Looking at Ottawa’s Draft Success (2005-08)

There are many articles reviewing draft accuracy (like TSN’s Scott Cullen‘s last year) 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 the comparisons often aren’t 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 (for example, Colin Greening had not started his pro career by that time). All this preamble is to make two key points: 1) the attitude and approach to the NHL draft changed seismically after the 2004-05 lockout, 2) the typical make-or-break moment for a draft pick varies considerably, with the most basic level depending on what league they were drafted from. To expand on the second point: CHL draftees generally take 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 to eight years, depending on how much time they spend in the NCAA; European players used to be even more varied when teams kept their rights forever, but with transfer deals signed with the DEL, SEL, and the SM-Liiga (where rights are only retained for two years) their usual range is now like the CHL (five years), but there are exceptions (like the KHL or players like Carl Soderberg who didn’t sign with Boston until he was 27).

Given the above, how have the Sens done with their selections? I think I can make judgements on John Muckler’s last two drafts and Bryan Murray’s first (along with a look at his second). How am I defining a successful pick?  Any skater who has played 200+ NHL games (along with some judgement calls; goaltenders are particularly difficult).  With that many games the player has managed at least two and a half seasons of NHL work and that’s a decent return on the investment.  So, without further adieu:

Muckler clearly had a hard-on for international tournaments, as every player except the one still with the Sens (Greening) 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 49/230 (21.3%) number of regular NHLers from the draft (you can judge for yourself here). By round: 1st 19/30, 2nd 8/31, 3rd 5/30, 4th 6/34, 5th 5/36, 6th 1/31, 7th 5/36. Players who have played over 200 games: 36 (15 1st, 7 2nd, 4 3rd, 6 4th, 2 5th, 1 6th, 3 7th); played 100-199 games: 19 (5 1st, 2 2nd, 2 3rd, 1 4th, 5 5th, 1 6th, 3 7th).

1-9 Brian Lee (DR, US high school/USHL; WJC) – NHL (Tampa Bay); 209 NHL games played; marginal NHLer (6-7 d-man)
An enigmatic player who still hasn’t defined what kind of pro player he is (if he is one). He’s big, but not physical. He makes a solid 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 in particular), 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 didn’t get 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 a 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 Bass are good for their organisations, but not the kind that’s worth a draft pick. In terms of who was available between his pick and the Sens next there was depth blueliner Chris Butler (#96). 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 Muckler’s 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 organisation, 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 is a less-talented Brian Lee, as he has good size, but isn’t overly physical and his offensive game did not translate at a higher level. There are 5 NHL regulars over the next 50 picks, 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); 150 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 result 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).

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 potentially 3 regular NHLers coming out of it. A few stats: there are 39/213 (18.3%) number of regular NHLers from the draft (you can judge for yourself here). By round: 1st 19/30, 2nd 10/33, 3rd 3/30, 4th 2/30, 5th 0/30, 6th 3/30, 7th 2/30. Players who played 200 or more games: 31 (18 1st, 6 2nd, 3 3rd, 1 4th, 2 6th, 1 7th); played 100-199 games: 10 (1 1st, 5 2nd, 1 3rd, 1 4th, 1 6th, 1 7th).

1-28 Nick Foligno (LW, OHL) – NHL (Columbus); 394 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 and he’s clearly better than James Sheppard (#9)). 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) – NHL/AHL (Ottawa/Binghamton); 31 NHL games – 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 is on the horizon for full NHL duty coming into next season, with Mark Borowiecki as his biggest competition on the depth chart.  Three regular NHLers were picked over the next 23 selections, with Brad Marchand (#71) the best.
3-91 Kaspars Daugavins (LW, Belarus; WJC) – NHL (Boston); 91 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 marginal roster player. His upside is limited. 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) being the most prominent.
6-181 Kevin Koopman (DR, KIJHL) – ACHA II (Brown) – bust
The scouts did not do their homework here, as Koopman retired to become a doctor before the Sens could think about offering him a contract. One NHL player was selected over the next 30 picks (Derek Dorsett at #189).
7-211 Erik Condra (RW, NCAA) – NHL (Ottawa); 152 NHL games – NHL regular (bottom-6 forward)
The third last pick of the draft, he finished up his college career and then earned rookie of the year honours in Binghamton before becoming a solid addition to the NHL lineup. Even though Condra has limited upside, to get a roster player this late in the draft is clearly a home run.

Muckler was fired two weeks before the draft, so while this is nominally a Bryan Murray draft it’s basically following Muckler’s scouting philosophy. Not surprisingly, Murray traded away the team’s late round picks so that the next draft could fully follow his direction. Less time has passed to truly assess how many hits and misses this draft had, but it’s clearly a weak draft.  Only Jim O’Brien might be a regular NHL player from Ottawa’s selections and even that is no guarantee.  A few stats: there are 31/211 (14.6%) number of regular NHLers from the draft (you can judge for yourself here). By round: 1st 16/30, 2nd 4/31, 3rd 1/30, 4th 5/30, 5th 1/30, 6th 2/30, 7th 2/30. Players who played 200 or more games: 17 (11 1st, 4 2nd, 1 5th, 1 7th); played 100-199 games: 15 (5 1st, 1 2nd, 2 3rd, 4 4th, 2 6th, 1 7th).

