My Take: Senators Training Camp Thoughts

We’re a day away from Game 1 of the 2011-12 season for the Ottawa Senators and rather than write a prediction piece, I decided to do something a little different.  Everyone in the nation’s capital knows that this Senators’ team is in rebuild mode and any expectation beyond a bottom-tier finish is a bit far-fetched.   While there will be some exciting times watching the youngsters learn on the job, this organization is going to struggle to score goals and will probably lose a lot of 2-1, 3-2 games.

So instead, I thought I’d write about what I seen throughout training camp.  Of those that made the team, who impressed with their work ethic and skill?  Who looks like they need to keep improving?  Who looks like they’re ready to bounce back?  Who got lost in the shuffle?

 But don’t get me wrong.  I’m not an expert (especially if Andy Sutton asks).  I’m just a member of the media who attended almost every practice and scrimmage.  I have an opinion and here it is, hope you enjoy it.


Who impressed:  This is difficult to keep short since I feel there were a lot of forwards that came to camp ready to work.  But above all other, the first name that comes to mind is Milan Michalek.  When I was shooting the physicals on the first day of camp, Michalek was crushing each drill.  He looked to be in tremendous shape and said so, in an interview.  Fast forward to the scrimmages and pre-season games, and it definitely translated.  Michalek demonstrated his blazing speed on numerous occasions and was coming out on top in 1-on-1 battles.  He scored a couple of pretty goals and looked to be completely healthy.  If that’s the case, Senators fans should expect a return to his 20-25 goal ways.

Mika Zibanejad also surprised (well, at least me).  I wrote in an earlier column that I didn’t think he would make the team this year.  After about 4 days into camp, it was virtually a lock that he would.  Even though he is 18, it’s hard to tell on the ice.  He has a big frame, is excellent with the puck and is a smooth skater.  He showed some nice hands and a great shot during the pre-season games and was constantly working on his faceoffs with Jason Spezza & Zenon Konopka at practice.  This kid is the real deal and he’s only going to get better.  Now I’d be surprised if he didn’t stay with the big club for the whole year. 

Finally, it would be hard not to mention the captain in this section.  Despite having back surgery and being extremely cautious in saying he was 100 percent ready for camp, Daniel Alfredsson looked good.  He wasn’t the fastest or the most creative, but his hockey sense and competitive nature were on full display each and every scrimmage.  Alfredsson will not be the highest scorer on this club and he will probably miss some games throughout the year, but this team is still better because he is on it. Sens’ fans should fill SBP every night to watch No. 11 in what will most likely be his final year.

Who was lacking: If I had to pick one person who hasn’t lived up to what I was expecting at camp, it would be Bobby Butler.  Butler is a goal scorer and showed that near the end of last season on a line with Jason Spezza & Colin Greening.  However, during this year’s pre-season, he hasn’t been able to show off his goal-scoring prowess.   It’s obviously been noticed by the coaching staff as Butler has been skating on the 4th line since the final cuts have been made. In order to be an effective player for this club, “Butsy” must be on one of the top 2 lines, otherwise, his skill set is under-utilized.  It’s up to him to earn that position.

Other than Butler, I think injuries stalled the performances of some.  Jason Spezza had to take a maintenance day or two, while Zenon Konopka missed a few practices due to some ailments.  Peter Regin was actually playing well until he banged up his shoulder again and Jesse Winchester’s injury on Day 2 obviously hurt his chances of winning a bottom 6 spot.   Oh, by the way, did anyone notice Nick Foligno?


Who impressed:  This one is easy.  Jared Cowen.  His 2 goal, 1 fight performance against the Leafs in the first pre-season game set the tone for the rest of his training camp.  Cowen played a solid all-around game, using his size to separate man from puck and contributing offensively when given the chance.  He showed the Senators management exactly what they wanted to see from him and definitely earned his spot on this roster.  It looks like he will start the season as Sergei Gonchar’s partner and in my opinion, is a legitimate contender for rookie of the year.

Speaking of Gonchar, he’s ready to bounce back.  The smooth skating defenceman seems to have returned to his old form during camp, operating the power-play with ease and creating offensive chances with slick outlet passes and timely rushes.  Gonchar fought through numerous injuries in 2010-11, not to mention an unwanted position change, and definitely will be looking to improve his numbers from last season.

Finally, Erik Karlsson has taken yet another step forward.  During every scrimmage and pre-season game he played, Karlsson was one of the most dangerous players on the ice.  He seems to have improved upon his decision making and doesn’t get caught up ice nearly as often.  He has added some muscle and is still one of best skaters on the team.  While it’s still only pre-season, it’ll be interesting to see if Karlsson can keep it going when the games start meaning something.

Who was lacking: I hate to say it but the defencemen that took a lot of flack last season, are going to take some here once again.  Filip Kuba & Chris Phillips both made numerous errors throughout the pre-season.  Neither player looked particularly strong and each were guilty of goal-resulting turnovers within their own zone.  While Phillips is fighting a bad back, it is believed that Filip Kuba is fully healed from his broken leg and really has no excuse for poor play. 

Management would like both of these players to find their game for different reasons.  Phillips is in Ottawa for the long haul and a veteran defenceman that can play a flawless defensive game is exactly what this team needs.  In the other case, it is believed that Kuba is trade bait, and the better he plays, the higher the return will be.  If neither can find their form, the Senators will be stuck with 2 defencemen that are past their prime.

As far as David Rundblad is concerned, I’m not as high on him as others.  At least, not yet.  It is obvious he has tremendous skill with the puck, going on end-to-end rushes and making defenders look foolish.  But I find he’s tentative without it and can be strong-armed in the corners and along the boards.  I think he needs some time in the AHL, getting used to the intensity and physicality of the North American game.  Once he does that, I think he’ll be able to apply his skills accordingly and be a big part of the Senators future.


Who impressed:  This is the only section for the goaltenders as I think both Craig Anderson and Alex Auld looked strong throughout camp.  Did any of you see that 2-1 game vs the Bruins?  If you did, you watched Anderson at his best, making 39 saves and being named the game’s first star.  I would not be surprised to see Anderson continue the hot streak he’s been on ever since becoming an Ottawa Senator.  His solid positioning and fantastic rebound control will keep the Senators in many games.  As for Auld, he knows his role and will fill in sufficiently when Coach Paul MacLean decides to give Anderson the night off.

 So there you have it, that’s what I saw.  Will any of it apply to the regular season?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  Remember Nick Foligno’s pre-season from a year ago?  Yeah, me too. 

The good thing for Sens fans is that there is plenty to look forward to.  Zibanejad, Cowen, Da Costa & Rundblad are the future and will give everyone a glimpse of things to come over the course of the year.  Beyond that, Erik Karlsson is still 21 years old, while Bobby Butler, Erik Condra & Colin Greening are all entering their first full seasons.  The influx of youth is upon the nation’s capital, and at the very least will provide high-paced, competitive hockey.

And if you’d rather live in the past, take the year to cheer No. 11.  In an interview with Sportsnet’s Ian Mendes, Alfredsson admitted to playing this season “like it’s my last.”  If that’s the case, Ottawa & the Senators organization certainly has cause to celebrate.

UPDATE: While this piece was mainly written on those that made the opening night roster, I cannot write an article like this without mentioning Shane Prince & Mark Borowiecki.  Both players stood out everytime they were on the ice and while they may not be ready quite yet, I would not be surprised to see them fighting for a spot next season.


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