OTTAWA -- With 12 players on the roster age 25 and younger, the Ottawa Senators are a team brimming with youth, hungry for experience.
The club’s five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals was a painful lesson. However, the young contributors got a taste of what it takes to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think we took another step in the right direction," center Kyle Turris said. "I know it's pretty early, but I'm looking forward to next year already. The improvements we've made and [will] continue to make are exciting.
"I think going further in the playoffs, then coming against Pittsburgh and learning from them [helped us]. Guys playing for the first time in the NHL gained experience that way, or like myself, playing more than I have in the past and learning. There were a lot of things that we can take away from this season to use to improve next season. You want to find that consistency and learning of the ways you can help the team."
The 23-year-old was a significant offensive contributor for the Senators, with 29 points in 48 regular-season games and nine points in 10 postseason games. Turris credited the leaders in the locker room for easing the burden on the younger players and showing them the ropes.
"We've got a really good group of veterans – Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Neil, Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips – to lead us younger guys and steer us in the right direction," Turris said. "They set a great example and it's up to us to follow in their footsteps. Without that [leadership], it would be a lot tougher. Then we have a good group of younger guys [with the talent] to follow their lead."
Through 15 seasons with the Senators, Phillips has seen many players come and go. He said he's enjoyed the energy this group has brought and believes they can take away ample knowledge from this season.
"I think [this experience] can help them a lot," Phillips said. "Just going through it and seeing what it's all about. Even winning a round and moving on -- that's a big part of the game. [Next season] you're going back at it with no surprises; you know what to expect and how to handle it. On the ice, off the ice … a lot of things change. We're all going to want to improve on what we did this year.
"It's a fun group. They bring that youth and energy to the rink every day. They're playing music on the plane and having fun. We're all able to feed off of that. When you're enjoying coming to the rink, practice or game day, and you're having fun, that just translates into the game, and we've had a lot of success because of that. They all have another year under their belts up here, and I think our expectation is to constantly improve. It makes for an exciting group for next year."
With a number of injuries to high-profile players plaguing their roster, Ottawa played the role of underdog much of the season. That, coupled with an abbreviated season, allowed them to occasionally sneak up on opposing teams. That won't be the case next season.
"[With everything we've achieved] I think people are going to have high expectations next year and that's a good thing," defenseman Marc Methot said. "That's a good problem to have. I think if we can come out of the gate healthy, you'll probably see a far more consistent hockey club and winning more games. Ultimately, that's the goal."