When they arrived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Ottawa Senators fully expected to reel in a much-needed bounty of top new prospects.
But as the proceedings at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft wrapped up today at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the Senators essentially headed home with a quartet of first-round picks added to their stockpile of young talent. That one and perhaps even two of them could wind up on the Ottawa roster next season ... no wonder there were smiles aplenty in the Sens camp when all was said and done.
Day 2 of the draft was barely underway when Senators general manager Bryan Murray turned heads by acquiring dynamic left-winger Nikita Filatov from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Ottawa's third-round pick (No. 66 overall). The sixth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, whose career hasn't really his its stride yet, might quickly find himself with an opportunity to play a top-six role on what should be a much younger Senators team.
"We hope so," Murray told reporters when asked if Filatov could fit into the Senators' plans next season. "He’s on a two-way contract and we’re going to give him that opportunity. He certainly has the skill to be a top-six forward and if that’s the case, our need would be filled for the time being. If not, then we have to look at other options."
Filatov flashed some of his talents as an 18-year-old in 2008-09, scoring four goals in eight games for the Blue Jackets, including a hat trick against the Minnesota Wild.
But he's only seen 36 games of action in two seasons in Columbus since then, spending most of his time last season with the American Hockey League's Springfield Falcons. The Senators believe a change of scenery might help unlock his vast potential.
"We talked about it and felt it was very worthwhile taking a chance, that this young man could come into a team that’s hurting for offence and provide some of that," said Murray. "(New Senators head coach) Paul MacLean knows him from his Detroit days, playing against Columbus more often than we did and he's actually excited about getting to coach him and seeing if we can get him to be the calibre of player we thought he was going to be when he was first drafted."
The 21-year-old Filatov, a native of Moscow, shares that sense of enthusiasm.
"I just talked to him and he’s very excited about getting a chance (in Ottawa)," said Murray. "He really felt that he needed a fresh start ... He’s a great kid. He’s a guy that has high-end skill that wants to be an NHL player, (a player) that’s had a big offer from the KHL and decided he wants to be an NHL player instead. It’s a chance for us to acquire something for a third-round pick that otherwise you couldn’t get."
The Senators hope to bring Filatov, who's in the final year of his entry-level contract, to Ottawa for their annual development camp next week to get an early look at him.
"It’s like any scouting that you do," said Murray. "You look at the player and if you like the talent that he has and what he does for you, you keep him and if you don’t, you don’t keep him. We’re going to give him every chance. He deserves that and we’ll see ... It's a no-lose for us. It's an absolute steal for us if he plays in the top six."
Even without the acquisition of Filatov, the Senators are thrilled with what they've been able to add to their future through this draft. Ottawa held a league-high 12 picks entering the weekend, including a pair of first-rounders. That total became three on Friday night when the Senators packaged a pair of second-round picks to move up to the No. 24 spot to select Peterborough Petes left-winger Matt Puempel, described by Murray as "an offensive machine."
Earlier in the first round, the Senators landed Djurgarden centre Mika Zibanejad, a gifted but physical player the scouting staff coveted greatly. With the 21st pick in the first round — obtained via the Mike Fisher trade with the Nashville Predators in February — Ottawa landed right-winger Matt Noesen of the Plymouth Whalers, considered a rising talent.
The restocking of the front-line cupboard continued on Day 2, as the Senators added centres Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67's (second round, 61st overall), Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the Gatineau Olympiques (fourth round, 96th), Darren Kramer of the Spokane Chiefs (sixth round, 156th) and Ryan Dzingel of the USHL's Lincoln Stars (seventh round, 204th), along with left-winger Max McCormick of the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers (sixth round, 171st).
Rounding out the Senators' draft were a pair of blueliners: Djurgarden's Fredrik Claesson (fifth round, 126th) and Jordan Fransoo of the Brandon Wheat Kings (seventh round, 186th).
All in all, it was the kind of haul that left Murray and the Senators' scouting staff more than pleased.
"I always feel that the years that we have good drafts, when we walk away from the table, you see the scouts are happy and excited and shaking each other’s hand because they think ... that we got good players," said Murray. "Then that kind of rubs off on me. I trust these guys, I think they’ve got proven records and they know what it is to get good players.
"That’s why Pierre (Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel) is in charge. He’s a real astute guy in that area and he’ll tell you he’s happy, so I’m happy."
Added Dorion: "Getting three first rounders, you're going to be happy no matter what happens after ... we're very happy. We took skill this year. We didn't take as much size as we have in previous years. We wanted to put the focus on getting skilled forwards this year and that's what we did."