|Senators prospect Geoff Kinrade made his NHL debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning last April and quickly found himself staring face to face at one of the league's most feared shooters (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Talk about your welcome to the National Hockey League moment.
Here was defenceman Geoff Kinrade
, making his NHL debut for the Tampa Bay Lightning back on April 9. And on a night ready filled with enough in the way of butterflies, who does he find barrelling down against him at full speed?
None other than Alex Ovechkin, merely the league's most lethal goal scorer. But Kinrade, who's now a member of the Ottawa Senators organization, reported with a smile that he walked away with nary a burn mark.
"You try not to think (about who it is) because that's probably going to get you beat," said Kinrade, 24, of Nelson, B.C. "There was the (nervous moment) but at the same time, in your head, you're thinking 'I've got this.' It was good. I didn't get beat. He didn't have much, so I pretty much took everything away.
"It was good he didn't have much room because he's such a good player."
Truth be told, there was a time not that long ago when Kinrade couldn't have imagined such a moment. He wasn't selected during his draft year and went through a four-year college career at Michigan Tech, beyond the eyes of most scouts.
Now the Senators think of him as someone who can fit in quite nicely as a top-four defenceman with their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. And maybe even more than that down the road.
"He might be a good call-up guy for us," said Randy Lee, the Senators' director of hockey administration and player development. "He's smart, he moves the puck really well, makes good decisions on the ice and competes really hard."
The six-foot, 207-pound Kinrade, an admitted "late bloomer," wondered what might lie ahead for him in hockey when the Huskies' season ended in March. But a week later, he got a call from the Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning's top affiliate. A little more than 24 hours later, he was making his pro hockey debut against – ironically enough – the Binghamton Senators.
"It was a rushed thing," Kinrade said of the whirlwind he went through. "I scored a goal against Binghamton and it was the game-winner. It was just a whole crazy experience with a little luck."
He had 10 games in Norfolk under his belt when the Lightning came calling for a late-season game. It was no cameo appearance for Kinrade, who saw 17:32 of ice time, about two of them on the power play.
"He might be a good callup guy for us. He's smart, he moves the puck really well, makes good decisions on the ice and competes really hard." - Randy Lee
"A couple of months before that, I never would have thought I would have taken a couple of one-on-ones against someone like Ovechkin," said Kinrade. "You definitely had to tell yourself 'this is real' and just go with it and play well. I kept getting put back on the ice, so I guess I was doing something right."
Turns out the Lightning weren't the only ones who noticed him in Norfolk.
"I went and saw him when he was playing there," said Lee. "He played really well. That's when Bryan (Senators general manager Murray) said 'keep an eye on him.'"
The Senators invited Kinrade to their development camp at the beginning of July and signed him to a one-year, two-way contract a few days after it ended. Now he's in Kitchener, Ont., this week with the rest of a group of Senators prospects, participating in a rookie tournament.
"I think there's a good opportunity here," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get a good look. I just want to make a really good impression over the (rookie) camp and hopefully find out where I stay. Wherever I end up, I'll battle to get even further."
Kinrade and the Senators prospects close out rookie tournament play in Kitchener tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., Rogers 22).