Senators’ Annual Development Camp Update

By Jake Dole
The Ottawa Senators’ Annual Development Camp officially came to an end on Thursday, June 11th. Featuring most of the team’s highly touted prospects, the event was an early sneak peak towards the actual Training Camp this fall.

Several of the 20 invites will eventually have a shot at winning a job on the senior squad. Jason Spezza, the team’s 1st pick in the 2002 draft could give Todd White a run for 2nd line duty. A skilled playmaker, Spezza could become a major offensive contributor for Ottawa next season. Among others, Tim Gleason, Antoine Vermette and Petr Schastlivy will all be given opportunities. Especially the 23-year old Schastlivy, who is expected by many to blossom into the club’s second-line left winger, with the departure of Shawn McEachern.

Getting a rare opportunity to see a good chunk of the Development Camp, I got a glimpse at the progress of most of the participating players. Here are some that caught my eye, either for the right or wrong reasons.

Toni Dahlman – A 6-foot, 193-pound right winger from Grand Rapids of the AHL is a former Rookie of the Year in the Finnish League. Last year, he came to camp with few expectations, but this time around, first impressions were key. Dahlman looks to be in very good shape and has shown a lot of energy. Toni is a very strong stickhandler and his shot is above-average. Dahlman has shown the propensity to use his size as well, and he likes to play in traffic. Toni’s decision-making skills still require work, but he showed more finish at camp than I expected – a weakness of his last year. Don’t be surprised if Toni wins a checking role at Training Camp, but another year in the minors is likely.

Scott Dobben– Dobben is coming off a breakthrough year with the Erie Otters of the OHL, scoring at nearly a point-a-game pace. That being said, Scott is not top line-material for the NHL, but he has strong attributes of being a potentially solid pro. Dobben’s skating during the camp seemed sub-par, and hopefully this won’t hold him back. However, Scott has demonstrated very good physical capabilities, and although he is only 6-foot-1, he plays much bigger. A hard-working player with good awareness and playmaking abilities.

Ray Emery – After being named OHL’s top goaltender in 2001/2002, Emery is now arguably the Senators’ top netminding prospect. Emery plays a mix butterfly-standup style to precision and is blessed with excellent agility. Ray had a very solid camp, showing no real holes to his armor. One of Emery’s strengths is his glovehand, one of the best I have seen among Junior goalies. One factor that made Ray very effective at camp is his big frame – at 6-foot-3, 192, he covers a large portion of the net, and with good agility, he exposes little to no holes to the shooter.

Alexandre Giroux– If not for Jason Spezza, Alexandre could have stuck out as the most impressive stickhandler at camp. I have seen him perform quite a bit, and Giroux always looks good enough to deserve high marks. I wish I could have seen just a bit more spunk and aggressiveness from him, but Giroux didn’t look out of place playing along the likes of Vermette, Klepis and Spezza. Something tells me that Giroux will have to be more than simply ‘good’ at training camp. His ability to play the body is a strength, and he’ll have to employ it to the fullest this fall.

Tim Gleason – You never know what to expect from Tim sometimes, but after a superb playoff with Windsor last year, needless to say, I expected a ton more than what I witnessed. The 3-on-3 tournament is usually a very good showcase to a player’s hockey sense and his ability to jell with other players. Most of the time, Gleason just floated, and, as a defenseman, that he simply cannot afford to do. In an interview, Tim expressed his desire to make the Senators at this year’s training camp. However, I saw little indication that he is ready. Gleason doesn’t take the body, his passes were usually off the mark and he showed little to no effort during the drills. Tim has the potential to be a star defenseman in the NHL, but until his work habits improve, he will be hard pressed to be a top-6 blueliner.

Chris Kelly – What you see is what you get most of the time with Chris. Chris excels being a playmaking winger that plays well at both ends of the ice. Chris will need a lot of minor-pro seasoning to get stronger and more aggressive, but he shows promise of being an effective NHL checker some day. I was very impressed by Kelly’s decision making and on-ice instincts – he blends in very well with some of the more high-profile Sens prospects and distributes the puck effectively. Chris Kelly will need at least another year in the minors, where he will hopefully see an increased role.

