Young hopefuls 'make training camp exciting again'
New direction should give Sens management plenty to ponder heading into season
|The presence of young talent such as Stephane Da Costa will add some extra spice to the battle for jobs when Senators training camp opens next month at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
The kids are all right.
And perhaps more than ever, they're determined to make their mark — and force their hockey bosses into some tough decisions — when Ottawa Senators training camp opens in less than three weeks' time at Scotiabank Place.
That's more than just fine with Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray, who's eagerly anticipating some of the battles for jobs that will take place as camp begins to unfold starting Sept. 16, when players arrive for physical and medical testing.
"That's what makes training camp exciting again," Murray told the Team 1200 when asked about the influx of young talent that figures to make its presence felt right from the opening day of training camp. "We all know there are certain jobs that are just there. Nobody's going to take the job (away). But now, with the the direction we've gone, we've got some decisions to make and these kids aren't being held back. They feel they have a chance."
They're not shy about saying so, either. Consider these words uttered recently by Mika Zibanejad, the 18-year-old Swedish centre selected No. 6 overall by the Senators in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft back in June.
"I want to give the coaches a hard decision (about whether) to keep me here or send me back home," said Zibanejad, who arrived in the capital two weeks ago to begin his quest to earn a spot on the Senators roster. "Hopefully, I can stay here in Ottawa."
Ottawa is where Stephane Da Costa, the France-born winger who lit up the NCAA hockey ranks the past two seasons at Merrimack College, has been for the entire summer. He, too, has designs on sticking with the Senators and Murray can see the benefits of having either of Zibanejad or Da Costa in the Ottawa lineup on opening night.
"(Zibanejad) was just picked this year as an 18-year-old and we think he's got a chance to make the team," said Murray. "Stephane was the highly sought after college free agent that everybody wanted and we happened to get. They're different players, but they both bring attributes that we like. Stephane is a great puck-distributing centre ice man and he sees the ice very well. He certainly would help our power play right off the bat.
"Mika's got good skill and he plays a bull of a game. He plays a power game, he's a strong, strong skater, he can finish checks and he works hard. These kids have made the commitment to come over early on their own, paid their own way and they're working out here with the pros to gauge themselves and see what they have to do in the last month (before camp) to get ready."
Then there's Nikita Filatov, the former No. 6 overall pick (in the 2008 NHL draft) obtained by the Senators in a trade with Columbus at the 2011 draft in St. Paul, Minn., two months ago. Though he's spent parts of the last three seasons with the Blue Jackets, the Moscow native is still only 21 years old, a young talent with his best hockey days still ahead of him. At least that's what the Senators believe.
"He didn't have a great (experience) in Columbus' organization and there were a lot of factors involved," said Murray. "Maybe the first factor was him playing (in the NHL) at 18 years old and the expectations that went with him going sixth overall. They're huge and they're out of his control. It probably wasn't a great fit and he probably has to take some responsibility on why it didn't work.
"But we've wiped the slate clean here. We've told him that we're going to give him every opportunity to be an important player for us, to play in our six, if he can prove that he belongs there. We're going to do the right hing and we're not going to hand him anything. So he's here now and he's working out with our veteran guys, and he's getting a good look at what it takes ... to be a good pro. I'm excited to see him (at camp) and hoping for the best."