Friday, June 22, 2007

"Oh Bryan, why'd you pick me?"

In the first move of newly-instated General Manager Bryan Murray's tenure, the Ottawa Senators drafted University of Minnesota centre Jim O'Brien with the 29th overall pick in Friday night's first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft in Columbus. The youngest player in the NCAA during the 06-07 season, O'Brien saw limited ice time with a deep hockey club, playing on the fourth line and receiving no time with the man advantage, though he did factor in with the special teams as a penalty killer.

O'Brien recorded 6 goals and 12 points in 36 games in his debut season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, one of the most reputed clubs in the NCAA. He was ranked as a second round pick by most scouting sources; only The Hockey News considered him a first round prospect, ranking him at 25. He is expected to be a "project" in the eyes of the Senators organisation, and will certainly not be rushed to the professional level. It probably wouldn't be surprising to see him play out his entire university career before transferring to the Senators' AHL affiliate. O'Brien was drafted as a centreman, but played defense as a youngster and is considered by some to be more adept at the latter position. It is not known whether the Senators have any expectation for what position he will play, or, if like current Senators Renaissance man Christoph Schubert, he will adapt to whichever role suits the needs of the club.

The Senators were just one pick away from defensive beast Nick Petrecki, an American defenseman who was reputed as the most physical of this year's crop. Petrecki, a USHL player headed for Boston College next season, was expected to go early in the first round and would have been quite a steal had the Senators been able to land him. Instead, the San Jose Sharks seized an opportunity to pounce on the big defenseman, trading with the Washington Capitals (the original possessors of the 28th pick) to snatch Petrecki.

Without deviating too much from the focus of the Senators in this piece, the San Jose Sharks made out like thieves in this draft. Originally on the outside looking in after losing two firsts at the deadline in order to acquire Bill Guerin and Craig Rivet (with a first obtained from New Jersey earlier in the season), GM Doug Wilson made a number of draft day moves to obtain picks. Aside from some picks changing hands, the Sharks added Ottawa 67s centre Logan Couture (a player Ottawa residents can surely vouch for) at the 8th spot and, as mentioned, Nick Petrecki. Leaving the SJ fold were Vesa Toskala, a netminder with only a year left on his contract who was almost surely to leave in search of a full-time starting job, and embattled winger Mark Bell, coming off the worst year of his career both professionally and personally, whose salary presented a significant roadblock to Wilson's free agency aspirations.

Other perceived big winners include the Edmonton Oilers, who maintained all three of their first round picks, though they did shuffle the position slightly. Ending up Oilers property were Calgary Hitmen defensive defenseman Alex Plante, college-bound centre Riley Nash, and highly touted playmaking London Knights centreman Sam Gagner. Strangely, the Edmonton Oilers sacrificed later picks to trade up and secure Plante and Nash, however it is widely conceived that neither would have been taken before Edmonton's 30th pick and certainly not before the 22nd. Still, the Oilers have at least two solid players and one potential gamebreaker added to their arsenal.

The St. Louis Blues, also harbouring three first rounders, did some shuffling of their own. When all was said and done, they emerged with Danish playmaker Lars Eller (13th), American defensive d-man Ian Cole (18th), in something of a steal, Quebec league sniper David Perron (26th).

The much hyped early portion of the draft went much as expected. The Chicago Blackhawks picked London Knights everyman Patrick Kane with their first ever #1 selection, as had been predicted the past few months. The Flyers picked American power forward James van Riemsdyk at #2, leaving the door open for Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes to select elated BCHL sniper Kyle Turris with the third pick. Like van Riemsdyk, Turris will likely attend college in the fall; Kane has the greatest chance of making the NHL off the bat, but will likely return to his London Knights to play out the season.

First round "benchwarmers" who might have made intruiging picks for the Senators include Bill Sweatt, Oscar Moller, Maxim Mayorov, Joakim Andersson and Akim Aliu. Their destinations will be determined tomorrow as the final rounds of the NHL Entry Draft take place.