko, who spent the bulk of his career playing for Lokomotiv (which tragically cost him his life).  Whether he had NHL potential or not remains an open question, but judging by his KHL numbers I’d suggest he projected at best a bottom-pairing defender.  Naturally there were better picks available, including Conn Smyth winner Jonathan Quick (#72), but between his selection and the Sens next pick, only 3 (of 24) NHL regulars were selected.  The pick has to be viewed as a failure, both for the Sens inability to anticipate the problems of signing Russian players and also for not ascertaining just how interested Anikeyenko was in coming to North America.
4-95 Cody Bass (CR, OHL; U-18) – two-way contract (Columbus); 48 NHL games; AHLer
He spent four years in the Senators organisation where he helped Binghamton win the Calder Cup, but Bass remains a fringe player.  Not productive or durable enough for full-time fourth line duty in the NHL, he’s destined to bounce back and forth between leagues as a “character guy”.  Players like him are good for their organisations.  In terms of who was available between his pick and the Sens next there was depth blueliner Chris Butler (#96) and Chris VandeVelde (#97) could become an NHLer with Edmonton.  In terms of style of play, the Sens would have been better off picking Jared Boll (#101).
4-98 Ilya Zubov (C/LW, Russia tier-2; U-18); – KHL (Moscow); 11 NHL games; AHLer
The most successful of the Russian picks, he spent two years in the organisation where he established himself as a productive AHLer.  Like Bass he probably could have stayed in North America and been an occasional call-up, but he clearly did not have the talent to become a regular NHLer.  There were 5 regular NHL players over the next 17 picks (the best is Keith Yandle at #105), so plenty of better talent was available.
4-115 Janne Kolehmainen (LW, SM-Liiga; WJC) – SM-Liiga (KalPa) – bust
The last Finn selected by the Senators, there’s never been any interest expressed by the Sens to sign the big winger, whose performance flatlined the year after he was drafted.  If there’s any solace in the wasted pick it’s that only 1 NHL regular was selected over the following 21 picks (Darren Helm at #132).
5-136 Tomas Kudelka (DL, Czech junior; U-18) – Czech Elite League (HC Vitkovice) – marginal AHLer
The second-last Czech picked by the Sens (Jakub Culek was the last), he was a solid junior player in the WHL who did not excel in his three years in the AHL.  In a lot of ways he was like a less-talented Brian Lee, as he has good size, but wasn’t overly physical and his offensive game did not translate at a higher level.  There are 5 NHL regulars over the next 50 picks (granting that enforcer Ryan Reaves could stop being regular at virtually any moment), but none of those players match the talent of those missed earlier.
6-186 Dmitri Megalinsky (DL, Russia tier-3; WJC) – KHL (Novokuznetsk) – bust
Here again the Sens can be criticised for not doing their homework, because unlike Anikeyenko (one development camp) or Zubov (two years in the AHL) they never got a sniff of Megalinsky, who became a KHL regular.  There were 2 NHL regulars selected through the next 18 picks and Sergei Kostitsyn (#200) certainly would have been a better role of the dice.  Whether Megalinsky had the chops to play in the NHL remains an unresolved, but doubtful proposition.
7-204 Colin Greening (C/LW, CISAA) – NHL (Ottawa); 106 NHL games – NHL regular (top-9 forward)
The final role of the dice was the only true payoff in the draft.  I suspect Greening is the only player drafted right out of Upper Canada College.  He spent five years developing before joining the organisation and the payoff is more than could have been expected, as Greening will have a long career as a solid top-nine forward.  Two other NHL regulars came after his selection, with the best being the last (Patric Hornqvist at #230).

