Rookie tournaments are generally a place for firsts, from first-rounders to a variety of young players getting their initial taste of professional-level competition. But for some, including 24-year-old Danny Hobbs, they can also represent second chances.
Hobbs was drafted in the seventh round of the 2007 NHL Draft (198th overall) by the New York Rangers. After completing a four-year collegiate career, he signed an AHL deal with the Connecticut Whale, but never got into an AHL game.
While his participation at this year’s Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie camp marks a new beginning for him within the Ottawa Senators’ organization, he comes to it with something a lot of players participating don’t have — experience.
“Having a year under my belt in pro, I have a little bit of a different perspective coming into this,” Hobbs said. “I kind of know what I need to do to catch some eyes, so I’ve been trying to do that to the best of my ability. It’s definitely a tournament that will prepare you for camp and give you a spot to showcase yourself.”
And what are people looking for, according to Hobbs?
“Work hard every shift, try to get the puck to the net, try to use my physical ability out there,” he said. “Just try to play hard and be hard to play against.”
“For myself, it’s just trying to be more consistent out there. Having a year of pro under my belt, I think the little things in the game — winning puck battles and positioning — you realize that it’s such an important part of the game. And to be able to do that, game in and game out, I think that will give me a chance to make it to the next level.”
After a collegiate career and a year in the ECHL playing for the Greenville Road Warriors, Hobbs has seen a lot of things. But even he was a little surprised by his designation in the Senators’ rookie camp roster notes.
“Actually, I’m on a deal with [the] Binghamton [Senators, Ottawa’s AHL affiliate], I’m not even really sure what ‘professional tryout’ means,” he added, laughing. “I was asking a couple of guys — me and Danny New have it.
“I think it’s just a good opportunity for me to come in and try to showcase myself. I was with Hartford last year on a deal with them and I didn’t get a chance to play up in the American League. Maybe this tournament will open some eyes and maybe give me a chance going into Binghamton’s camp.”
At 24 years old, Hobbs is one of the older players in this tournament. While he said he’s willing to be a resource for younger players on the squad, he also wants to respect the established pecking order of the Senators’ prospect pool.
“For me, a lot of the guys that are on Ottawa[‘s rookie squad] right now played in Binghamton last year, so a lot of those guys have the leadership roles,” he said. “I’m trying to, not exactly be another guy, but if they need someone to help out I will. A lot of those other guys have leadership roles where they’ve been in the American league for a couple of years, so they know the in's and out's. I just played in the Coast for one year, so I don’t want to step on anybody’s feet. I try to be a leader just in the way I play.”
It’s a process with which he’s familiar from his collegiate experience.
“I did four years at U-Mass-Amherst in Hockey East, so the first couple of years I kind of had to learn my role within the team. My third year I had a breakout season, led the team, and then fourth year — my senior year — I was captain,” he said. “I kind of went up the ranks there and learned what I needed to do. Last year I played in Greenville in the ECHL. I have an idea of what I need to do to get to the next level and this tournament is going to help prepare me for that.”
After two games, with the conclusion coming in a marquee “Battle of Ontario”-themed match this evening to end the tournament, Hobbs explained that he’s noticed some differences between this and his 58-game stint in the ECHL.
“I think this tournament, all the guys — it’s just fast. I mean, everything just happens so fast,” Hobbs said. “In the Coast, it was more controlled hockey, whereas in this tournament guys aren’t really used to playing with each other. It’s just fast-paced hockey and I’d say it’s almost tougher to play in this than where I was last year. I enjoy it, though.”
Part of the challenge is dealing with a group-wide lack of familiarity with teammates and systems. For someone familiar with auditioning for roster spots, though, it’s par for the course.
“We’ve only had really two practices and one pre-game skate, but that’s kind of how it works,” Hobbs explained. “Tryouts, you’re playing with other guys you’re not used to and you just have to make your own chemistry.
“We pretty much all know the standard of what we need to do. We’ve had a couple of games and we’re trying to carry things over. I’m trying to bring in a little more chemistry - hanging out with the guys, going out to dinner, and things like that definitely help.”
Hobbs said he’s been impressed so far with the Senators’ organization and feels confident about the opportunity he’s been given.
“I think the respect they have, it’s such a classy organization,” he said. “Just through the coaches, management, players — everything, it’s a great spot to be. I’m coming in here, on a tryout, and getting treated just like anybody else. To be able to say that about an organization, I think it’d be a great spot to play.
“Some teams run their system a little differently. I would say Ottawa’s the team that runs it the best in terms of the ones that I’ve been a part of.”
Hobbs comes in as a former late-round pick and free-agent signee. He describes himself as a third-line guy who wants to be hard to play against and offer some offense (he had back-to-back 12-goal seasons at UMass-Amherst, and netted nine goals and 31 points last year in 53 regular-season games in Greenville). Fighting for spots amongst higher-drafted proprietary picks, he said he’s keeping his goals and expectations modest.
“I just want to keep working towards my goal of playing in the American league next year, and then go on from there,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think everyone’s goal is [the NHL], but for now I’ll start with trying to make the American league and baby steps from there.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard