The longest of shots? Brian Elliott is far from it anymore.
Rather, the lowest-drafted player still in the Ottawa Senators system has clearly emerged as the organization's goaltender of the future. And it's a future that seems closer than ever before for the 291st pick (ninth round) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
"It's been a goal since I was five years old," Elliott said about the prospect of landing full-time employment with a National Hockey League team. "When you're that young, you do think it's realistic and you do think maybe one day you could be there."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray has already talked openly about promoting Elliott to the big club next season – a more distinct possibility after Monday's news that Ray Emery has been bought out of the remaining two years of his contract. That leaves Martin Gerber as the only goaltender still standing on the Ottawa depth chart.
Elliott fully expects to join the fight for the backup position and isn't about to let an injury throw up an obstacle in his way. Back in April, he was tending goal for the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., when he suffered an MCL strain in his right knee after being bowled over in his crease by a player from the aptly-named Syracuse Crunch.
The injury brought a premature end to a season in which Elliott played strongly down the stretch. More than two months later, though, he said the knee has healed and is ready for a test at this week's Senators development camp.
"I've been taking shots (in private workouts), I've been doing full practices twice a week," he said earlier this month. "It takes a little while to warm up but it feels like I could do the whole camp and be fine."
The former University of Wisconsin goaltender has been back in Madison in recent weeks, training under the supervision of Mike Valley, another ex-Badger stopper who has brought some cutting-edge techniques to his regimen.
"When he said he'd help, he said 'I'll help you on one condition, that your goal is to be the starter in Ottawa next season,' " said Elliott, 23. "That's always been my goal and you have to set your goals high and try to achieve them.
"We're doing stuff like training the eyes on computer programs and trying all the newest stuff out there to get the extra edge."
Before the knee injury, Elliott posted an 18-19-1 record, 2.81 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in Binghamton. More importantly, his game was on a definite upswing at season's end.
"I think it's just building on what I started to do from the middle of the season on to the end, when I started feeling more comfortable in the net," he said of the next step in his development. "Just trying to keep out of my crease, trying to challenge the shooters as much as I can and cutting off the angle and staying tight with my movements.
"If you look at Gerber, he plays an unbelievable style. Everything is really tight and smooth and you want to take parts of his game and put it into your own, and hopefully create a nice hybrid of everything you've learned through the years."
Last season also gave Elliott his first true taste of NHL action. Back on Oct. 10 in a surprise start, he backstopped the Senators to a 3-1 victory over the Thrashers in Atlanta.
"It was kind of surreal," said Elliott. "I wasn't nervous, I just wanted to go out there and play my best. If you think about getting nervous, that's what gets you into trouble, especially at that level.
"Just relax and play your game out there ... that's what I was thinking about."
Later, he had a thought of a different kind, one Elliott carries with him to this day.
"After that first game I played in Atlanta, I started letting it set in and I thought 'you know what, I just played a game (in the NHL) and we won,' " he said. "We had a good team (in front of me) but I was a part of that and I was happy to be there.
"That's when you realize that 'hey, I just played at this level and I think I can be here long term.' "
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