BOSTON -- Ottawa Senators center Colin White found perspective in three games late last season, one of which was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.
They were the only games he played after signing his first professional contract on April 2, but they were spread across nearly eight weeks, including three Stanley Cup Playoff rounds, enough to show White what it will take for him to be in the Senators lineup Oct. 5, when they open the 2017-18 season against the Washington Capitals.
"It was huge for me to get a feel for what pro hockey is," White, 20, said last month during a break in the Comm Ave Charity Classic, which featured players from Boston College and Boston University. "To see the guys go through the grind of the whole playoffs, make some connections with them off the ice, get comfortable and see how hard they work, for me to bring that into this summer was just huge."
Nobody with the Senators has told White he will be in the lineup on opening night, but there is an expectation from their hierarchy that he should do enough to force coach Guy Boucher to put him in the lineup.
White, the No. 21 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, could be one of the Senators' top three centers, along with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Turris, after playing the past two years at Boston College. Center Derick Brassard is recovering from shoulder surgery, and assistant general manager Randy Lee said he may not be ready to start the season.
White could also start on the wing, preferably on the right, his strong side. He said he has played there enough to be comfortable, and Lee said the Senators would have no objection to starting him there if that's where the need exists.
"I'm going to get a chance right away," White said. "There are going to be spots open. This is the biggest summer of my life, so I'm pushing every day to make that team. That's what I want to do. I'm coming in thinking I can make this team."
White's optimism is buoyed by his experience in the spring, when he not only played in the three games, but was with the Senators for their playoff run that ended in a double-overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the conference final.
He played in one game, but White wasn't a typical black ace. He traveled to every road game. He participated in every practice, morning skate and team meeting. He was in the dressing room before and after every game. He skated in warm-ups prior to Game 5 against the Penguins and played in Game 6.
"I felt I belonged," White said.
White didn't play in Game 7 because it was on the road, and Boucher was fearful of the matchups. He didn't think it'd be fair to put White on the ice and have Penguins coach Mike Sullivan counter with centers Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
"That was one of the best experiences a player can have is to be part of a team and see what it's like to go on a three-round playoff run and to be one goal from going to the Stanley Cup Final," Lee said. "He saw how guys have to elevate their game. He saw what guys go through in terms of injury and playing through it.
"To see the different buildings and how each round the level of excitement gets jacked up in each building, how the pressure mounts and how one mistake can be so critical. I think it was a wonderful experience."
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During Senators development camp last month, White had the opportunity to show a different side. Instead of being a wide-eyed rookie, he had a chance to put his leadership skills on display among players in his age group.
"I saw him so engaged that he was picking the brains of the presenters to make sure he got as much information as he could," Lee said. "And he was a leader in the group settings. We had some challenging off-ice scenarios where players had to step up in leadership roles, and he was one of the guys who did step up."
It's all a buildup to training camp; White expects the competition to be fierce and knows he won't be the only rookie thinking he realistically should be in the lineup on opening night. But he already has three games and a three playoff rounds worth of experience and perspective.
"I think I can definitely qualify for a top-nine [forward] spot on that team and in the future top-six," White said. "I think I can be there."