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AHL's top stopper gives Senators a big net gain

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
After toiling in the AHL for four seasons, Ben Bishop is looking forward to a new opportunity with the Ottawa Senators, who obtained him from the St. Louis Blues earlier today (Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images).

Call it a big net gain for the Ottawa Senators. And in more ways than one.

General manager Bryan Murray announced earlier today that the Senators have acquired goaltender Ben Bishop from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The 25-year-old Denver native, who was eligible for free agency on July 1, has agreed to a one-year, one-way contract extension with Ottawa.

"Ottawa’s a great hockey city and it’s a great, fresh start for me," said Bishop, who lost a training camp battle to former Senators netminder Brian Elliott for the backup job in St. Louis behind Jaroslav Halak. "I’m really excited. Words cannot describe how excited I am right now."

In the short term, the arrival of Bishop — a 6-7, the tallest player in the Senators organization since Zdeno Chara patrolled the blue line up until 2006 — provides some much-needed goaltending depth. Senators starter Craig Anderson is sidelined indefinitely with a right hand injury and Robin Lehner has already been summoned from the Binghamton Senators to help fill the void. There were no other options down on the farm had either Lehner or Alex Auld gone down because of injury — a possibility that flashed before Murray's eyes on Friday.

"I was watching Auld and Robin practice the other day and Alex got his hand stepped on," Murray told reporters earlier this afternoon. "And I looked at that and thought ‘wow, if we have another injury, we are really out of luck.’ So that motivated me probably a little bit more, but we had been talking about another (depth) goaltender prior to that.

"The fact that Craig got hurt ... you never think you’re going to go through the year perfect and not have injuries, but it sure brought to light how fine a line we walk in this league and how important it is to have depth at all positions."

Bishop, a third-round (85th overall) selection by St. Louis in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, has enjoyed a standout season to date with the Peoria Rivermen, the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate. He owns a record of 24-14-0 in 38 games, with a league-high six shutouts, a 2.26 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. His 24 wins are tied for the AHL lead.

Four weeks ago, he was named the most valuable player of the AHL All-Star Classic in Atlantic City, N.J., stopping 10 of 11 shots he faced in the third period in leading the Western Conference to an 8-7 shootout triumph. Bishop was also the top goaltender in the all-star skills competition.

"I was hoping to be in St. Louis at the start of the year, but that didn’t work out," said Bishop, who previously worked with Senators goaltending coach Rick Wamsley when both were in Peoria. "So I just wanted to come down here and show 29 other teams that I’m ready to play in the NHL. It’s been a good year down here. We have a pretty good team down here and I’ve just been working hard."

He's enthused about getting the chance to work with Wamsley again.

"That'll be exciting to get back with him, working with a coach that you've worked with before," Bishop told "He's obviously helped me get to where I am today. He's helped me big time when it comes to being a pro. It'll be a lot of fun to work with him again and I'm excited to see him."

Though he's spent the entire season in Peoria to date, Bishop's resume includes 13 games of NHL experience. He posted a 4-5-1 record with St. Louis, including one shutout, a 2.83 GAA and .893 save percentage.

"Ben is a five-year pro and he’s had a real growth in his game over the last couple of years," said Murray. "We think this man is ready to play in the NHL at some point here. Whether he plays right away or not, we’ll determine that as we go forward."

Bishop is expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight. Murray said he'll speak with the team's coaching staff following tonight's matchup against the New York Islanders at Scotiabank Place (5 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) to determine what the immediate plans are for the goaltender.

"Do we play him a couple of games in Binghamton or give him a game here?" said Murray. "That’s under review and discussion at this point."

While it had been assumed that Lehner — who gets the start tonight against the Isles — would slide into the backup role in Ottawa behind Anderson next season, Murray said "now we have competition" for that spot.

"Now performance will dictate who will be that person," he added. "That’s the way I feel about it. I think we need that challenge within (the organization). Robin’s had a tougher year than we thought he might have down there (in Binghamton), but now we’re saying we’ve got to be ready no matter what happens."

There is a wide gulf in their professional experience at this point. The 20-year-old Lehner has 51 games of AHL experience — not including the 2011 playoffs, when the native of Gothenburg, Sweden, backstopped the B-Sens to the Calder Cup crown and was named the playoff MVP — while Bishop has toiled for 159 games in Peoria.

"That experience, we know full well — and at the goaltending position in particular — has a little bit to do with performance," said Murray.

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