The Ottawa Senators kick off training camp on Sept. 13 and will look to build on the success of the season that brought them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007. The core of the team remains intact, but they will likely have a few fresh young faces added to the lineup, something that was missing in 2006-07. Last season, the Senators were so stacked in all positions there was little room for a youngster to develop. Josh Hennessy was the only prospect to see significant time with Ottawa, to the tune of just 10 NHL games. The only other rookies to make appearances on Ottawa’s roster were Alexei Kaigorodov, who has since been traded, and tough guy Danny Bois, who made a memorable impression taking on Donald Brashear in his first and only NHL game. The lack of rookies on the team was an anomaly for the Senators who in past seasons have had much success with youngsters playing significant roles. Andrej Meszaros, Patrick Eaves, and Ray Emery are the most prominent names in recent memory, all of whom had terrific rookie campaigns and contributed to the team’s success.
The big off-season changes came in the front office. John Muckler stepped aside as GM to make way for former head coach Bryan Murray, who had been waiting in the wings to take over the position. Murray decided to promote his former assistant coach John Paddock to maintain continuity behind the bench. Paddock is familiar with many of the players, having worked with them for the past three years. Ottawa’s coaching staff also added Ron Low and Eli Wilson as assistants.
Coming off a strong season, Murray wanted to keep the core of the roster together. He felt a need to improve team size and overall grit, something that was evidently lacking during their Stanley Cup Final match-up with the Anaheim Ducks. Ottawa did not make any major splashes in the UFA market, opting instead to focus on re-signing key RFAs such as Ray Emery, Chris Kelly and Christoph Schubert. They did sign a few players to provide depth, bringing back Dean McAmmond, adding Ottawa native and veteran defenseman Luke Richardson, as well as journeyman forward Niko Dimitrakos. The Senators also signed forward Justin Mapletoft, a former fifth-round pick of the New York Islanders in 1999 who had been playing in Germany. Other signings included forwards Danny Bois, and Denis Hamel, both no strangers to the Ottawa system, as well as defensemen Matt Carkner, Matt Kinch, and Lawrence Nycholat, another returnee from the 2006-07 squad. Shean Donovan’s acquisition came at the expense of Peter Schaefer, who heads to Boston. Ottawa also lost Tom Preissing and Mike Comrie to unrestricted free agency, while Oleg Saprykin left the team to join a Russian club.
It was a busy summer for Murray, who signed over 10 prospects to entry-level contracts. Turning pro from the NCAA ranks are: goaltender Brian Elliott, from Wisconsin; winger Shawn Weller, from Clarkson; forward Jim McKenzie, from Michigan; defenseman Derek Smith, from Lake Superior; and defenseman Brian Lee, ninth overall pick in 2005, from North Dakota. Joining the Senators from the CHL are: forwards Nick Foligno, 2006 first round pick from Sudbury (OHL); Kaspars Daugavins, from Toronto St. Michael’s (OHL); and defenseman Tomas Kudelka, from Lethbridge (WHL). Coming from Europe are defenseman Mattias Karlsson out of Sweden, and forwards Ilya Zubov and Alexander Nikulin from Russia. Jim O’Brien also agreed to terms, leaving Minnesota for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL.
Battle for roster spots
Ottawa’s forward group boasts the names Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson, and back-to-back 50-goal man Dany Heatley. Firepower up front should not be an issue. Antoine Vermette, Patrick Eaves, Chris Neil, and Chris Kelly have spots virtually locked and round out a solid forward core group. Veterans Dean McAmmond and newly acquired Donovan will bring leadership and experience to the club. With three lines essentially filled, the battle for roster spots will take place on the fourth line. As such, it would be a great place for a young player to develop with the team. Twenty-two-year-old Josh Hennessy, who came to Ottawa in the Martin Havlat trade, has an inside track to land a spot. He was the sole Senators prospect to see more than one NHL game last season and he has spent significant time developing in the AHL. His hard-working two-way style should make him an effective energy forward and he has the ability to chip in offensively from time to time (scored one goal in 10 games). Ottawa’s 2006 first-round pick Nick Foligno has an edge by way of pedigree, not to mention he’s coming off a strong OHL season. Playing a similar style as his father Mike Foligno, Nick is a slick combination of skill, grit, and two-way play, making him one of the stronger candidates to earn time with Ottawa. Not to be forgotten is tough-guy Brian McGrattan, the resident enforcer is entering his third year with the club.
