Hockey has returned! Kind of. For some of these players, hockey never left. For many prospects, the 'offseason' is only a break from truly organized competition. There are camps to attend, whether they be development camp, World Juniors camps, junior team camps or the Rookie Tournament. Conditioning is (hopefully) a fixture of any player or prospect's summer.
However, what has felt like one of the longest offseasons in recent memory is coming to a gradual close, beginning with
all the NHL 11 I've been playing the Rookie Tournament, which will be held over the coming days in the 'Shwa. The tournament is going to be a fun opportunity to actually see some of our draft picks in action. Five of the Senators' picks from this year's draft in the Twin Cities will be playing in the tournament. For many of us, left to consider players and form judgment through scant highlights, the words of Bob McKenzie, and stat-lines, the tournament will be our inaugural viewing of these kids in anything but intra-squad competition.
It is important to remember, as hockey inches closer, that the rookie tournament is, at best, a snapshot. The level of competition is not as high as it will be in training camp, and the greatest strides our young players will take are going to come this season with their junior clubs, Swedish clubs, Binghamton and, for some, Ottawa. Still, this is going to be pretty fun.
Since the roster was made public almost two weeks ago, Senators fans have analyzed the invitees up and down, contrasting it with past lists and, at times, giggled with excitement over the number of times one would use the word "potential" in describing the players. For one such overview, I managed to restrain myself--it's mostly giggle-free. (Insert Jason Spezza joke.) While we have provided some analysis of our own roster, what about the competition?
Saturday, September 10th: Senators v. Penguins @ 2 p.m.
For a list of who is playing for the Penguins at the tournament, take a look at this article over at Pensburgh. The Penguins are going to bring four forwards in for amateur tryouts at the tournament, as opposed to the one goalie Ottawa has invited. Moreover, their roster features some recognizable names and older players, such as Eric Tangradi, who has had a teacup's worth of coffee in the NHL. Also included on their list are two first-round draft picks (Simon Despres from 2009, Joe Morrow from this year). Another player of interest is Paul Thompson, whose name was thrown around a bit as one of the undrafted free agents of interest at the time Ottawa won the Stephane Da Costa sweepstakes--both of them were Hobey Baker finalists, a la Bobby Butler, but lost out to Andy Miele of the Phoenix Coyotes. Ottawa has a more pedigreed roster, with five first round selections in action, including a number who will have the chance to push for an NHL roster spot.
Sunday, September 11th: Senators v. Blackhawks @ 2 p.m.
The kids will play their second game of the tournament against some burgeoning Blackhawks. Check out this article over at the Hawks' website, which provides a pretty good rundown of the top talent in attendance. Chicago is going to be showcasing some players projected to have fairly high ceilings. Along with Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, Brandon Saad will bolster their corps of forwards. Saad plays for the Saginaw Spirit, one of the teams pretending to be in Ontario. He received a fair amount of attention as a possible first-round selection before eventually falling to 43rd overall, and into the lap of the Blackhawks, already rich in offensive talent. This will be a fun game to see. Some of the Senators' talent at this competition is markedly older: Stephane Da Costa, Louie Caporusso, Mark Borowiecki and others have alerady gone through the college/university route. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing how players like Matt Puempel, Stefan Noesen, Shane Prince, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mark Stone, Darren Kramer, Fransoo and Jakub Culek match up against some fellow CHLers.
Tuesday, September 13th: Senators v. Maple Leafs @ 7 p.m.
When I asked, the gentlemen over at Pension Plan Puppets told me they were most looking forward to seeing Jake Gardiner (received in the trade that unloaded Francois Beauchemin, who got the better of Alex Kovalev in a preseason bout), Matt Frattin (terrific scorer, and another one of those Hobey Baker finalists) and 2010 third-round selection Sondre Olden. This bodes pretty well for Leafs fans. Also on the list is one of the Leafs' two first-round selections this season, Stuart Percy, not to mention three other second round draft selections over the last few years. The last game of the tournament comes against a fairly formidable opponent. The teams match up fairly well, so this will be an entertaining opening chapter in the Battle of Ontario for the season. It will also, far and away, be the least significant. But it's hockey, and that's good enough for me.
Watching/hearing it all unfold: If you live in Ottawa, catch Ottawa's games on Rogers 22 and on the Team 1200. For those outside the valley, live streaming of the Team 1200 works just as well. The final game of the rookie tournament will be broadcast on the Maple Leafs website. And don't forget to come by Silver Seven for some live gamethreads!