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Grant stepping up in class with rookie tourney play

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Derek Grant has been an impact player for the Ottawa Senators at the NHL rookie tournament in Oshawa, Ont., playing on a long alongside Corey Cowick and 2011 first-rounder Stefan Noesen (Photo by Mike Peleshok).

OSHAWA, Ont. — Just six months ago, Derek Grant was still cracking the books as a college sophomore.

But this week at the National Hockey League rookie tournament at the General Motors Centre, the native of Abbotsford, B.C., is getting an eduction of a different kind. And so far, at least, he's very much earning a passing grade.

The 6-3, 196-pound centre has been a force for the Senators in this tournament playing alongside Corey Cowick and 2011 first-rounder Stefan Noesen. They've formed the starting line in both of Ottawa's outings to date, with Grant producing the first goal of the tourney for the team in Saturday's 4-0 shutout of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I'm playing with a lot of talented guys here," said Grant, 21, a fourth-round pick (119th overall) by the Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "The competition’s high and I guess the stakes are high as well, so it’s just a lot of fun. It’s kind of a good start to the year."

It's quite the step up in class for Grant, who enjoyed two strong seasons at Michigan State University — he led the Spartans in scoring with 33 points (8-25) last season and ranked second as freshman with 30 (12-18) — before deciding to forego his final two years of college eligibility and signed an entry-level deal with the Senators in March.

"I just felt the opportunity was there and I thought I was ready to take the next step," Grant said in explaining his decision. "I kind of pushed myself and forced myself to be ready. I finished the year off in (Binghamton) and that was a lot of fun and a good experience."

While Grant only saw action in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, he scored one of the biggest goals of the post-season for the B-Sens. His overtime tally in Game 2 against the Manchester Monarchs prevented Binghamton from falling into a 2-0 series hole and was one of four OT goals the B-Sens recorded in taking the series. It ended up being the springboard to a Calder Cup crown two months later.

"It was unbelievable," said Grant. "Just going through that and getting all the way to the end was just a phenomenal experience. It’s something I’ve never really experienced before. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a championship team like that. It was a good start to my (pro) career, I guess."

It was another major jump for a player who played two seasons of Junior A with the Langley Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League before accepting the Spartans' scholarship offer.

"Going from Junior A to there is a big step," said Grant. "My freshman year, we had a really good team and I played with two older guys and they helped me out a lot in that first year. With those guys leaving, it gave me a bigger role the next year and I learned to take on that role.

"In college, you practice a lot, so there’s a lot of development there. The games are very intense, so that builds you up for the next level."

The American Hockey League offered a new kind of classroom atmosphere, so to speak.

"It’s definitely a different style of game," said Grant. "In college, you only play two games a week and everyone’s kind of running around — it’s really high tempo. The AHL is faster but it’s a lot more controlled. It’s just learning a different style.

"Kurt (Kleinendorst, the B-Sens' head coach) did a good job with me coming in and taught me about it. There were also a lot of older guys on that team who helped me out early, so it was a good experience."

Grant is eager to play a bigger role in Binghamton this coming season. And Kleinendorst expects he'll get one, with a number of stalwarts on the B-Sens' title team having moved on.

"I think he’s more of a natural left wing than a centre," said Kleinendorst. "We’re going to try him down the middle. You can see he’s a big kid, he’s got good skills and he’s smart guy. He should play a good role for us. He should fit in nicely, for sure."

Added Grant: "We did a lot of good things last year and we still have a few guys from that team, so I think we have the experience now to win and, hopefully, we can do it again."

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