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Spezza envisions quick turnaround in Ottawa

Tuesday, 09.27.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Sergei J. Feldman - NHL.com Staff Writer

Take one look at the Ottawa Senators lineup and you'll notice a theme: youth.

Of the 36 players currently listed on the team roster, 21 of them are 25 years old or younger.

There also are a number of experienced veterans age 30 and older, like captain Daniel Alfredsson, defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba, and goalie Craig Anderson. Standing between both groups is 28-year-old center Jason Spezza.

Just before training camp opened, Spezza reflected on a tough 2010-11 season and looked ahead to the possibility of bigger and better things for the Senators in 2011-12.

Jason Spezza
Center - OTT
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 36 | PTS: 57
SOG: 188 | +/-: -7
"It was kind of a big changeover year for us as a team," Spezza told NHL.com. "We came in with somewhat high expectations for ourselves, then had a terrible first half of the season."

As difficult as it was seeing his team fall in the Eastern Conference standings, it was even more difficult for the talented playmaker to watch from the press box. Injuries limited Spezza to just 62 games, and while he watched the team fall in the standings, the roster began to look less and less familiar.

"(Management) had to make a lot of trades and decided really to shake things up and kind of build it back up from the bottom," Spezza said. "It was a tough year, seeing all your friends leave. When I got back (from injury), it was kind of like coming to a fresh new team. It was really different."

Spezza believes different could end up being very good for his team.

"The silver lining of it was that a lot of guys got chances to play in the second half of last year where normally they wouldn't have had the ice time," Spezza said.

How much his younger teammates benefit from the extra ice time remains to be seen, but Spezza said the goal remains the same.

"Make the playoffs," he said. "That's our goal. We figure if you can get into the playoffs and ride a hot goalie, anything can happen. But you have to get into the playoffs first, and that's the hardest thing."

With Spezza healthy -- he spent six days a week in the offseason working out his back, lifting weights less and doing more track work -- the hard journey that is advancing to the playoffs will be that much easier.

Spezza led the team in scoring with 57 points despite missing 20 games, and in 526 NHL games, he has 532 points.

That means a full, healthy season from Spezza could mean a quick turnaround for the Sens -- exactly what Spezza, heading into his ninth season, hopes for.

"I hope we're on the upswing," he said. "Last year we hope was rock bottom for us. I think we can be a team that can have a quick rebuild."

Spezza said he believes the key will be a productive start.

"When you're a young team, it's hard to get behind the eight ball and play catch-up," he said. "I've been on some veteran teams where we've gotten behind a little bit early in the year but then strung together seven or eight wins in a row, and guys get rolling.

"I don't think that'll be quite as easy for us this year, so we really have to make sure we're sharp to start the year."

Fortunately, there's enough of a veteran presence to help make sure that process goes smoothly.

"I think the young guys learn a lot from the veteran guys and their past experiences," he said. "But the older guys can feed off the energy and excitement of the new guys who come in.

"We really noticed that at the end of last year and got a boost and jump from that excitement. We were excited to be at the rink and excited to practice and play."

Time will tell if that will translate to success this season, but Spezza welcomes the challenge.

"It will be tough, for sure, but I'm a competitor. I'll be ready," he said.

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery