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London Calling: A Wrap-Up of the Ottawa Senators Rookie Tournament

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Some thoughts on the Ottawa Senators rookie tournament in London, ON.

Richard Wolowicz

The Senators' rookies won two and lost one over the course of the rookie tournament, beating Toronto (6-2) and Chicago (5-4 in overtime), but losing to Pittsburgh (4-3). Overall, the Senators' up-and-coming prospects gave us some reasons to be excited and some reasons to be a little bit worried.

Offense

The offense was the strong point for the Senators rookies, especially with Curtis Lazar and Matt Puempel firing on all cylinders. Players like Max McCormick, Francis Perron, and Darren Kramer also stepped up and contributed, which was nice to see especially since we don't hear a lot about players like them. Altogether, the forward squad was a fast skating bunch that put the puck in the net, scoring 13 goals over three games. Most of them weren't afraid to go into the corners or put themselves in front of the net either, which is what you want to see in the offensive zone. Throughout the tournament they also improved their passing game and began holding onto the puck longer to create better plays. In their own end, some  were a little lost in terms of positioning and communicating with the defensemen, but some work on two-way play under Luke Richardson in Binghamton should help the majority of the forward group.

Defense

The particular group of defensemen for this tournament was shaky at best. They were often caught scrambling to gain possession in their own end and then had problems breaking out once they did gain possession. I noticed quite a few times that the young defensemen would panic in their own end and blindly throw the puck around the boards or in front of the net, often to the opposing team. I also saw that in the defensive zone, players seemed unsure about their roles or where/who they should be covering. For example, on Toronto's second goal, the defensemen both bunched in front of the net and the winger was playing too high. This resulted in Brett Findlay (who eventually scored) being left wide-open around the hash-marks. It was defensive break-downs like that that resulted in too many shots against (Chicago alone had 50 against Ottawa) and, ultimately, goals against. Remember, though, that five of the players (Brown, Jones, Leblanc, Lepkowski, and Murphy) were all there on try-outs and are not Senators' signings or draft picks. Actual Senators prospects like Claesson and Harpur played well. In fact, I was surprised by Harpur's play as he had a strong tournament.

Goaltending

Both goalies played well and bailed out their defensemen time and again. From what I saw, Andrew Hammond possesses pure athletic ability and has quick reflexes, which served him well throughout the tournament. The biggest knock against Hammond is his rebound control, or lack thereof, which may be the reason why he has yet to make the jump into the NHL. Whether he can improve this area or not is debatable too, since he's already 26. Nonetheless, I was impressed by his play and thought he was solid for the Senators against Pittsburgh and Toronto. Chris Driedger, on the other hand, was shaky against Pittsburgh, surrendering three goals in the third period. He let in two softies because he lost his positioning in his net, which ultimately cost the Senators the win. I think most of his breakdowns may have been from nerves, however, because he played a very strong game against Chicago, saving 46 of 50 shots and allowing only one goal during the shootout. Driedger had good positioning for the most part in that game and was able to track the puck well, even when there was a lot of traffic in front of him. I think playing in Binghamton will round out his game and he will probably soon surpass Hammond on the depth-chart.

Three Stars for the Tournament:

1. Matt Puempel

In the games he played, Puempel was one of the best players on the ice every shift he took. He did almost everything right and had instant chemistry with Curtis Lazar, resulting in a couple of goals and a lot of chances against the opposition. Puempel is a good skater with a quick shot release and that bodes well for him as he's a natural goal scorer. He has become one of the best prospects that the Senators have due to his recent development and I expect for him to have a chance in Ottawa this year if someone is injured.

2. Curtis Lazar

Lazar can do it all, really. He forechecks hard, backchecks hard, sets up plays, and scores goals. He was also more poised with the puck than many of his colleagues. Considering he was one of the younger players on the Senators, Lazar exhibited the patience and poise of more seasoned players, as he often held onto the puck, waiting out the other team's defenders. This allowed him to make plays in the offensive zone that resulted in quality scoring chances. The fact that he was able to frequently make smart plays in both ends was made even more impressive if you consider that both Pittsburgh and Toronto often double-teamed Lazar to contain him. Overall, he had an excellent tournament. My main critique against him is that he needs to shoot more. There were times he'd either try to make a play or he'd make one too many moves and it wouldn't result in a shot.

3. Fredrik Claesson

Claesson was the Senators best defenseman, plain and simple. He is by no means a flashy player, but he was definitely better at positioning in his own end than his teammates and provided defensive stability when he was on the ice. Claesson was a little less noticeable against Toronto than he was against Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh spent more time in the Senators end than Toronto did, so that may be one reason why. Altogether, Claesson was consistently solid and had a good showing for the Senators.

Honourable Mentions: Ben Harpur, Max McCormick

Most Improved:

Alex Guptill

Guptill went from a player who I barely noticed against Pittsburgh, to one I saw some good things from against Toronto, to one I was very impressed with against Chicago. He just seemed to get better and better as the tournament went on, as he started to control the play and set-up his linemates. If this tournament is any indication, I think that Guptill will benefit from playing in Binghamton and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he turned into one of the top B-Sens players under the watch of Luke Richardson. He's had discipline issues in the past, but I think having a coach like Richardson will set him on the right path. If he continues to improve like he did over the course of this tournament, he could be a player to watch for in the future.

Expected More From:

Shane Prince

First of all, Prince was not a bad player by any means; he was one of the more skilled players. That said, he appears to pick and choose when to use those skills. I noticed him floating quite a bit in the offensive zone when he didn't have the puck, especially against Toronto. He had flashes of brilliance, but for the most part, flew under the radar. For a player who really wants a chance to make it in the NHL, I think he needs to exhibit more effort and showcase his skills. Other players have already surpassed him on the depth-chart and this tournament could have been a way for him to remind the Sens' management why he should be given a chance. I didn't feel that he brought it all to the table, especially compared to Puempel and Lazar.

Parting Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed being able to watch some of the prospects that we often discuss. I'm excited to see them develop more this season and I hope players like Claesson, Puempel, and Lazar get long, hard looks to join their big brothers in the near future. As with the big squad, however, the rookie team had problems with discipline as they fought too often and took a lot of unnecessary penalties. They were also pretty horrendous in their own end, but as I mentioned, five were on try-outs. It is a bit troubling that we don't have a lot of depth in terms of defensive prospects after Claesson and Harpur. Hopefully the three new defensemen drafted this year (Englund, Gendron, and Summers) will develop into solid players in the future, but only time will tell.

Thank you for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the tournament as much as I did.