1-29 Jim O’Brien (CR, NCAA; U-18) – NHL (Ottawa); 63 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 in the minors, won a Calder Cup, and managed to earn himself a one-way contract. 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, 5 have never played in the NHL (keeping in mind that Cherepanov tragically died), and 6 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 only Russian taken by Murray at the draft, Bashkirov is such a bust that he can’t even play in the KHL. This is the definition of a bad pick with Wayne Simmonds taken immediately after him (#61).
3-90 Louie Caporusso (C/LW, OPJHL) – ECHL/AHL (Elmira/Binghamton) – bust
Despite a strong NCAA resume Caporusso struggled at the AHL level. He may have it in him to become a regular AHLer, but his NHL potential seems non-existent. There may be as many as five NHLers taken over the next 30 picks, making the pick look much worse.
4-120 Ben Blood (DL, USUS) – ECHL/AHL (Elmira/Binghamton) – AHL prospect
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 was thought to have the potential to be a bruising bottom-pairing NHLer, but was unable to be a regular AHLer in his rookie year. As Ottawa’s last pick in the draft he has to be compared to the rest of the selections (91 picks), where Jamie Benn (#129) stands out as the biggest miss.

Bryan Murray’s first true draft and it was a good.  Emil Sandin is the only pick unsigned and all the rest of the players have played at least one NHL game.  It’s too early to fully vet the success of the draft overall, so I’ll simply list players who have played the most thus far (for the list go here). Players who played 200 or more games: 17 (13 1st, 1 2nd, 1 3rd, 1 5th, 1 7th); played 100-199 games: 11 (4 1st, 3 2nd, 1 3rd, 2 4th, 1 6th).

1-15 Erik Karlsson (DR, SuperElit) – NHL (Ottawa); 233 games – NHL star
The Sens sent a pair of picks to Nashville in order to move up to take Karlsson; the slender Swede has a Norris trophy under his belt and as long as he can stay healthy should drive the offence for years to come.  The first definitive home run by Murray
2-42 Patrick Wiercioch (DL, USHL) – NHL (Ottawa); 50 games – NHL regular (top-four)
It might be a little early to call him a regular, but after two mediocre AHL seasons the gifted blueliner seems to have finally made the transition to the pro game; other prominent selections prior to the Sens next pick include Justin Schultz (#43) and Derek Stepan (#51)
3-79 Zack Smith (C, WHL) – NHL (Ottawa); 200 games – NHL regular (bottom-six)
Gritty center had been passed over in the previous draft but has proven a solid investment by the Sens (only two other players taken after him have played more games); the best player over the next 30 picks is Adam Henrique (#82)
4-109 Andre Petersson (RW, SuperElit) – AHL (Binghamton); 1 game – NHL prospect (top-nine)
Small Swedish forward was a solid WJC performer who enjoyed a good rookie season in the AHL last year, but injury cost him his sophomore campaign; between he and the next Sens pick Dale Weiss (#111) and T. J. Brodie (#114) stand out
4-119 Derek Grant (C/LW, BCHL) – AHL (Binghamton); 5 games – NHL prospect (bottom-six)
Lanky tier-2 pick left college early to turn pro and has been solid (if unspectacular) in his first two AHL seasons; the twenty picks between he and the next selection include Gustav Nyquist (#121), Andrei Loktionov (#123), and Matt Calvert (#127)
5-139 Mark Borowiecki (DL, CJHL) – AHL (Binghamton); 8 games – NHL prospect (5-6 D)
Gritty blueliner has all the intangibles, but hasn’t been ready for prime time just yet; among the next 60 picks are Matt Martin (#148), Philip Larsen (#149), Jared Spurgeon (#156), Cam Atkinson (#157), and Jason Demers (#186)
7-199 Emil Sandin (LW/RW, SuperElit) – Allsvenskan – bust
The diminutive forward was a late round flyer coming off an excellent season in the SuperElit, success he translated into an SEL contract with Brynas.  Unfortunately, he could never fully adjust to the Swedish premier league which meant he had no chance whatsoever at the NHL level and he went unsigned.  He currently plays in the Allsvenskan.  His story is almost exactly the same as 2010 draft pick Marcus Sorensen.  The only pick worth mentioning after this is Anders Lindback (#207)

Although the verdict on 2008 can’t be fully made yet, the contrast between the value of Muckler’s drafts versus Murray’s is stark.  It will be interesting to see (going forward) how the Murray era prospects success unfolds.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)


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  1. […] Looking at Ottawa’s Draft Success (2005-08) […]

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