Hennessy and Foligno are the two forward prospects widely regarded as having the best chance of cracking the lineup, but there are several others who could make some noise. Cody Bass, former captain of the Mississauga Ice Dogs (OHL), is a shoo-in to fill the role of a grinder/checker at the NHL level at some point in his future. He may not be as skilled offensively, but he is well known for his great work ethic, defensive play, and faceoff abilities. Bass will likely spend the season with Binghamton and could get recalled if there’s an injury. Latvian native Daugavins was quite impressive in his first North American season. Though his team finished dead last in the OHL, Daugavins put up nearly a point-per-game and played with a lot of heart. He has the tools to be an effective two-way second liner, and could develop well playing on Ottawa’s fourth line. Also vying for NHL duty are a pair of Russians, Ilya Zubov and Alexander Nikulin. Both had been playing in the RSL and have made the commitment to test their skills in North America. It seems they are more willing to go through the proper development process than their predecessor Alexei Kaigorodov, which is great news for the Senators since both have notable offensive upside but will likely need time to get acclimated with a more physical brand of hockey. Other noteworthy hopefuls include: Shawn Weller, a big, strong forward who brings a ton of energy; Arttu Luttinen, a second-year pro who struggled with Binghamton in his rookie year; Jim McKenzie, who developed for three years at Michigan State; and 2007 first-round pick Jim O’Brien, who will play in the WHL if he doesn’t crack the lineup.
On defense, Ottawa lost their 2006-07 leading scorer in Tom Preissing, who signed with Los Angeles as a UFA. At first glance, his departure appears to leave a huge gap on the blueline. But with five of last season’s top six returning, a group that allowed the third fewest goals in the Eastern Conference, Ottawa’s defense corps is in good shape. Anton Volchenkov and Chris Philips make up the team’s defensive pairing, while Wade Redden and Meszaros round out the top four. Smooth-skating offensive rearguard Joe Corvo should be a mainstay on the power play and the third pair, and Christoph Schubert, a natural defenseman who has been playing forward in recent years, is potentially the sixth man on the depth chart. Other veterans competing for positions include: Matt Carkner, a six-year AHL veteran; Lawrence Nycholat, who played well in limited action last season; and veteran Luke Richardson. With so much depth on defense, there is little room for a prospect to crack the lineup. That being said, Ottawa does have a number of solid defense prospects that could make some noise. Leading the pack is 2005 ninth overall pick Brian Lee, who added much need muscle and also improved his defensive game last season in North Dakota. Even if Lee is a standout in camp, he will be hard-pressed to leapfrog the more experienced players ahead of him on the depth chart. He still needs to improve his physical play and some time in the AHL will only help his development. Tomas Kudelka is another hopeful. He brings 16 games of AHL experience to camp, but is likely to play a full season with Binghamton before seeing time in Ottawa. Other candidates include: Mattias Karlsson, a relatively unknown offensive-minded rearguard out of Sweden; and Derek Smith, who signed as a free agent at Lake Superior State.
The position that has the fewest questions going into camp is goaltending. Ray Emery signed a three-year deal in the off-season and is firmly entrenched as Ottawa’s No.1 netminder. Martin Gerber was relegated to backup and attempts to trade him were unsuccessful. With two NHL netminders in the fold, prospects Brian Elliott and Jeff Glass have little chance of cracking the lineup. Glass, Binghamton’s 2006-07 1B goaltender, is coming off a very poor season. He is entering the final year of his contract and will need to prove that last season was just an off year. Elliott, Ottawa’s potential goalie of the future, got his first taste of AHL hockey at the end of the season after his Badgers were eliminated from playoff contention. He is the leading candidate to play the No.1 role in Binghamton, but Glass will certainly give him healthy competition.
