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Pierre Dorion Speaks: 2014 NHL Draft, Sens Prospects

On the heels of Bryan Murray’s interview on TSN 1200, Senators assistant general manager Pierre Dorion spoke with Ian Mendes and Lee Versage to discuss the 2014 NHL Draft and give an assessment of the organization’s prospects as the team begins its offseason.

To listen to the interview, you can follow this link or listen to the embedded audio at the bottom of this blog.

As always, my thoughts are in bold.

On the depth of this draft and its talent levels in comparison to previous years and next year’s draft…

“I think it’s an average draft this year. I don’t think it has the depth that it has had in the past few years. I still think there’s going to be quite a few players who come out of this draft, but maybe not quite the number of players at the top of the draft who will step in and have an impact starting next year.”

On how many tiers are in the first round…

“This year there’s probably a line after five. For me, I remember I told Bryan from my personal list and with meeting with all of our group of scouts, at about and it depends, there is about 13 to 14 guys that I seem to think will be really good NHL players and then there’s a drop after that. I told Bryan, ‘If you’re a non-playoff pick, I think you’re going to get a pretty good player.’ This year it’s 13 teams with New Jersey moving to 30th, but I think whether you’re 13 or 14, I think you’re going to get a chance to get a good player. Now us, not having a pick until 40, but let’s say we had a pick in the 20’s, there’s still could be a chance you could get one of those 13 or 14 guys. I think that’s how we see it as a group in Ottawa for this upcoming draft.”

That’s the important takeaway from Dorion’s answer. Should the Senators move Spezza, especially to one of his preferred destinations, their preference for procuring a first round pick would likely mean them landing a pick in that 20 to 30th overall range – not outside that range where Dorion doesn’t feel comfortable that he wouldn’t get one of his identified 13 or 14 players.

On how they’ve done their projections and that a Jason Spezza trade could move them up in the draft…

“Obviously Bryan advised both Randy (Lee) and myself of this possible scenario when Jason came to him and indicated that he might want to have a change of scenery. So we’ve been well prepared. When we had our meetings with our scouts in mid to late May, we knew this option could be coming. We’ve always prepared. Bryan sometimes teases me and says, ‘Pierre, get ready, I think I can get the first overall pick in this draft.’ That’s probably unlikely, but we’re prepared for every scenario. In this case, we’re prepared in case Jason is traded that a first round pick could be possibly part of the deal. But knowing the draft and knowing the history of the draft, and when your scouts are around the GM all that week of the draft and they’re telling their GM, ‘Oh, we could get this guy at this pick,’ and ‘I think you should keep the pick,’ scouts want to have their other work that they’ve done towards that year mean something – so that means picking a player. So sometimes the value of a pick is inflated around draft time.”

On teams reaching for players because of the strength of next year’s class…

“Again, we’re picking 40th and to (answer) the first part of, with a team like us at 40th, we might feel that we’ll gamble on a guy that we would say, ‘Okay, if it’s not for this deficiency on this certain player, he would have been a first rounder and we’ll get him at 40 and he’s just missing that one element that would have made him a first rounder.’ So I think yes, for sure teams are going to gamble maybe more than in previous years and you’re going to try and hit the homerun more than maybe the safer pick. I’m not saying that we’re going to go that route because we don’t know who the first 39 picks will be if 40 is our first pick, but we’ll be definitely prepared for that scenario.”

Hitting on a number of mid to late round picks also affords the Senators the opportunity to gamble on a prospect who has that coveted high upside, but may have some associated risk or deficiency which makes teams wary that this prospect’s potential will never be met. 

On what areas he would like to add some depth to…

“As an organization, and I know Bryan talked about earlier this morning, we’re pretty happy with what we have at every position. We feel we have some good centers, wingers, defencemen coming up. Ideally, I think every team would like to add a 6’5” power forward who can fight, score and be a game changer, but those guys, I don’t think many of them are around at 40. I know it’s boring to say, but we’re probably just going to take who we feel is the best player two or three years down the road because the guy that we take at 40 probably won’t play next year barring a huge miracle.”