2006
Muckler’s last draft.  He broke his obsession with international tournament players and Russians, with all North American selections save Daugavins.  In Ottawa terms this is a much better draft with 2-4 regular NHLers coming out of it.  A few stats: there are 43/213 (20.2%) number of regular NHLers from the draft (this is based on 200+ games played and my judgement; you can judge for yourself here).  By round: 1st 19/30, 2nd 11/33, 3rd 5/30, 4th 2/30, 5th 0/30, 6th 3/30, 7th 3/30.  Players who played 200 or more games: 22 (16 1st, 5 2nd, 2 3rd, 1 7th), ; played 100-199 games: 15 (3 1st, 5 2nd, 2 3rd, 1 4th, 3 6th, 1 7th).  Teams that excelled: Toronto and Washington both picked four players, while Columbus and Boston picked three.  Calgary, Dallas, Nashville, New Jersey, and Tampa struck out.

1-28 Nick Foligno (LW, OHL) – NHL (Columbus); 351 NHL games – NHL regular (top-9 forward)
Arguably the second best pick of the draft from that point onward (behind Milan Lucic at #50), he also trumps a number of players taken before him (3 never played in the NHL, 5 have played fewer than 30 NHL games, he’s clearly better than James Sheppard (#9), Jiri Tlusty (#13), Trevor Lewis (#17), and the jury is still out on Michael Frolik (#10), Jonathan Bernier (#11) and Michael Grabner (14)).  Given that, he is a very successful selection despite his inability to firmly nail down a top-six role.
3-68 Eric Gryba (DR, USHL) – RFA (Binghamton) – marginal NHL prospect (5-6 D)
The big blueliner spent four full years in the NCAA before graduating and helping Binghamton to their first Calder Cup.  He was on the horizon for the NHL club coming into last season, but Mark Borowiecki has moved ahead of him on the depth chart.  There’s still NHL-potential for Gryba, but his ceiling isn’t particularly high.  Four regular NHLers were picked over the next 23 selections, with Brad Marchand (#71) the best.
3-91 Kaspars Daugavins (LW, Belarus; WJC)  – RFA (Ottawa); 66 NHL games – marginal NHL prospect (fourth-liner)
It has been a long road for the undersized forward to get to the NHL.  He spent three season in the CHL and then two more in Binghamton before becoming a regular.  His upside is limited and he could make more money in Europe, so I expect his future as a Sen will be shorter than longer.  Only two NHL regulars occur over the next 30 picks (James Reimer at #99 and Matt Beleskey at #112).
4-121 Pierre-Luc Lessard (DL, QMJHL) – CIS (Trois-Rivieres) bust
A high-scoring blueliner from the Q, he was never offered a contract and only had a cup of coffee as a pro (ECHL).  He’s a complete miss as a pick, but none of the next 30 selections have become regular NHLers.
5-151 Ryan Daniels (G, OHL) – CIS (Laurier) – bust
A rare goalie selection for the Sens, he is another player who was not offered a contract, but unlike Lessard didn’t even get that professional cup of coffee.  There are three regular NHLers over the next 30 picks, with Viktor Stalberg (#161) the most prominent.
6-181 Kevin Koopman (DR, KIJHL) – ACHA II (Brown) – bust
A prospect where the scouts did not do their homework, as Koopman retired to become a doctor before the Sens could think about offering him a contract.  Two regular NHLers were selected over the next 30 picks (with Derek Dorsett at #189 clearly the best).
7-211 Erik Condra (RW, NCAA) – NHL (Ottawa); 107 NHL games –  NHL regular (bottom-6 forward)
The third last pick of the draft, he finished up his college career, earned rookie of the year honours in Binghamton before becoming a solid attention to the regular lineup in the NHL.  Even though Condra has limited upside, to get a player this late is clearly a home run.

2007
Muckler was fired two weeks before the draft, so while this is nominally a Bryan Murray draft it’s basically following Muckler’s philosophy.  Not surprisingly, Murray traded away the team’s late round picks so that the next draft could fully follow his direction.  Not enough time has passed to truly assess how many hits and misses this draft had, but it’s a weaker draft for Ottawa (possibly worse than 2005).

