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Senators expect to build on late-season surge

by Chris Stevenson continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators made history with their late-season run to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

They're hoping the growth of the young players who helped them to a 23-4-4 record down the stretch will ensure a similar rally won't be needed to make the 2016 postseason.

"We know [what happened last season is] not an annual thing," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said. "We can't put ourselves in a position early where we have to have that as another event next year. I expect the team to be better.

"I think we are going to be consistently competitive."

The job of getting more out of those young players belongs to coach Dave Cameron, who earned a two-year contract extension. He replaced Paul MacLean on Dec. 8 and implemented a more aggressive forecheck, more skating in practices, and fostered the growth of the young players.

The Senators could be younger this season given the willingness Cameron showed to go with youth at the expense of veterans Chris Neil, David Legwand and Chris Phillips.

Forward prospects Matt Puempel and Shane Prince, and defensemen Chris Wideman and Fredrik Claesson are pushing for roster spots.

The Senators made a commitment to late-season hero Andrew Hammond (20-1-2, 1.79 goals-against average, .941 save percentage in the regular season), signing the 27-year-old goalie to a three-year, one-way contract with an average annual value of $1.35 million.

"For us, Andrew came in and under difficult conditions showed that he was an NHL goalie," Senators assistant general manager Pierre Dorion said. "and he showed through his ability to win pretty much every game he played in, whether it was a small sample size or not, he showed the ability that he could face pressure and he could win big games.

"For that, we thought that we should reward him with an NHL contract. Whether it was for one, two or three years, we still feel that we have this goalie under contract for the next three years and that was a good thing to do as an organization."

It made goalie Robin Lehner expendable, and he and Legwand were traded to the Buffalo Sabres for the 21st pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, which the Senators used to select center Colin White.

Veteran goalie Craig Anderson, who is coming off another season when he missed significant time because of injury (19 games with a bruised hand), will compete with Hammond.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson won his second Norris Trophy. He had a slow start last season but was boosted by the return of partner Marc Methot, who missed the first quarter of the season with back and hip injuries. The Senators will get a boost if Karlsson and Methot can pick up where they left off.

Ottawa will be looking for more growth and consistency from defensemen Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch in their second pair, and gritty Mark Borowiecki will play on the third pair with whoever can earn the sixth job in training camp.

Eric Gryba was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a prospect and a draft pick, leaving Phillips, who had back surgery at the end of last season, to compete with Wideman and Claesson for playing time.

The greatest potential for growth this season will be among the forwards. The Senators did not re-sign free agent Erik Condra, creating a spot for a prospect.

The Senators gave Calder Trophy finalist Mark Stone a three-year contract. Stone was a point-per-game player in the second half of the season, and with veteran wing Bobby Ryan slumping, was a big reason the Senators continued to win games.

"Mark became one of our better players, if not one of the best, right at the end of the year in particular, but throughout the stretch run and when we were trying to make the playoffs," Murray said. "We feel he still has growth in him but we also know going forward that he's going to be a very important player if the organization is going to make strides to a championship."

With No. 1 center Kyle Turris and veteran wing Clarke MacArthur, the top line appears to be set. Mika Zibanejad scored 20 goals last season on the second line, but the question there is about Ryan's production.

Ryan scored once in the final 20 games of the regular season, and the four-time 30-goal scorer finished with 18.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Curtis Lazar, Alex Chiasson, Mike Hoffman and Zack Smith will fill out the third and fourth lines.

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