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Prospect review: Cupboard not so bare, soon to be less bare

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Ottawa GM Bryan Murray has said since day one that one his his chief priorities since taking his position would be re-stocking the Senators prospect system with some NHL-calibre players, and he's done a good job of that so far. It may have been at the expense of the actual NHL squad, but it recent prospect reviews on Hockey's Future (HF) and The Hockey News (THN) are any indication, we're in half decent shape. And even better, after our highly anticipated Trade Deadline Day fire sale, we should have a bunch more draft picks to hopefully turn into further high-end talent.

We'll start with the professional's rankings, which--perhaps surprisingly--are quite a bit more optimistic than the HF rankings. THN has one Sens prospect--Erik Karlsson--in the league's top ten (7 overall) and two in the top 50 (Brian Elliott being the second, at 35 overall). Writing for THN, Sens beat writer Bruce Garrioch gave credit to assistant GM Tim Murray and top scouts Brent Flahr and Pierre Dorion, all brought in by Bryan Murray.

The top ten from THN are:

1. Erik Karlsson, D (7 overall)
2. Brian Elliott, G (35 overall)
3. Patrick Wiercioch, D (74 overall)
4. Ilya Zubov, C
5. Cody Bass, C
6. Zack Smith, C
7. Jim O'Brien, C
8. Peter Regin, C
9. Mattias Karlsson, D
10. Colin Greening, LW

One thing I noticed immediately was the distinct prevalence of centremen (five of the top 10 are centre) and a distinct lack of wingers (only one, Colin Greening, the tenth overall prospect). It's something that's going to have to be addressed, especially since the Sens' current NHL roster already includes seven centremen, three of whom play the wing instead.

Erik Karlsson no doubt raised his profile thanks to a terrific showing at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships, where he was named to the tournament all-star team and the best defenceman in the tournament. He outplayed defensive partner Victor Hedman, who's been compared to a hybrid of Nicklas Lidstrom (thanks to his skating and vision) and Zdeno Chara (thanks to his 6'6", 220 lb frame).

Ottawa's THN ranking went up from 22 in 2008 to 15 overall in 2009, a seven-spot improvement thanks in large part to Bryan Murray's picks in the 2008 entry draft (three of the top ten--Erik Karlsson, Patrick Wiercioch, and Zack Smith were picked in 2008).

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And secondly, here's the listing of the Sens' top 20 prospects from HF:

1. Erik Karlsson, D
2. Brian Lee, D
3. Brian Elliott, G
4. Ilya Zubov, F
5. Peter Regin, C
6. Patrick Wiercioch, D
7. Jim O’Brien, C
8. Louie Caporusso, F
9. Zach Smith, C
10. Cody Bass, C
11. Vitaly Anikeyenko, D
12. Erik Condra, RW
13. Kirill Lyamin, D
14. Jesse Winchester, F
15. Mattias Karlsson, D
16. Andre Petersson, LW
17. Josh Hennessy, C
18. Kaspars Daugavins, LW
19. Igor Mirnov, C
20. Tomas Kudelka, D

My immediate reaction was a bit of confusion about some of the names on this list. Particularly Jesse Winchester, who has demonstrated his ability to stick in the NHL. It's sometimes difficult to remember that Winchester's still a rookie, because he's quite a bit older than the rest of the rookie class and he has fit in well to the Sens' system. It seems especially strange since the author acknowledges that "Winchester has shown that he can play at the NHL level", and yet is lower on the team's list than some players who may never play in the NHL, including Jim O'Brien, Vitaly Anikeyenko, and Erik Condra. Just because he's a role player doesn't mean he's a weak prospect.

Overall, HF said that the Sens' have taken noticeable strides in rebuilding the prospect listing in the last few years, which is underlined by the fact that six of the top 20 (including number one prospect Erik Karlsson) were drafted by Bryan Murray, and another was signed as a free agent. Still, their organizational prospect rankings still have the Senators 27th in the league.

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Overall, although Sens fans have to be disappointed in the past two NHL seasons, there is reason for optimism. The system has improved significantly since last year, and the Sens, if I'm not mistaken, still have all their own picks for the 2009 draft. Once Bryan Murray converts a few of the team's pending UFAs into prospects and picks, the team should be in an even better position moving forward.