1-29 Jim O’Brien (CR, NCAA; U-18) – RFA (Ottawa); 34 NHL games – marginal NHLer (fourth-liner)
After two mediocre years in the WHL and a terrible rookie season in the AHL, many thought O’Brien‘s days were numbered.  However, he turned his game around, won a Calder Cup, and did not look out of place with the Sens when called up this season.  The sample size is small, but it appears as though he can take a regular shift with the big boys, albeit in a supporting role.  Compared to the players taken before him, 6 have never played in the NHL (keeping in mind that Cherepanov tragically died), and 4 have played fewer games thus far.  Three regular NHLers were taken over the next 31 picks, with P. K. Subban (#43) the best of them.
2-60 Ruslan Bashkirov (LW, QMJHL) – VHL (Ryazan) – bust
The last Russian taken by Murray at the draft, Bashkirov is such a bust he can’t even play in the KHL.  This is the definition of a bad pick with Wayne Simmonds taken immediately after him (#61), granting that only one other (out of 30) is a definitive NHLer (Yannick Weber at #73).
3-90 Louie Caporusso (C/LW, OPJHL) – AHL (Binghamton) – potential AHLer
Despite a strong NCAA resume Caporusso struggled at the AHL level this season which is a bad sign for a college graduate.  He may have it in him to become a regular AHLer, but his NHL potential seems non-existent.  Currently there’s only 2 established NHLers taken over the next 30 picks (Alec Martinez at #95 and Matt Halischuk at #117), but 6 more seem likely to have similar status, making the pick look much worse.
4-120 Ben Blood (DL, USUS) – AHL (Binghamton) – potential marginal NHLer
There was a long wait for Blood, as he spent a year in the USHL and then four more at college before turning pro.  He has the potential to be a bruising bottom-pairing NHLer, but without significant pro experience it’s difficult to judge.  As Ottawa’s last pick in the draft he has to be compared to the rest of the selections (91 picks), where at least 6 players are either regular NHLers or on their way (the best being Jamie Benn at #129).  Given that neither Blood nor most of the rest of the players fates are set yet however, it’s hard to judge the pick.

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Senators News: July 2nd

Mark Borowiecki was named the hardest working player at the Sens development camp for the second year in a row.

-The three-on-three finale at the Sens development camp ended with victory for team orange, consisting of Mika Zibanejad, Shane Prince, Corey Cowick, Jordan Fransoo, and Darren Kramer.

-Here are my reactions to Ottawa’s moves yesterday beginning with part one, part two, and a recap.  In terms of moves by other teams rather than truly crazy money what stood out was the term given to players (Jason Garrison for six years?  Sheldon Souray for three?), but on the other hand there were smart acquisitions (Jordan Tootoo was one of a few good signings by Detroit).  The crazy money awaits the Parise decision.

The Hockey News liked the Sens free agent acquisitions.  They assess Guillaume LatendresseIt was only a few years ago Guillaume Latendresse was an up-and-coming left winger who scored at least 25 goals in two straight seasons. Unfortunately for the 25-year-old, health woes – including a concussion that knocked him out of Minnesota’s final 50 games in 2011-12 – limited him to 27 games the past two years and drove down his free agent asking price. So it was no real surprise to see Latendresse sign a one-year, $1.25-million contract – a more than 50 percent drop in salary – with Ottawa. He’s a smart gamble at that price and could give them the scoring depth they’re looking for if he can stay in the lineup.”  And for Mike Lundin, “Expected to lose the services of UFA veteran Filip Kuba, the Senators made a smart, affordable blueline pickup when they signed Mike Lundin to a one-year, $1.15 million contract. The 27-year-old defenseman played just 17 games for Minnesota (after spending the previous four in Tampa Bay) and had sports hernia surgery in March, but he’s a steady-if-unspectacular performer who should fit in well and help Ottawa’s penalty kill.

