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Development camp boosts stock of Sens prospects

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman David Rundblad showed during Senators development camp that he's ready to move into a spot on the Ottawa blue line starting in the fall, according to GM Bryan Murray. Rundblad was one of several standouts during the week-long camp, which wrapped up today with a 3-on-3 tournament at the Bell Sensplex (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

Perhaps more than ever, Ottawa Senators hockey management had reason to keep a sharp eye pointed toward the club's annual development camp.

Randy Lee, the Senators' director of player development and hockey administration, had declared at the week's outset that the talent level on hand at the 2011 version of this camp was the highest he'd seen in 15 years. And by the time the proceedings wrapped up earlier today with a 3-on-3 tournament at the Bell Sensplex, the 36 prospects on hand had done plenty to warrant such a lofty appraisal.

"There’s no question it’s probably the best camp I’ve seen in my career as far as a development camp is concerned," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said in assessing what he and had staff have seen over the last week. "I think the number of players that show promise … not all of them will make it, but certainly a number of them have a chance to (do so). Now it’s up to Randy Lee and his group taking over and making sure the development continues and they get stronger, as every young guy has to do.

"But it's very rewarding to see ... the level of play and the number of players that certainly show promise."

Murray went so far as to suggest "four or five" of the prospects on display this week might have a legitimate shot at earning a roster spot in Ottawa when the Senators assemble for 2011-12 training camp in September. At the top of that last would likely be a pair of blueliners, Swedish import David Rundblad and Jared Cowen, both of whom where first-round picks in the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft (Rundblad was obtained a year later in a trade with the St. Louis Blues).

"With his skill level, his poise with the puck ... (Rundblad) is a very promising player for us," said Murray. "He should be able to play on our hockey team this year."

Speaking about the 6-5, 230-pound Cowen, Murray added "his size and strength and his ability to play defence when it comes to game time indicates to me he's going to have a real strong camp, I believe, and be a strong candidate (to make the team)."

By many accounts, however, the standout of this development was Swedish winger Jakob Silfverberg, a second-round pick (39th overall) in the 2009 draft. While the Senators firmly believe the 20-year-old native of Gavle is NHL-ready now, Silfverberg intends to return home for a third season with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, a stance he hasn't wavered on all week and reiterated one more time today.

"I’m set on going back to Sweden," said Silfverberg. "I’m very happy that they have such high thoughts about me, but my mind is on Sweden and that’s where I’m going to play next season and, hopefully, I keep developing the way I have in previous seasons."

The Senators have surely been pleased with that development in the two years since the 6-2, 190-pound Silfverberg was originally drafted.

"I really believe he is the mature guy out there right now," said Murray. "From Day 1 coming here a couple of years back to now, he has shown remarkable improvement."

Added Rundblad: "I played with him for many years on the (Swedish) junior national team. He's really strong, strong with the puck, strong along the boards and has a really good shot. He's a great player. I think he could (play in the NHL now)."

Mika Zibanejad, the Senators' top pick in the 2011 NHL draft, could get that shot this fall. The 18-year-old from Stockholm impressed Murray as "a guy that, with a little time, will develop into a real powerful player."

Other less heralded players, such as forward Mike Hoffman and defenceman Mark Borowiecki — both fifth-round picks, in 2009 and 2008, respectively — made the Senators take extra notice with their performances. The latter was voted the hardest working player in this camp by his peers while Hoffman, a prolific junior scorer who endured what he called "a rollercoaster of a season," continued to progress after playing a key role in the Binghamton Senators' drive to the Calder Cup crown earlier this month.

"Mike Hoffman came to camp (last year) as a guy that was sort of a borderline player," said Murray. "I thought the first half or beyond in Binghamton last year, he was borderline. Then he got to the second half and in the playoffs in particular, he became a real force and he looks like he’s an NHL player now."

Hoffman and Team Blue captured top honours in the 3-on-3 tourney that wrapped up the camp. Also part of the winning squad were forwards Mark Stone and Stefan Noesen, along with blueliners Ben Blood and Kirill Lyamin.

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