|Senators prospect Darren Kramer, shown posing for a photo with a young fan during 2011 development camp, likes the possibilities for his future with the organization (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
Darren Kramer's hockey odyssey isn't done yet.
Perhaps more than ever, the rugged Ottawa Senators prospect's National Hockey League dream is alive and well in the wake of his inking a three-year entry-level deal with the club late last week. For the 20-year-old native of Peace River, Alta., it's erased a lot of the doubt he had about his future.
"It was a big question mark for me and I didn't know which direction I was going to go," Kramer told the Grand Prairie (Alta.) Herald Tribune, a newspaper based in the town where he played two seasons for the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Storm. "It's a life decision you have to make, but now that I've signed, it's a relief to know this is the path I'll be taking for the next few years."
The 6-2, 210-pound forward has gained plenty of media attention for his patent-pending invention of a unique double-twist peanut butter jar — with an extra set of threads in the middle — that displayed the entrepreneurial spirit that lives inside him. But the Senators, who made Kramer a sixth-round pick (156th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, are more than willing to give him a chance to make a living in the game first.
While he came into his draft year most noted for the 47 fights and 306 penalty minutes he racked up during the 2010-11 campaign in Spokane, Kramer showed more offensive ability in the just-concluded season, totalling 22 goals and 40 points while reducing his PIM total to 200.
"We know he's a very physical, hard-working, competitive kid who was the captain of his junior team (the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs)," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. "He came with a very high endorsement from his coach (former Binghamton Senators bench boss Don Nachbaur), that he has continued to play a very hard-nosed type of game.
"Because of his physical nature and willingness to show up for his teammates every night, I think it sent a message to us that this is a guy that we should give a full opportunity to become an NHL player."
With that thought in mind, count on Kramer to turn in the supreme effort necessary to make the most of that chance. And he's more than willing to spend some time with the B-Sens in the American Hockey League if that's what it takes to get himself to the "big show."
"The intentions are to make the team in Ottawa but in reality, you know there are a lot of equally skilled players competing for spots," said Kramer. "So chances are you're going to have to be spending some times in the minors. Either way, I'll be working hard to get to the National Hockey League.
"Everything has to get much better to make the step ... the biggest thing is my foot speed and making sure I can keep up to the pro game. The guys you're going to be playing with are all men now, so you also want to make sure you're stronger and your body is where you want it to be physically."
Murray also noted "skating was one of the issues" with Kramer heading into last year's draft, but added "as with a lot of young players, that (development) has a chance to be improved" with the help of the Senators' training staff.
It's expected that both Kramer and fellow forward Jakub Culek, a third-round pick (76th overall) in the 2010 draft who also signed a three-year entry-level contract on Friday, will help fortify the ranks in Binghamton under new head coach Luke Richardson.
"They're both young draft choices we think are future candidates to play in the National Hockey League," said Murray. "We know both will take a little time and development, but the door is very much open now in Binghamton for them to start their pro careers ... hopefully, they will take advantage of (the opportunity)."