Many would agree that the most talented Ottawa Senators teams were from the early 2000s which consisted of a large number of players drafted by Ottawa. These included first round picks such as Chris Phillips (1996, 1st), Marian Hossa (1997, 12th), Martin Havlat (1999, 26th), and Jason Spezza (2001, 2nd). They were backed up by a number of later picks including Daniel Alfredsson (1994, 133rd), Mike Fisher (1998, 44th), Chris Neil (1998, 161st), and Chris Kelly (1999, 94th). However, following these successful years was a low point for Senators fans, which many now refer to as the Muckler years.
John Muckler took over as Senators GM following Marshall Johnson's retirement in June 2001. He would oversee six NHL drafts from 2002-2006. Many point to these drafts as the reason the Senators failed to carry their momentum following the 2006-2007 Stanley Cup run. With no strong prospects in the system, the team was bound to crash and burn. One could argue the writing was on the wall following Muckler's first draft in 2002, where he took Jakub Klepis at 16 and Alexei Kaigorodov at 47. The latter of who was the only Senators player drafted that year to appear in the NHL, for a whopping six games.
It is the 2005 draft that will forever stain Muckler's stint with the Ottawa Senators. After rising to the the number 9 spot thanks to the lockout draft lottery, many in Ottawa were excited at the change to acquire an elite prospect. With that pick he selected Brian Lee, passing over Anze Kopitar who went two picks later. Everybody knows how that ended. With Muckler's firing in June 2007, many in Ottawa rejoiced, looking forward to watching his replacement Bryan Murray re-stock the bare cupboards.
Bryan Murray has since been in charge of eight NHL drafts spanning 2007 to the present. Many credit him for quickly turning around the Senators prospect pool which many thought was one of the worst in the NHL following Muckler's departure. It's a hard statement to disagree with. Murray will always be the one responsible for drafting Erik Karlsson (2008, 15th), who may go down as the most talented player ever drafted by the team. He was also credited for helping Binghamton win its first Calder Cup in 2010-2011. Many Senators fans now hail him as being responsible for making the team's drafting among the league's best, but is it really?
As previously mentioned, Murray has overseen eight NHL drafts (some would argue seven, as he came into the fold just before the 2007 draft, meaning much of the scouting had already been completed by Muckler). Let's split up his draft record into the three separate positions; goaltenders, defencemen, and forwards.
Murray has drafted four goaltenders under his watch. The one everyone knows is Robin Lehner (2009, 46th). He has a Calder Cup MVP on his mantle and looks poised to become the Senators' goalie of the future for years to come. When it comes to goaltenders, you never know what will happen until you throw them into the fire. Senators fans have already thought twice in recent years that we had drafted a goalie worthy of the starting position in Ray Emery (2001, 99th) and Brian Elliott (2003, 291st). Both are still in the NHL, with the former battling through a potential career ending injury, and the latter having the opportunity to become a starter once again. Fans expect Lehner to surpass both of these goalies's careers, and if he doesn't, it may become a blemish on Murray's draft record. The next year or two will certainly be telling.
The three others are Chris Driedger (2012, 76th), Francois Brassard (2012, 166th), and Marcus Hogberg (2013, 78th). Brassard has already been released by the Ottawa Senators, and it's still too early to judge either of the other two goalies. By all accounts though, both are having very promising careers thus far, and are expected to eventually join the Binghamton Senators as their next step. At this point it's still a tossup if Murray's drafting of goaltenders is any better than his predecessors, but fans expectations are that they will be.
This will be forever Murray's bread and butter thanks to the drafting of a Norris winner. There will likely be five Murray drafted defencemen on the 2014-2015 opening night roster. Joining Karlsson are Patrick Wiercioch (2008, 42nd), Mark Borowiecki (2008, 139th), Jared Cowen (2009, 9th), and Cody Ceci (2012, 15th). Despite having such a large number of his picks cracking the NHL, whether or not they belong is still under question. Wiercioch was stapled to the press box for a majority of last season, Borowiecki hasn't had a full season in the NHL, Cowen could potentially become Murray's "Brian Lee", and Ceci was sold by the team as the fix to the team's defensive woes.
No matter what way the team tries to spin it, the defence was not good last season. If they continue to struggle this season with the majority of the core being Murray draft picks, you can certainly expect fans' opinions of Murray's drafting to sour. There are still some promising prospects drafted by Murray in the pipeline such as Fredrik Claesson (2011, 126th). However, if Murray had not acquired Karlsson, you can bet there would be many who would be much more critical of his drafting record when it comes to the defence.
What if I told you that under Murray, the Ottawa Senators still haven't drafted a forward that has produced 20 goals or 40 points. For such a highly praised drafting department, you would have thought that in eight years the team would have landed at least one such player. Now, that's not to say that some of the players drafted won't develop and pass those markers. Mika Zibanejad (2011, 6th) is certainly expected to, maybe as soon as this season. The team also has two players who are going to have a crack at the top six in Mike Hoffman (2009, 130th) and Mark Stone (2010, 178th). Both could surpass either of those markers if they succeed in landing the coveted top six spot.
Besides Zibanejad, the only regular in the Ottawa Senators forward core that was drafted by Murray is Zack Smith (2008, 79th). Some have had stints in the bottom six such as Derek Grant (2008, 119th) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (2011, 96th). Overall though, the Senators haven't had much success in drafting top six forwards under Murray thus far and have had to rely on free agency and trades instead. It's worthy to note the team did trade two potential top six talents drafted by Murray in Jakob Silfverberg (2009, 39th) and Stefan Noesen (2011, 21st) to the Anaheim Ducks in the trade to acquire Bobby Ryan.
In the pipeline there is still a large number of prospects drafted under Murray who have top 6 potential. They include Matt Puempel (2011, 24th), Shane Prince (2011, 61st), Ryan Dzingel (2011, 204), and Curtis Lazar (2013, 17th). Of course, potential is exactly that. It means nothing if it doesn't eventually translate to them making the NHL. Senators fans love talking about how strong our forward prospect pool is, yet there's still no real results to show. Things can change in a hurry, but right now there hasn't been much immediate success by Murray's drafted forwards. Even Muckler drafted a foward that hit the 20 goal marker in Patrick Eaves (2003, 29th), and a forward that hit 40 points in Nick Foligno (2006, 28th). It's also worthy to note that only two player drafted by Murray where in the top 10 playoff scoring for the 2010-2011 Binghamton Senators Calder Cup winning team (Smith at #4 with 20 and Hoffman at #10 with 9).
Bryan Murray has indeed drafted a large percentage of players that have gone on to make the NHL. Nevertheless, the majority of them have not developed into star players that can change a team. Arguably, the only one so far is Erik Karlsson. This season will certainly be telling for Murray's draft picks, with a large number of them currently projected to be on the opening night roster. There is a lot of potential in these players as we keep on hearing, but I'm still waiting to see it actually take form. Until then, I feel that Murray's drafting has been overrated by many. It's all hype but very little substance so far.