Following the conclusion of the World Junior Hockey Championship (WJHC), it was only a matter of time before the Senators' Director of Player Personnel, Pierre Dorion, made an appearance on TSN 1200's In the Box to discuss the tournament and a number of the team's prospects.
As always, my thoughts are in bold.
On the three prospects that you have drafted who did participate over in the World Juniors, starting with Curtis Lazar…
“Oh for sure, as an organization, we’re very happy with the performance of Curtis over at the World Junior (Hockey Championships). If we start by the way Brent (Sutter) used him – he was used in all key situations. He was used on the first power play. He was used on the first unit on the penalty killing. He was used when they needed to win draws at times. He was used to start off the game at times or sometimes in the last minute of a game. So obviously, when a coach of the calibre of a Brent Sutter uses him as much as he used Curtis, I think we’re very happy with his performance.”
Lazar would finish the tournament with three goals and seven points in seven games. Although he did play tough minutes like Dorion mentioned, he was on the ice for as many even strength goals for as he was for goals allowed.
On if he’s ready to be a pro…
“Well off the ice, I think he is; that is for sure because of the way he’s handled himself. We all saw it at the development camp here and through training camp or rookie camp through training camp. That part of the game, he’s so mature for an 18-year old, we’re not worried about that. Physically, I still think he’s got some ways to go. You know, because when you’re playing against guys that are (in their) 30’s or late 20’s, they’re going to be physically at a certain (maturity). You know, their physical maturity is going to be ahead of yours. I think hockey-wise, he’s very close. I think the way he competes, the way he plays the game, I wouldn’t consider him the most creative player, but he plays the game right. He’s always in the right lanes. He’s always above the puck without it and offensively, he can generate offence through the cycle, off the rush or just simply with his shot.”
Even if he's ready to be a pro, where would he play? With the exception of Matt Kassian and Milan Michalek, who are impending UFAs, everyone on Ottawa's parent roster will be under team control through next season. (Note: Cory Conacher is an impending RFA.) To create room for a Lazar, the Senators would have to move an assortment of players to clear up room for Lazar and then he would have to beat out a number of the other prospects for a vacant spot on one of the team's bottom lines.
On his tools being good, but his compete level separating him from others…
“I think when we talk about character and competitiveness, a lot of guys will work until they have to get hit or will work until they have to go to the dirty areas. Well, with Curtis, he’s always going to those dirty areas. A lot of goals in the NHL aren’t scored from the top of the circle, they’re scored within ten feet of the goalie and Curtis can do both because he has got that great release and that great shot. But on top of that, he’ll battle for rebounds in front of the net which create scoring chances or create goals.”
It's this skillset that separates him from the Cory Conachers of the world.
On his makeup…
“For sure. We’re just happy. People say that one day, he may be captain but I think a lot of things have to happen and it depends on who else we have in the organization, but we’re just happy that we have a quality being to start off. And for our fans, they’re going to see a quality hockey player, I think, sooner than later.”
The comment is interesting because it reflects the possibility or a willingness to move a variety of players to accommodate Lazar. We've seen players like Colin Greening and Erik Condra be linked to the Rangers in a prospective deal for Michael Del Zotto, but Greening and other bottom-six guys like Zack Smith and Chris Neil are also locked in on long-term deals. Interestingly, the organization made the decision to give Greening a modified NTC in his three-year extension that he signed this past summer, so if he's going to be the guy to go and create this room, the Senators may need to act before it kicks and limits the marketplace for him.
On it being unfortunate that a training camp injury possible prevented him from suiting up in a game or two before he would have had to have been returned to junior or have the first year of his entry-level contract kick in…
“Yeah, for sure and if you look at the big picture, the best thing for Curtis was for him to go back to Edmonton. He’s a big part of that team and I asked his coach, ‘How come he’s not getting as many points as we’d like to see him have?’ and the coach says, ‘Well, he just plays the game the right way and we’re not as talented as we were last year.’ But he feels Curtis is a huge part of their team’s success.”
Word has it that Lazar would pass up on an empty net to dish the rock to Clarke MacArthur too.
On Quentin Shore…
“Yeah, Quentin played probably on the third and fourth lines and also played on the PK. With him, he’s got great hockey sense. He knows how to use his stick and knows how to get into lanes. He’s got enough hands to be what I would consider a quality role player down the road. He’s just not a plumber. He can handle the puck and make plays. He works hard and he’s got range to check. With Quentin, the biggest thing is just working on his footspeed. I think he’s got to improve his core strength and just his quickness off the mark and maintain that kind of pace for the pro level. But with him, he’s a sophomore already at Denver, and we’ve still got a few more years of him in school so he can get stronger. But we’re really happy with how he played there. He didn’t play a predominant role on the US, but I still felt he played a role that helped them, even though they lost in the quarters.”
Inexpensive and internally developed bottom line depth? It never hurts to have it because it means the organization doesn't have to go out and overspend to get it.
On Marcus Hogberg, the big goaltender that the Senators drafted…
“Yeah, the Swedish team decided to go with Oscar Dansk as their number one and we totally respect that. We got the chance to see Hogberg play one game against Norway and he probably had to make three or four saves and maybe two of them were quality chances and he made them. So, he got the shutout and for him, he had a good tournament. Unfortunately for the Swedish team, they only got the silver medal, but at least he got to live that experience and I think that’s going to help him for the rest of his year. We think big things of Marcus Hogberg and we think down the road, he’s going to be an NHL goalie."
"We think big things of Marcus Hogberg?" Nice play on words Mr. Dorion. (Note: For those unaware, Hogberg, Ottawa's third round pick from the 2013 draft, is already 6'5" and 212 lbs.)