Mark Parisi weighs in on the Sens moves yesterday, concluding “while the moves may be unpalatable by themselves, what he [Bryan Murray] has done is add players who will help the team transition through the season at a very reasonable cap hit without an appreciable loss of talent with the expectation that the true talent–drafted last year and developed internally–will be ready to step into those roles full-time in the following season. The only player not on a transitory deal, Marc Methot, is highly regarded as a strong defensive defenseman, and addresses a major need in the team’s defensive corps–most of the team’s best defensemen are better known for their offensive talents. Ottawa’s play in its own zone was a liability in 2011-12. Methot will change that.” And “It’s disappointing to think about the players the Senators lost yesterday–they were some fan favorites. It’s equally disappointing to realize the Senators did not get much better yesterday, until you recognize they did not get worse either. Sure, it would have been fun to see Murray go all-in in pursuit of a Stanley Cup, but is it ever practical to abandon a plan the second it starts to show success? Pluck the leaves from a young plant before it has time to take root and it dies.”  I agree that overall the Sens haven’t changed all that much and that improvement will have to come internally.

Jeremy Milks is unhappy with the moves writing “they got worse. Not terminably worse, but they lost a lot of character and toughness and only brought in one player – Methot – to balance out their losses in that area.”  Milks was most hurt by the loss of Carkner, not quite echoing the faction of the fanbase that felt Carkner and Konopka‘s threatening glower from the pressbox intimidated their opponents (for those wondering the record with Carkner in the lineup was 14-12-3 (27-19-7 without), minus Konopka 15-13-2 (26-18-8 with)).  It’s not entirely clear what it is Milks thinks is lost via Carkner other than “it doesn’t feel right” and “intangibles“.  The fact that those intangibles didn’t get the Sens into the playoffs last year, or land any of Konopka‘s previous teams in the post-season, or how neither player moved the Sens to the next round doesn’t factor into things.  Milks is happier with the acquisition of Methot who he see’s as a 4-5 defenseman.  He was unsurprised by the departure of Foligno, “if you’d been watching, you could have seen something like this coming a mile away. Foligno never truly found a role on the Senators and despite having good stats this past season, he was still shuffled around from line to line, often ending up on the fourth unit and being a spare part. It just never happened for Foligno and it wasn’t surprising to see him part of a package to strengthen their weakened back end.”  His comments about Lundin and Latendresse are echoed elsewhere (low risk sums it up).

Varada takes a look at yesterday’s moves and like most of the other bloggers was not shocked when Foligno was traded.  He see’s the trade going either way, “Methot played a career high average of about 17 minutes a night last season, having previously hovered around 16. His CORSI is all over the damn place – Relative CORSI is a terrible -16.3, but QOC was positive (even if it was only 0.920). So he was one of the worst players on a very poor team, basically. He’s also already 27, so he probably doesn’t have much room to grow. There are plenty of questions about how he was used by coach Scott Arniel, so I’ll reserve judgement. But to me, this move seems about what Murray can afford. If the Senators need to be a team close to the cap floor, then maybe he couldn’t afford a new deal for Foligno and the defenseman he needed. Still, I hate to see Foligno go this way. It’s like trading a likeable guy with some upside just as he’s entering his prime for new carpeting in the dressing room.”  I think Varada, like most of the bloggers (including me), doesn’t know what to expect from Methot because we haven’t seen him play much.  The only certainty is that he won’t put up points, but he’ll have better footspeed than Carkner and he’ll have more emotion than Matt Gilroy/Brian Lee.  In that sense, it’s a positive move, but he isn’t meant to replace Kuba.  That missing production will have to come internally.

-The only element that neither I nor any of the bloggers above specifically mentioned was Ottawa’s abysmal penalty kill.  Both Lundin and Methot are considered good players on the PK and that should help improve Ottawa’s special teams play.

