It is rare that a team can be both extremely successful in the standings and youthful as well. Such was the case with the Ottawa Senators this season. One of the youngest teams in the league, the club also finished atop the Eastern Conference in the regular season. Already with a plethora of sophomores and young stars, the club played seven rookies in the 2005-06 season. If not for the mid-season trade of Brandon Bochenski to Chicago, the number would be one higher. Not only did several rookies suit up for the club, but many played significant roles as well.
Ray Emery, G
Height: 6’2 Weight: 205 DOB: Sep 28, 1982
(2001 Draft, 99th overall)
The 2005-06 season for Ray Emery was certainly not without drama. Anointed Dominik Hasek’s backup in training camp, there was always the possibility of being asked to step in to the starting role in the case of an injury. After all, the future hall of famer had only played 14 games since the 2001-02 season.
As the backup, Emery set an NHL record for the longest winning streak to begin a career.
All was well until January, when Emery gave up eight goals to Atlanta and struggled mightily in his only other two starts in the month. After Hasek suffered an injury in the Olympics, Emery was asked to step into the starter’s role. The Hamilton native responded extremely well, winning 11 of the next 13 games, and starting 22 consecutive games. Emery’s confidence grew significantly as the starter. He was challenging shooters more and keeping the club in games.
Emery finished with an impressive record of 23-11-4 on the season. His 2.82 GAA and .902 save percentage on the season do not fairly represent how well he played overall. Perhaps most impressively, Emery showed maturity and poise, collecting only two penalty minutes on the season, after picking up 52, 72 and 50 in his three seasons in the AHL. Constantly under the microscope as the rookie starter on a club with Stanley Cup expectations, Emery for the most part had a successful season. Clearly he is deserving of the goaltender of the future label he had been given in the minors.
Chris Kelly, C
Height: 6’0 Weight: 195 DOB: Nov. 11, 1980
(1999 Draft, 94th overall)
Chris Kelly is a textbook example of a player who paid his dues and adapted his game in order to carve out a niche as an NHL player. A third round pick back in 1999, back when Andre Savard was the head scout for the Senators, Kelly made the club in his fifth professional season. Prior to this season, he had played but sparingly in a four-game call-up in 2003-04. In 2005-06, he skated in all 82 games with the club.
The Toronto native made the club out of training camp as the fourth line center. He was asked to play sound defensive hockey, provide some energy and kill penalties. By the New Year, he was a key player for the club, playing on the top penalty-killing unit with Antoine Vermette, for a team that ranked fourth overall. Kelly’s defensive responsibilities increased as well, and rarely was he not on the ice to finish a close game.
What was more surprising was that as the season wore on, Kelly began putting up some points. He finished with 10 goals and 30 points, after only appearing on the scoresheet in one of his first 23 games. Near the end of the season he saw time on the first line, playing the role of defensive conscience with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. While his upside may be limited, he has clearly established himself as a valuable role player with a future with the Senators organization.
Andrej Meszaros, D
Height: 6’2 Weight: 215 DOB: Oct. 13, 1985
(2004 Draft, 23rd overall)
The rise of Andrej Meszaros can only be described as meteoric. Heading into training camp in September, Meszaros was expected to challenge for a spot as a seventh defenseman, but was supposed to be destined for a developmental year in the AHL.
Not only did Meszaros make the squad, but he was hardly a spare part. After suiting up for every preseason game, Meszaros dressed for every regular season contest as well. Originally the sixth defenseman, he finished the season on the second pairing with perennial all-star Wade Redden.
The reason Meszaros kept rising up the depth chart all season was the fact that he never stopped improving. As the season wore on, his confidence grew and his responsibilities increased. He perhaps peaked in late March and early April, where injuries forced him to assume top minutes, including almost 38 minutes April 5 against the Sabres.
Overall, Meszaros notched 39 points, tied for second among rookie blueliners. He led the entire NHL in plus/minus throughout most of the season only to finish tied for third, with Redden tying for the league lead. The Slovak has been lauded for an outstanding work ethic and passion for the game, which compliments his strong offensive skills and textbook defensive zone coverage. Meszaros will only be given more responsibility moving forward, with Redden and Zdeno Chara both unrestricted free agents this summer.
Brian McGrattan, RW
Height: 6’5 Weight: 238 DOB: Sep 2, 1981
Heading into the 2005-06 season, the Senators had long been without a true heavyweight in their line-up. In steps Brian McGrattan, fresh off setting an AHL record for penalty minutes in a season, with an intimidating glare and massive build. McGrattan’s role was clear, he was to provide toughness and intimidation, and for the most part was extremely successful in this capacity.
Although he never once saw the ice for even ten minutes in a game, McGrattan did skate in 60 games with the Senators. He quickly gained a reputation for his fighting ability, and led the NHL in fighting majors with 19. Remarkably, he still finished second on the team in penalty minutes with 141, with incumbent tough guy Chris Neil leading the way. As long as fighters have a place in the NHL, McGrattan appears to have the potential to remain in the league.
Patrick Eaves, RW
Height: 6’0 Weight: 192 DOB: May 1, 1984
(2003 Draft, 29th overall)
Although all of the Senators rookies seemed to improve as the season progressed, no player may have done so more clearly than Patrick Eaves. After leaving college a year early to start his professional career, the former Boston College star appeared out of place in preseason games. He was subsequently demoted to Binghamton, only to be recalled a few times soon after.
After a recall on Dec. 11, Eaves was not demoted again. He played on a variety of lines with inconsistent ice time throughout the rest of the season, suiting up in 58 games for the club. Eaves played on the fourth line, but also late in the season saw time on the first line. His hard-nosed style also led him to play in front of the net on the first power-play unit at times as well, resulting in five power-play goals on the year.
The most impressive feat for Eaves in his rookie season was scoring 20 goals, which ranked 10th among rookies. The scrappy winger scored four goals and eight points in the season’s final eight games to hit that milestone. He had 29 points overall. Heading into next season, Eaves is likely to be given more time on a scoring line. He displayed a quick release and impressive offensive instincts that should make him a valuable offensive weapon for the future.
Christoph Schubert, D/W
Height: 6’3 Weight: 230 DOB: Feb 5, 1982
(2001 Draft, 127th overall)
What a difference a year can make. At the conclusion of the 2003-04 season, Christoph Schubert was struggling to stay on the radar screen as a prospect, after two disappointing seasons in the AHL. A breakout campaign later, and he found himself in the NHL, albeit as the seventh defenseman. By the end of his rookie season though, Schubert was more than simply a seventh defenseman.
As a result of a rash of injuries to Senators forwards, Schubert was asked to play the wing in a pinch early in the season. He thrived in a grinder role, throwing his weight around every shift and providing energy by doing so. Late in the season, with the injury bug biting the blue line, Schubert stepped up and played over 20 minutes four games in a row.
In all, Schubert suited up for 56 games, roughly half at forward. He notched four goals and 10 points overall. With great size, a cannon of a shot and impressive skating ability for a blueliner, Schubert has the skills to grow in to a more significant role.
Filip Novak, D
Height: 6’0 Weight: 203 DOB: May 7, 1982
Acquired from Florida in training camp for a sixth round pick, Novak had a stellar season with Binghamton, only to be rewarded with a call-up on March 23. With the big club ravaged by injuries, Novak stepped in and played reasonably well in 11 games. Although he did not register a point, he showed good offensive skills and demonstrated that he could be ready to make the team full time next season.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.