Senators’ identity dictates they take high-reward risks

By Alexander Monaghan

Two days ago, ESPN’s Alvin Chang released his ‘Biggest draft busts since 1990′. To no one’s surprise, the Ottawa Senators have a notorious draft selection by the name of Alexandre Daigle featured within it’s contents. Surprisingly, he’s only listed at number three while blue-line stalwart Chris Phillips is currently listed at number five.

Chang developed this list using a metric called Goals Versus Threshold (GVT). Developed by Tom Awad of Hockey Prospectus, GVT is an objective player evaluation method that combines all of a player’s statistics and calculates his contribution in 4 categories: offensive, defensive, goaltending and shootout. Awad’s metric determined that Daigle, and to a lesser degree Phillips, turned out to be busts based on a combination of their statistics and subsequent performance on the ice. What it tells us is that the Sens are simply not afraid to take risks throughout the entirety of their regime. Those risks made this organization make the playoffs for 11 consecutive seasons and 12 out of their last 13 before missing last year’s postseason.

A similar type of decision making has been used over the last year as GM Bryan Murray tries to not only restock his cupboards but do so with high-end players.

In June, Murray took highly-skilled forward Mika Zibanejad with his first pick, taking a forward who was a relative unknown two months before the draft. The center burst his way into the top-10 mix after making Djurgardens IF Stockholm of the SEL before turning 18. With only nine points in his professional career, the Sens rolled the dice and took what they believed to be the player with the highest ceiling. Zibanejad would play nine games with the Sens before returning to the SEL for more seasoning.

The Sens then took Plymouth Whalers right wing Stefan Noesen, who enjoyed a breakout sophomore season in the OHL. However, coming into last season, the Plano, TX was a relative unknown, scoring three goals and eight points through 33 games on a stacked Whalers team. His pedigree was not as high as others still on the board like Brandon Saad, Ty Rattie or Zack Phillips but Murray felt Noesen would be a player at the next level. According to Hockey’s Future, Murray went so far as to compare Noesen to reigning MVP Corey Perry.

Three picks later, Murray took another gamble in selecting former OHL Rookie of the Year Matt Puempel. The Essex, Ont., native was not only a risky pick, he defines risk. After breaking out during his rookie year, Puempel regressed due to injury and inconsistency, only posting five more points in four less games — hardly meeting expectations of the Peterborough Petes. Instead of letting the left wing fall further down the ladder, Murray took the gamble by trading two second round picks — 35th overall (Tomas Jurco) and 48th overall (Xavier Ouellet) — for the 18-year-old.

The first round yielded a forward at each position. The center that projects to be a franchise player in Zibanejad. A right wing that could hurt you physically and in the box score. The wild card sniper who could turn out the best of the three. Zibanejad signed almost immediately while Noesen and Puempel inked entry-level deals this afternoon according to Chris Johnston of The Canadian Press, via Twitter.

Nikita Filatov

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Those three should provide a big future in Ottawa — one that looks primed to stay in the playoff picture for a number of years. After making those selections, Murray took an even bigger risk by trading away his third round pick for Nikita Filatov — a former 6th overall pick who failed to produce at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Filatov would once again prove to be a bust in North America, becoming a healthy scratch on many occasions before leaving for Russia. During this stint he only mustered an assist over nine games but Murray did not think the risk was a poor decision. Instead, he explained that the winger needed to get stronger in order to compete in North America and that his demotion was just a hitch in his development. The Senators still believe that he will return to the NHL and be a player; the onus is now on Filatov to prove he wants to play in America opposed to his birthplace.

Letting Filatov leave was a luxury that the team can afford due to their influx of homegrown talent in the NHL and in the minors.

In fact, while much of the focus remained on Filatov and his travels around the globe, the organization went out and acquired another fallen talent in center Kyle Turris. Turris was the 3rd overall pick back in 2007 and also made his way onto Chang’s bust list. However, the Sens were banking on the New Westminster, British Columbia native to thrive under a less taxing coach as he finally gets his chance in an offensive system. Unsurprisingly, Turris has done just that with three assists in his first four games.

More importantly, he has filled the hole vacated by Zibanejad after his nine-game stint passed. The hole that was covered up with a piece of scotch tape when the team tried out centers Peter Regin and Stefan Da Costa and even winger Nick Foligno. In trading for a legitimate pivot, and one with talent oozing out of his pores, they reinforce one of their most consistent strengths in the center position.

Ringo Calamity / Flickr

Former 2nd overall pick Jason Spezza has been the team’s top line center since 2002-2003. The slick, playmaking pivot from Mississauga, Ontario is one of the brightest stars in team history after eclipsing the 85-point barrier three times in his career. He, along with team captain Daniel Alfredsson, have led the Senators by example while showing young players how they can adapt to the big leagues.

That quality has been important during this season — one that was defined as a rebuilding year. Not including Spezza and Alfredsson, 10 of the Sens draftees are regulars in the lineup from All-Star defender Erik Karlsson to fourth line grinders Kaspars Daugavins and Erik Condra. Five other homegrown players have been in the lineup as well.

Instead of actually rebuilding, however, the Sens have stayed in the big picture, sitting in the 9th seed with one more game played than 8th seed Winnipeg. If they continue their feisty play, they could just wind up in the playoff picture and gain some extra revenue in what was supposed to be a lost season. Nevertheless, their identity, or proclivity, in making risky moves has helped them earn everything they now possess.

Since the beginning of the franchise, they have not been afraid to make big moves and a big splash. Because of that they have busts like Daigle (who was projected to be the lovechild of Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux). Similarly, they have 12 homegrown players on their roster because of their drafting strategy in addition to several others who can step right into the lineup when healthy.

We could be seeing yet another incarnation of a Senators dynasty within the upcoming years. We may see a team that blows away its predecessors due to Murray and company staying true to the organization’s history and finding the best talent they possibly could.