Free Agency Day One Recap

-Reactions to the Sens’ moves have been filtering in from the disappointed (Crozier), mixed (Jeremy Milks and the The 6th Sens), yet to be determined (The Silver Seven), and contented (Stefan G:son).  Gone from the roster are Nick Foligno (T- Clb), Filip Kuba (FA – Flo), Matt Carkner (FA – NYI), Zenon Konopka (FA – Min), Matt Gilroy (FA – unsigned), and Jesse Winchester (FA – unsigned).  Only Foligno‘s departure was somewhat unexpected, so most of the reaction is based on who the Sens have brought in.  The four players who weren’t regulars only played 130 games combined last seasonFilip Kuba is on the wrong side of 30 and is unlikely to replicate his success from this year.  Nick Foligno is a tangible asset, but with so many forward prospects in the wings (Zibanejad, Silfverberg, Stone, Noesen, Puempel, etc) I think the clock was ticking on him regardless.  Given that, I don’t think much has been lost.

What about the players added?  Mike Lundin (FA – Min), Guillaume Latendresse (FA – Min), and Marc Methot (T – Clb)?  Ottawa has added between 5.515-6.265 million to their payroll (depending on Latendresse‘s bonuses), while losing 6.85.  Other than Methot there’s no term attached to the contracts, so the team hasn’t made a big commitment to them.  I find it difficult to assess the acquisitions given how little I’ve watched all three players.  Regardless, here are the bare bones (stats) and a few thoughts.

Guillaume Latendresse (RW/LW, 6’2, DOB 1987, 2-45/05)
2009-10 Mtl/Min 78-27-13-40 16pim +3
2010-11 Min 11-3-3-6 8pim +2
2011-12 Min 16-5-4-9 20pim +6

Jonathan Willis is a fan of the signing, saying “He’s young, big, often physical, and more importantly he’s a pretty good possession player who has consistently been a high-percentage goal-scorer over his NHL career (on 568 career shots, Latendresse is a 14.3% shooter; he’s never been below 12.0% in a single NHL season).”  Talking about himself, Latendresse said “It’s going to be a new, fresh start. If I look at top six (forwards), I think that could be a good spot for me. I’m not the coach, so maybe you can ask him, but I think I’m an offensive guy and I can bring that (scoring) for sure. I know what kind of player I am. I know what I can bring to a team. I think Ottawa is a really good fit for me. As far as my injuries go, I’m 100 per cent now. I know I can be the player I was when I first went to Minnesota. I can bring a lot to this team.”  I think management is going to expect Latendresse to be a top-six forward, but the question remains open if he can provide that.

Marc Methot (DL, 6’3, DOB 1985, 6-168/03)
2009-10 Clb 60-2-6-8 51pim -8
2010-11 Clb 74-0-15-15 58pim +2
2011-12 Clb 46-1-6-7 24pim -11

He’s played for Team Canada at the last two World Championships.  Bryan Murray said “We felt that getting a quality guy that everybody in our organization thought a lot of … He’s a big guy, he’s a local guy, he plays really good defence and he’s very happy to get on board with us. There’s a price to be paid when you have to do something like that.”  Bruce Garrioch (via the link) says the Sens tried to get Methot last year, but couldn’t get the deal done.  The general sentiment is that he’s a solid player, but not flashy.  If he can fill top-four minutes then I think the deal to get him is worth it.

Mike Lundin (DL, 6’2, DOB 1984, 4-102/04)
2009-10 TB 49-3-10-13 18pim -4
2010-11 TB 69-1-11-12 12pim -3
2011-12 Min 17-0-2-2 4pim -1

He played for the US World Championship team in 2010 and was one of the NHL’s “young stars” in 2008.  Describing himself, Lundin said “I’m more of a defensive specialist, I’m not real flashy. I’m thrilled, it wasn’t one of the greatest year for me last year with injuries and everything. I’m excited to come and play for a Canadian team, with the potential they have following last season and only looking to get better.”  He’s a low risk acquisition and seems capable of filling a hole in the bottom pairing.

Andre Benoit was signed after a year in the KHL (53-5-12-17) and needs no introduction given his previous stint in 10-11 (73-11-44-55) with the organisation.  He’s a great acquisition for Binghamton.