On how cognizant he’s going to be of taking goalies in the draft because the parent club is graduating some guys…
“Oh for sure, and all three kids’ development has been, if we’re honest about our prospects, it’s been up and down this year. Both Chris Driedger and Francois Brassard went back to their respective (junior) teams. They had terrible starts, but you know Francois had the Quebec league record for longest time without (allowing) a goal this year and Chris I think, is second, I believe, in goals against (average) now in the Western league. And both are carrying… having a big impact on their teams. On top of that with Marcus’ performance or play as of later at the World Junior, I think we’re looking at three guys that could challenge to be… to have big parts in our goaltending future.”
It's great to have this depth. It means the organization won't feel pressured to re-draft any of these guys like they're Mathieu Chouinard, should contract negotiations go south.
On not having the first round pick and what he saw at the World Juniors for draft eligible players…
“Well, you always have to start with Canada. I think you’re looking at a guy like Ekblad and Sam Reinhart that are definitely going to be at the top of the draft, I think, for every team’s list. Ekblad could play… people forget a bit that this is a 19-year old’s tournament. I know people maybe sometimes don’t understand that, but (scouts/talent evaluators) see a big difference between 17 to 18 to 19. I know I matured big-time between 17 and 19 physically. There’s just that big of a difference and when you look at what a guy like Ekblad did as a regular 17 year old going into 18-years old this year, he played some power play time. He played some penalty (killing) time. He was matched up against the other team’s (top) lines. You saw someone who is definitely going to be a very good player in the NHL, who looks like he could step in next year. Also, when you’re looking at Team Canada, you’re looking at a guy like Sam Reinhart. He comes from the great bloodlines and everything, but you’re looking at a player with high skills, high hockey sense who has had an impact and who, I think, got better as the tournament went on with camp.”
Yeah, without that first round pick, I'm not going to expend any energy thinking about what Reinhart or Ekblad would like in a Senators jersey. I'll leave that for at least a couple seasons down the road, when the Edmonton Oilers will have stunted their growth and development. (As an aside, I was going through the Dorion archives on the blog today and completely forgot that the Senators interviewed Nail Yakupov during his draft year. It's baseless speculation on my part, but I wonder whether the organization would entertain thoughts of trying to bring him into the fold.)
On setting the standards high or a young player like McDavid…
“It is. You’re still a year away from (his draft class) and I know (he’s) played two years in Major Junior and (he’s) had a great impact on his team. Every young kid that comes up, you always the hear the hype on this one or the hype on that one, I think on Connor, we see a player that I think is going to live up to the hype down the road; really, maybe a superstar in the NHL. But, it’s tough to do at 16-years old playing against guys that have been through it like once, twice and some guys have been through it already three times. It’s tough. We tend to forget how much of a timespan there is between when you are 16 to 19 years old.”
It's a good point by Dorion. It it felt like an eternity during that timespan before I could stop using fake ID.
On whether this draft, if you don’t have a first round pick, it’s not a bad draft not to have one…
“(laughs) Yeah, I think right now, we’re the one team or one of two teams that doesn’t have a first rounder right now. It’s not… at the end of the draft I’ll tell you this year that we’re going to be happy with whoever we take. It’s just the draft doesn’t have the usual depth that it can have. We knew that coming into this year and it was something we discussed in management here, with Bryan (Murray), Tim (Murray), Randy (Lee) and myself. We felt that the draft wasn’t as deep as it was maybe in previous years and we just felt that (the first rounder) was an asset to give up, but we feel comfortable with the number of quality prospects that we have in our organization."
Keeping that in mind, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Senators parlay other 2014 draft picks to support their current core and take a run at the playoffs, but there is that nagging internal cap issue that the team will have to overcome.
On whether management asked him about the upcoming draft and the inclusion of the draft pick when making the Bobby Ryan deal?
“Yes, I think Bryan has talked about it publically that that Bobby Ryan deal did not come overnight. It came about, I wouldn’t say it was like months in the process, but I knew they had been talking for quite a few weeks. They obviously wanted a lot of our prospects and we really like a lot of our prospects. We knew we would have to give up a player of like Jakob Silfverberg’s (worth) and they had talked about having the first pick in the draft that we took Lazar and I think Bryan was very smart enough to push it back – whether it was that pick before we made it, or if it was Lazar after or if it was another prospect, we just felt that giving up a (first round) pick this year was probably the best thing for our organization.”
Unfortunately the decision to move that package won't be considered a success until Bobby Ryan's future with the Senators can be resolved. If he walks via free agency and leaves the organization with nothing to show for it besides some highlight reel plays, he'll have been nothing more than a hired gun.
On Jack Eichel…
“I think if you’re honest in your assessment, he was as good, if not better than Connor (McDavid) at the tournament. I think he played a more predominant offensive role. He was on their first power play. He’s a year older because Connor is a regular ’97 born, while Jack is more a late ’96 (birthdate), so he’s got a bit more experience maybe at the international or was a bit more ready for that kind of tournament. But, he’s a special player. His skill level was exceptional. The way that he could shoot the puck, the way he could generate offence out of nothing, his range, shot, skills and playmaking ability are pretty special you know, so you’re definitely looking at the top two special players in next year’s draft.”
Prospect porn indulging fans are already licking their chops in anticipation of the 2015 draft.
On the next big international tournament that he’s going to…
“I’m going to Moscow the second week in February for the under-18s where the U.S. team is there and Sweden, Finland, Czech, U.S. and Russia (are playing).”