With 36 players in camp, the Ottawa Senators hit the ice Wednesday for their first day of training camp. For many players, it’s their first time skating in large groups since a 3-2 loss in Los Angeles on March 11. During his media availability Thursday morning, General Manager Pierre Dorion said the early focus at camp will be on conditioning.
Four players who won’t attend Senators’ training camp in the early-going are newly-acquired centres Derek Stepan, Cedric Paquette, and defenseman Braydon Coburn. Coburn and Paquette are currently following quarantine protocol after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning. While Stepan will arrive in Ottawa from Arizona this weekend per a TSN report that his wife, Stephanie gave birth to baby boy yesterday.
The former Coyote centre will also have to quarantine upon arrival into Canada.
A fourth, Tim Stuetzle is currently starring for Germany at the World Junior tournament and will likely make his way to Canada’s capital next week. Stuetzle also has to follow a short quarantine period.
Once these players are available, Dorion will have to make several key decisions to keep the camp at 36 players due to Health regulations.
The GM opened up regarding last weekend’s newest acquisitions.
Acquisition of Derek Stepan
“The biggest thing why we made that trade was we wanted bring in leadership. We wanted to bring in someone with a great hockey IQ. We wanted to bring in someone who’s a pro. We wanted someone who can play top minutes against top lines,” explained Dorion. “At the same time we want to protect and isolate some of our younger players, some of our younger centres – whether it’s Colin White, Logan Brown, Josh Norris. We want to make sure they grow because they will be facing some very good centres in the Canadian Division. On any night, they can be facing (Auston) Matthews or (John) Tavares, (Elias) Pettersson or (Bo) Horvat, (Mark) Scheifele, (Paul) Stastny, (Leon) Draisaitl. So we wanted someone who could play the tough hard minutes.”
Dealing for D Braydon Coburn, C/LW Cedric Paquette
“For us it was trading away two players (Marian Gaborik, Anders Nilsson) for two players (Braydon Coburn, Cedric Paquette) that will play for us this year – improving our depth at the forward position, improving our depth at the defensive position. Our job is to make Ottawa better. We felt we did that through this trade. They’re high character players. Both are players we feel we’re going to need. We’re going to need a lot of bodies this year. We’re going to play 56 games in 111 days. And we just felt the more bodies that we have around for internal competition, and because we need them. We felt it was something we needed to do.”
Dorion is hopeful these two trades will light a fire under the Senators’ youngsters.
“We are going to give a chance to our young players to play because a lot of people question that. But at the same time we want them to be successful in their development, and we want as much internal competition as we can have. No one is going to come into this camp thinking they’ve got a job. They’ve got to earn it. “
Another pair of reasons for the deals are, the Senators’ GM wants one; “Ottawa to be hard to play against.”
“We feel really confident about this roster. It’s going to be a very competitive team. We added character. We definitely added more NHL bodies. I think it’s really important that in doing these two trades, our fans have to be aware that we’re building a team that we’re really proud of.”
Two; trades will be tough to come by one the season starts due to potential cross-border and quarantine protocols.
“It’s going to be very difficult to make trades with probably 24 US-based teams, and the other seven teams you’re in competition against. I think trades will be way more difficult to make. That’s why we made these moves sooner rather than later. It’s probably more beneficial to the organization,” Dorion noted.
The Senators will also carry a so-called taxi squad with a minimum of four players and a maximum of six, of which one must be a goalie. The club will carry a maximum of six players to open the season. The Senators leave for a two-week road trip shortly after opening at home for four games. This goes part and parcel with the fact, the American League isn’t slated to begin until February 5.
Dorion is still awaiting more clarity on the status of the AHL as their Belleville affiliate can face only Laval, Manitoba and Toronto this upcoming season.
Dorion told Full Press NHL, “We know how important our minor league team is to our organization. We’re rebuilding, we draft, we development, and the success Belleville has had, especially last year, I think is going to pay dividends to the Ottawa Senators as we move along. Once we have more clarity as to what we’re going to do, we’re definitely going to talk about it. We know the importance of Belleville.”
“I think we’re going to see how camp goes. We’re going to see who is knocking at the door. We obviously don’t want younger players not playing, but I know guys on the taxi squad are going to be skated hard so they can be ready for action at any point in time. We’ll just have to look at it, and when we get to that point, we’ll evaluate it.”
With this in mind, Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith have plenty of decisions to make over the next two weeks.
Colin White is coming off a subpar campaign, earning only 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 61 games. Dorion and Smith hope that White has a comeback season. But where the Boston resident fits is another story.
“At this point in we see him as a centre. He has a skating ability to cover a lot of ice. He can make plays, but his versatility gives us a couple of options. I think you can never have enough centres. I think with his growth you’re going to see this year, he’s going to give us a lot of hockey,” added the Senators’ GM.
Stuetzle is another player who can play dual forward positions. His success, five goals, five assists in only four World Junior games has the team’s brain trust thinking.
“I think the World Junior is one thing. The DEL is another thing. For his development, for him to be the best player that we think he’s going to be, it’s more of a D.J. question, but we both agreed – we talked about it this morning. He probably be playing more left wing than centre. But he’s got a lot of traits of a centre as far as his ability to generate plays – by how he carries the puck a lot, the way he gains the zone. When you look at his analytic numbers, they have been off the charts as far as puck possession, so he has a lot of great qualities as a centre. But what also comes with that is his play without the puck, his responsibilities. He’s definitely got high NHL talent, but away from the puck there still needs to be work.”
One thing is for certain Dorion is excited about his club playing in the tough Canadian Division.
“For the first time in a long time, we’re going to be playing teams whether it’s two or three games – sometimes four games in a row this season. I think that it’s the rivalry aspect of every division, I think that’s great fans through the means of Twitter – whether it’s the sports channels in Canada, whether it’s written media – whether it’s print media, there’s going to be lots of talk about all these teams playing against each other. As far as the logistics of things, I know we won’t have to go through customs. If we have to go through customs at some time, that means we had a pretty successful season. But we won’t have to go through customs. We’ll be staying at the same hotel, of course. The NHL has done a really good job of protecting staff, players, but also protecting the people on the teams we’re going to visit. So I think with the Canadian Government, everything we have done, a lot of people should be applauded here.”
Is there any cause to worry?
“For us, I think it’s a completely different scenario. I think what you saw with the NHL bubble, it was extremely successful, not one positive case. Now we’re going to be chartering planes, not flying commercially. We’re staying on our own floors in hotels, not going to restaurants – all seven Canadian teams are going to be within their bubble, and the only people we’re interacting with are people within their own respective bubbles. I feel real safe. I feel that all the protocols will be met. We’ll be able to provide a lot of entertainment to our Canadian fans when our season starts January 15.”
But first up is training camp; it will be short. It will be a grind with plenty of competition and spots to be earned.
“There’s been a lot of talk concerning our players in creating our lineup. Every young player that deserves to have a chance to be an Ottawa Senator this year will be an Ottawa Senator. We don’t want a young player or a veteran player coming in to think they have a spot. We believe that they have to earn it from now on. And if a young player earns a spot, he’ll play. D.J. wants young players to succeed. Pierre Dorion wants young players to succeed. Eugene Melnyk wants young players to succeed. But at the same time, we want as high as a competition as we’ve ever had. We don’t want anyone walking in, thinking they’re spot is earned. We finished 30th, 31st and 30th in the last three years. It’s time that people come in here and say, “Oh my God there’s a lot of NHL players” or “Oh my God there’s a lot of good young prospects in Ottawa.”