On Mike Hoffman’s contract…

“(It’s a) one-year, two-way deal. We feel that Mike is on the cusp of being a very good NHL player. He showed it in spurts last year. Negotiations were pretty simple and fairly easy. We just felt that Mike has to earn his spot on the team. It’s his or it’s more… it’s Mike’s spot to lose on the team. As I said before, he showed in spurts that he can be a real good NHL player and at times, he showed that he had to play better to stay in the NHL. Right now under contract at left wing, we only had Colin Greening and Clarke MacArthur, so I think Mike knows he’s got a good chance to make our team, but he has got to prove that he’s a legit NHL player and also prove that he can produce at the NHL level.”

To produce at the NHL level, Hoffman’s going to have to play more than third or fourth line minutes and with the Senators’ interest in retaining Michalek appearing very real, one has to wonder whether he’ll get much of an opportunity here if he fares poorly in training camp.

On whether the Senators can pay someone $2.6 million to not be in their top six and whether Colin Greening can be that guy…

“I think Colin will get a look at being a top six guy. I think Colin scored 17 goals one year. It was his career high so he’s shown that he can produce. I know sometimes a lot of experts are a bit harder on Colin Greening, but he brings an element that we don’t have a lot of: he’s big; he skates; he’s involved physically; and he can play against the other team’s top lines. He’s not perfect, but Colin Greening, sometimes you worry too much about the salary and not what the player can do. In Colin Greening’s case, I think he does a lot and he brings a lot to our team.”

I don’t expect Dorion to come out and drop trou and verbally shit on Colin Greening or the season that he had, especially when he’s just entering the first year of a contract extension that pays him $2.6 million and Dorion’s comments are being made at a time when the organization could and should be openly trying to move Greening in a trade.  

The book on Greening is relatively simple: his production rates have dipped in each successive season that he’s been in the league and although he has had some measure of success playing with Jason Spezza, those days are over and have been for some time. Although Dorion’s right when he says that Greening has some easily identifiable tools that scouts love (ie. size, speed, grit),he simply doesn’t have the confidence to play with the puck that can take him to the next level as a player.

In playing with Spezza, he had an elite play-making center who excelled when controlling the puck. Unfortunately for Greening, when he plays on a line with Zack Smith and Chris Neil, he doesn’t have this luxury. I do think Smith is better than some make him out to be, but this dump and chase style that their line employs is relatively ineffective and helps make the trio’s underlying numbers pretty unflattering. 

On Robin Lehner’s contract negotiations…

“We’ve presented both short, mid and long-term (deals) to Robin’s agent. Obviously everything that we do here goes through Bryan, so Bryan’s very aware of the talks that I’ve had with Craig Oster and I think we’re trying to find numbers that work well in a short-term deal, we’re trying to find numbers that work well in a mid-term deal and if ever we go long-term, we’ve also looked at that. So I don’t think this is a negotiation that, because we’ve looked at all these options, it’s a negotiation that isn’t going to be done by tomorrow morning. We’ve been discussing for a few weeks and I’ve made a call to Craig yesterday and he’ll probably get back to me today or in the next day or so, and I’m sure I’ll see Craig at the draft and we’ll get a chance to try and talk about the next contract. We’d always like to get our contracts done sooner rather than later, but we have to do what’s right for the organization here. We have to do what’s right for how we feel that we should move forward on a contract for Robin.”

On the fear that Lehner is susceptible to an offer sheet…

“Nah, I don’t think we’ve really looked at that. I think Robin wants to be in Ottawa. I don’t think that’s something that’s going to happen. I can’t control what the other 29 teams would do. It’s not like the contract negotiations have been bad where we’ve pretty much hung the phone up on each other. They’ve been really productive conversations and I report back to Bryan on the discussions and I’m sure Craig reports back to the people at Newport and to Robin. From there, I think eventually we’ll get something done, but it’s just because we’ve looked at so many options as I’ve said before, it’s the reason it hasn’t been done in a day or so.”

Honestly, if I’m an Eastern Conference organization or an Atlantic Division rival that desperately could use a quality young goaltender, Ottawa’s ripe for an offer sheet with their strict adherence to an internal budget.