Jim O’Brien is not yet fully recovered from shoulder surgery. He will not be participating in the rookie tournament or contact drills. Mattias Karlsson is also currently on the sidelines with a knee injury. There is no timetable for his return.
Rookie camp and prospect tournament
Ottawa’s rookie camp will be held prior to the opening of training camp, from Sept. 5 to 11. The camp will include a prospect tournament featuring hopefuls from the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Pittsburgh Penguins. The four-day tournament, held at the Memorial Auditorium in Kitchener, Ontario, will give Senators staff an excellent chance to see how their system matches up against others in the Eastern conference. Leading the camp is new Binghamton head coach Cory Clouston. In all, 26 players were invited to attend. Fourteen were Senator draft picks, ten were invited on try-out basis, while the other two were signed as free agents. After completion of the camp, Ottawa will extend invites to those who will proceed to the main camp. In previous years, 10-12 rookies received invites. It is expected that a similar number of youngsters will make the cut this season.
Rookie camp roster
(Key: player, position, age, last team (league), acquired)
Kevin Baker, C, 20, Sudbury (OHL), Amateur try-out
Cody Bass, C, 20, Binghamton (AHL), Draft (2003)
Clayton Bauer, LW, 20, Kootenay (WHL), Amateur try-out
Curtis Billsten, RW, 21, Kootenay (WHL), Amateur try-out
Ryan Daniels, G, 19, Saginaw (OHL), Draft (2006)
Steven DaSilva, RW, 20, Kootenay (WHL), Amateur try-out
Kaspars Daugavins, LW, 19, St. Michael’s (OHL), Draft (2006)
Tyler Donati, RW, 20, Belleville (OHL) Free agent (AHL)
Brian Elliott, G, 22, Binghamton (AHL), Draft (2003)
Garrett Festerling, RW, 21, Regina (WHL), Amateur try-out
Nick Foligno, LW, 19, Sudbury (OHL), Draft (2006)
Brett Gallant, LW, 18, Saint John (QMJHL), Amateur try-out
Michael Grenzy, D, 23, Clarkson (NCAA), Amateur try-out
Chaz Johnson, RW, 23, Rochester (AHL), Professional try-out
Mattias Karlsson, D, 22, Bofors (Sweden), Draft (2003)
Tomas Kudelka, D, 20, Binghamton (AHL), Draft (2005)
Brian Lee, D, 20, University of North Dakota (NCAA), Draft (2005)
Pierre-Luc Lessard, D, 19, P.E.I. (QMJHL), Draft (2006)
Andrew Marshall, D, 21, Barrie (OHL), Amateur try-out
Jim McKenzie, RW, 23, Michigan State (NCAA), Draft (2004)
Alexander Nikulin, C, 22, CSKA (Russia), Draft (2004)
Jim O’Brien, C, 18, University of Minnesota (NCAA), Draft (2007)
Derek Smith, D, 22, Lake Superior State (NCAA), Free agent
Geoff Waugh, D, 24, Springfield (AHL), Professional try-out
Shawn Weller, LW, 21, Binghamton (AHL), Draft (2004)
Ilya Zubov, C, 20, Ufa (Russia), Draft (2005)
Ottawa is scheduled to play seven exhibition matches.
Tuesday, September 18 @ Philadelphia, 7pm
Thursday, September 20 vs. Washington, 7pm
Saturday, September 22 @ Montreal, 7pm
Monday, September 24 @ Toronto, 7:30pm
Tuesday, September 25 vs. Philadelphia, 7pm
Saturday, September 29 vs. Montreal, 7pm
Sunday, September 30 @ Washington, 5pm
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