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Future starts now for young Senators hopefuls

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
New Senators acquisition Ryan Potulny hopes to show he's worthy of the same kind of regular NHL duty he enjoyed as a member of the Edmonton Oilers last season (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images).
In a lot of ways, it's like training camp has arrived several months early.

At least for a number of Ottawa Senators eager to show they want to and should be a part of the new direction the franchise is now taking. And in the wake of a trading binge that removed six veterans from the current roster, jobs are definitely out there to be had.

"You're playing for spots here," said forward Colin Greening, who's back in Ottawa for his third recall from the American Hockey League. "So that's important for guys like us coming up from Binghamton to be able to perform and show that we can play at this level."

Add a few more candidates into that mix after Monday's trade deadline activity, which brought forward Ryan Potulny into the fold from the Chicago Blackhawks (in a trade for blueliner Chris Campoli) and goaltender Curtis McElhinney via the waiver wire. Both will dress tonight against the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), with McElhinney serving as the backup to Craig Anderson.

The Bingo train also gained another passenger with the callup of defenceman Derek Smith, who will get a shot at filling the void caused by the Campoli trade and Matt Carkner's lingering lower body injury. Smith saw two games' worth of action with the big club last season but feels more ready to display his wares this time.

"I thought I was ready for it (last year) but looking back, maybe I wasn't," said Smith, who's totalled nine goals and 43 points in 59 games with the B-Sens this season. "But I think this is my opportunity now. I've had a good season down in Binghamton and I really want to show what I can do."

That mindset is shared by the 26-year-old Potulny, who spent most of the 2009-10 campaign with the Edmonton Oilers but couldn't crack a deep Blackhawks roster this season. Given what's gone on in Ottawa in terms of retooling for the future, the native of Grand Forks, N.D., agreed there's a wider window of opportunity for him here.

"It’s a chance to get back to the NHL," said Potulny, whose older brother, Grant, played three seasons in Binghamton from 2004-07. "I want to come in here and try to prove myself and help the team out. There is some opportunity (but) you can’t assume anything. I’m just happy to be here to get a chance to prove myself again.

"I'll try to be a good two-way guy. That’s where some guys go wrong, I guess. Some guys come up and don’t worry about the defensive part of the game, where in the NHL, you have to be good defensively and be accountable, then let your offence fall into place."

Senators head coach Cory Clouston noted that Potulny "has a nice offensive upside."

"He does have that (NHL) experience, which is nice, especially in a lineup like ours," said Clouston. "He just has to go out there, play his game and keep moving forward."

What can also be felt in the Senators dressing room starting today is a collective sense of relief that the wheeling and dealing is finally over. Now, everyone can just focus on the task at hand the rest of the way.

"It probably makes things a little better around here, just knowing that everybody is going to be here now the rest of the year," said centre Jason Spezza. "We can just focus on the games and getting better as a team."

Around the boards

Forwards Chris Neil and Jesse Winchester, along with blueliner Sergei Gonchar, will all return to the lineup from the injury list tonight ... Forward Milan Michalek, who took a shot off the foot during Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, is out indefinitely and Clouston acknowledged the speedy forward could be done for the season. "He was playing very well," said Clouston. "The last two months were as good a (level of) hockey as he's played for us. I think we saw what he's able to do when his knee was healthy. It might be awhile now (before he returns) ... Centre Peter Regin (left shoulder) is also out indefinitely and might be finished for the year. However, the Senators are hopeful they'll see Carkner (lower body) and captain Daniel Alfredsson (lower back) back in the lineup soon. "With those two, we're just going to take it on a day-by-day basis," said Clouston. "Alfie skated Sunday and it was a good day. He skated again yesterday and it was not so good of a day. He took a little bit of a setback and he's not going to be ready for the next couple of days." ... Expect to see McElhinney get his first start perhaps later this week, when the Senators play back-to-back games in Atlanta on Thursday (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) and against the New York Rangers on Friday at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). "We're going to get him into a handful of games for sure," Clouston said with an eye toward the Senators' busy March schedule. "So there's going to be an opportunity to get him into some games." ... Ottawa defenceman Filip Kuba suits up for his 700th career NHL game tonight.

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