Jakub Klepis – The Senators were criticized by many for selecting a European with their first pick in the 2002 draft. However, considering the team’s excellent draft history, this looks like another stroke of genious by the Sens’ scouting staff. The most impressive factor to me about Klepis is his confidence – he looks very poised and eager to participate. As Jakub put it himself, he is a playmaker, but, in addition to that, Klepis is also a superb stickhandler. At the 3-on-3 tourney, I discovered just how well Klepis blends in with players with whom he only had days to familiarize himself. The puck seems to follow him at every turn, and he always knows what to do with it. Klepis is a very intelligent centre and if Senators fans are concerned that he is just another soft European, I assure you that he is not.

Simon Lajeunesse – Lajeunesse replaced Martin Prusek, who was initially supposed to accompany Ray Emery to the Development Camp. Lajeunesse is a netminder totally reliant on his reflexes. He is fairly lanky, but is very quick and agile. One weakness that I did notice in his play is that he oftentimes gets beaten down low and stick-side. Few of the scrimmage goals scored on him went five-hole. Still looks raw, but will get plenty of seasoning in the minors with a possible call-up next year with Ottawa. At the moment Lajeunesse has Prusek ahead of him on the Sens’ goaltending chart, and with Emery’s far more impressive showing, Simon might be the odd man out eventually.

Jason Spezza– Jason very rarely looks bad. Even if he’s struggling, he always shows you enough to keep you at awe. On the first day of camp, Spezza made a beautiful stickhandling move on a goalie, where he faked not once, but twice before burying the puck. Of course, one-on-ones are generally meaningless, this was definitely a showcase of his magical abilities. But this is nothing that most people don’t already know. Spezza fans will be happy to find out that Jason’s skating looks better, although he was never really slow. What Spezza fails to use most of the time is his stride, which makes his skating look so smooth, it seems as though he’s floating and not even trying. Physically, he’s not using his body much along the boards, but another factor that was promising about his play is his increased offensive aggressiveness. Jason is much more confident with his shot than ever before. Last year, I would say he oftentimes passed the puck too much. In the 3-on-3, it seemed as though I saw a Jason Spezza with increased confidence in his abilities and a guy that can bury the biscuit with much more consistency. I am tempted to say that he is ready for prime time, but I would be a lot more confident in that statement if I saw Jason level a player along the boards. But as that ‘Rolling Stones’ song goes, you can’t always have what you want.

Antoine Vermette – I am saving the best for last… To be honest, I did not know what to expect from a guy that missed all but 4 regular season games in 2001/2002. Antoine certainly was not bitter about missing that much time, and on the first day of camp, he told me that he felt it was a learning experience. Clearly, Vermette took a very positive approach into camp, and looked very at ease. Antoine might seem like a nice, down-to-earth guy in real life, but on the ice he takes no prisoners. I was very impressed by Antoine’s hustle – he scored several goals with virtual ease at the 3-on-3 and assisted on a few others. Vermette’s instincts look better than ever and after seeing him play, I came away believing this he might be ready NHL duty as soon as the 2002/2003 campaign.

Volchenkov Skips Camp

Senators’ prospect Anton Volchenkov did not arrive in Ottawa for the annual Development Camp. The club’s 1st round pick in the 2000 draft is seeking a contract that would enable him to try out for the team this fall. However, it seems as though Volchenkov’s agent and the team are not close on agreeing to a deal. Apparently, Anton feels happy playing in Russia, and is in no hurry to play for the Senators. If no deal is decided upon by Monday, Volchenkov will spend another year developing with the Soviet Wings of the Russian Superleague.

If you have any questions regarding the Senators Development Camp, feel free to e-mail me.

Read more about the Camp.