On the development of guys in Binghamton and how likely it is that they become full-time players for the Ottawa Senators this season…

“I think there’s quite a lot of opportunities. I think we’ve invested into a lot of players. I think Randy (Lee) has done a tremendous job developing a lot of these guys. You look at a guy like Matt Puempel – 30 goals as a rookie and I think he had seven or eight at Christmas time, so you really saw great progression in him. If you look at a guy like Shane Prince, he’s probably our most skilled guy in the minors, but (has the) talent to be a top three line player – it’s just maturity, getting stronger and competing game in and game out. You mentioned a guy like Jean-Gabriel Pageau. We got a chance to see a guy like Mark Stone at the end of the year. I think if you look at Fredrik Claesson’s play through the year, it was outstanding. You look at a guy like Andrew Hammond who came up and played well for us in the short time that he was here. So we feel that we had quite a number of guys that played in Binghamton last year who have a chance to play for us. Even a guy like David Dziurzynski, he’s a guy that if we lose a guy like Matt Kassian, can he come up and challenge and play some minutes on the fourth line or even the third line? He did it two years ago. He brings a different element as opposed to a Matt Puempel or a Shane Prince. We feel we’ve got guys down there that can really come in here and play. And another guy, sorry for the longwinded answer, is a guy like Derek Grant. He played fourth line minutes for us. He was good on the PK. Can he step up his game next year to have that fulltime role? So I think there’s definitely going to be spots open. I think you always have to look internally before you look externally to see ‘Do we have these players within our organization?’ And I think we do have (them). Do we have the bucha prospects? Well I think in a guy like Curtis Lazar, we have the bucha prospect, but the rest of the guys are pretty close to being NHL players in a very short, I think.”

I had never heard the word bucha (sp?) before Dorion used it, but the emphasis here is that Lazar is the organization’s one elite prospect. Although the Senators do have a lot of depth, they need more elite talent to start coming through its pipelines.

On where he projects Curtis to be playing this upcoming season and at what position?

“Well, to answer the first part of your question, I think Curtis is going to get every chance to make our team this year. One thing that Curtis brings is, let’s start as a human being, he’s as high character a person as I’ve ever met. He knows what it takes to win. When someone scores a big goal in an overtime game to get a team to the semifinals or finals of a Memorial Cup, it tells you a lot about someone’s character. And the way he does things, he’s a pro at 18 years old. But I think Curtis is going to get every chance to make our team this year, but that being said, stepping into the league at 19 years old is not an easy thing. As much character and as good of a player as he is, it’s still not going to be an easy thing for him. He’ll have to decide how close he is to being a regular NHL player. As far as being a centerman or a winger, good players in junior will a lot of times play center and Curtis is so responsible away from the puck, as every coach likes, they like their players to be really responsible in the defensive end – which is what Curtis is. Curtis battles every time for the puck – whether it’s on the wall or in the open ice. I think he’s more a winger, but that’s just my personal statement on things because of the way that he can drive the lane and shoot the puck. Putting someone as a centerman at 19 years old in the league might be a bit too demanding. I think maybe to start off, he’s a winger and then we can see how his progression goes. I think it’s an asset for our organization having someone who can play two positions, which Curtis can do. He doesn’t lose a lot of draws, which is a good thing. So as a centerman, you always want that, but I think his more natural position is on right wing.”

I fully expect to see Curtis Lazar start the season as the team’s third line right winger behind Bobby Ryan and Mark Stone. 

On whether Lazar has done everything possible at the junior level and whether the org is in a tough spot because they can’t send him to the AHL…

“I don’t know if I’d call it a tough spot. I think we’re in a great position. Knowing everything he’s accomplished, we know that we might keep him a bit longer than usual. Maybe he’ll get ten games and then see what happens after the ten games. Those are all things that Bryan and Paul will decide or will have the final word on, but I think when a guy has proven that he’s a winner, you never know. Maybe he goes back to the World Juniors and he’s the captain of the Canadian team. Everything can be beneficial. I always say with prospects, it’s a marathon than a 100 metre race. Let’s not rush him. Let’s make sure we do the proper things with him. Curtis has shown great progression in a year. I think he would have had a chance to stick a bit longer (last season) if not for the injury he suffered in the last game of rookie camp. We just wanted to be cautious with him, but this year, we don’t have to be cautious with him. We have everything on our side and even if he does end up going back to Edmonton, it’s not like he’s going back to a bad organization or a bad team. They do things properly with the Oil Kings, so I’m not worried at all.”

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