Senators training camp preview

By Sean Keogh

On Sept. 14, the Ottawa Senators embark on their 13th season in the league. After some tinkering and retooling over the summer, the club returns once again strong and deep.

Almost every year, the Senators see a rookie step up and be a significant contributor in their first season in the NHL. Last year there were several, including Andrej Meszaros, Ray Emery and Patrick Eaves.

Heading into the 2006-07 season, the Senators have at least one rookie likely set to make the team, with a few others that with an outstanding training camp, could break camp with the big club.

It should be noted that while Eaves is technically still a prospect, he is seven games short of graduating and has a very good chance of playing on the first line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. He heads into camp as an established player. It is the prospects that follow who have the most at stake heading into training camp.

Alexei Kaigorodov is finally set to begin his NHL career this season. With no transfer agreement in place, Kaigorodov was able to secure his release from his Russian Super League team Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The question with him is not so much whether he will begin the season in Ottawa, but can he step into the role of second line center and be a playmaker for Daniel Alfredsson.

A veteran of five Super League seasons, the 23-year-old former second round pick is a gifted playmaker with plenty of offensive upside. Kaigorodov has great vision and wonderful hockey sense, which along with his good skating ability could make him a good playmaker for the Senators. Where Kaigorodov may struggle is with the physical aspects of the NHL game.

Although he will be given every opportunity to earn the second line center job, if he is unable to withstand the physical nature of North American hockey, he may struggle to get regular ice time. Kaigorodov will also have to work on his defensive game, but he nonetheless could be another impact rookie for the Senators.

Before Kaigorodov’s arrival was assured in late August, there was a lot more hope for prospects and minor leaguers looking for a fourth line roster spot. While Kaigorodov may be penciled in for a scoring line role, none of the other prospects were looking at a similar role.

Aside from long-time farmhand Denis Hamel, the prospect most likely to find a spot on the fourth line was Arttu Luttinen. The Senators third round pick from the same year as Kaigorodov, the stocky Finn signed a contract to transfer from his Finnish Elite League team HIFK Helsinki earlier in the summer.

Luttinen was the last Finnish selection made by then director of player personnel Jarmo Kekalainen, who left for a new position in St. Louis a few months later. Luttinen’s selection was completely off the board, but Kekalainen knew the HIFK Helsinki system very well, having been the general manager there from 1995 to 1999. Four years later, after a breakout campaign last year that saw him score 18 goals and 44 points in 56 games, Luttinen is no longer an unknown third round pick.

Although he was a good offensive contributor in Finland, Luttinen was still something of a complimentary player on his club’s top line. His best assets are his hard work, willingness to crash the net, and his stocky frame that projects well to the North American style of game.

With the 12 forward spots taken up and Christoph Schubert likely doubling as the 13th forward and seventh defenseman again, Luttinen would need an injury to occur to break camp in Ottawa. He will get top minutes in Binghamton instead.

The other forward who had a legitimate chance at a roster spot taken away with Kaigorodov’s arrival was another player who only joined the organization earlier in the summer. Josh Hennessy, acquired in the Martin Havlat trade from San Jose, is coming off of a strong first professional campaign. He led the AHL’s Cleveland Barons in scoring last year, after four seasons in junior.

Hennessy is a center like Kaigorodov, but is not nearly as advanced in his overall development. If he was to make the club, it would be on the third or fourth line, not on the second. Again, barring injury, Hennessy will begin the season in Binghamton getting plenty of ice time to continue his development.

With pretty much all of the club’s other prominent forward prospects playing the 2006-07 season either in junior, college or Russia, there aren’t any other prospects with an even long-shot chance of winning a roster spot.

Grant Potulny had a good second season with Binghamton, but should more be aiming for a mid-season call-up. The same could be said for Danny Bois, who may have a future as a fourth line agitator and enforcer, but is not there yet. Offseason signings Bobby Robins, Andrew Ebbett and Ryan Vesce are all in camp, but will undoubtedly begin the season in Binghamton.

The outlook for prospects looking to crack the blueline is even dimmer, with seven guaranteed NHL blueliners in camp, not including Jamie Allison who has almost 400 games of NHL experience as well.

Michal Barinka, the other prospect acquired in the Martin Havlat trade, enters camp having played 25 games for Chicago last year, but is at best ninth on the depth chart at the moment. He could end up as low as 11th depending on the play of Andy Hedlund and Tomas Malec.

Only four goaltenders will attend camp this year, with Martin Gerber and Ray Emery penciled in as the netminders in Ottawa and Kelly Guard and Jeff Glass destined for Binghamton. The real training camp battle in goal will be in Binghamton to decide who will play the bulk of the games for the “Baby Sens” this season.

No rookie camp

For the first time in several years, the Senators did not participate in a rookie camp before opening their main camp this year. One of the first teams to start using the rookie camp as a way to evaluate prospects and simplify the main training camp, the decision was somewhat of a surprise.

The primary motivation was the lack of available prospects for the tournament. With so many prospects in Europe and college, the number of major junior and minor pro players available was deemed insufficient. There is good reason to hope that next year the club will once again join or host a tournament.

Preseason schedule

Tuesday, September 19 – vs. Pittsburgh (6:30) – In Halifax, Nova Scotia
Wednesday, September 20 – vs. Toronto (7:30)
Friday, September 22 – vs. Ottawa (7:30)
Saturday, September 23 – @ Philadelphia (7:00)
Sunday, September 24 – @ Toronto (6:00) – in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Monday, September 25 – @ Montreal (6:00) – in Truro, Nova Scotia
Wednesday, September 27 – @ Toronto (7:30)
Thursday, September 28 – vs. Montreal (7:30)
Saturday, September 30 – @ Montreal (7:00)

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