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Opportunity knocking at Senators rookie camp

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Robin Lehner will be one of the top attractions at Senators rookie camp and the ensuing rookie tournament, which begins Saturday in London, Ont. (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

Maybe it'll be the first step toward a spot on the Ottawa Senators roster.

And perhaps it just might happen when the Senators hit the ice for the start of the 2010-11 season.

Such are the dreams and hopes for some of the top prospects who will take part in the team's annual rookie camp and tournament, which begins Friday morning with an open practice at the Bell Sensplex.

After that, it's off to London, Ont., and the John Labatt Centre, where the Senators will take part in a four-team tournament with prospects from the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs.

At stake, first and foremost, is earning an invite to the Senators' main camp, which opens Sept. 17 at Scotiabank Place. Beyond that ... who knows?

"I don't know if anybody out of that camp (can push for a roster spot), but there usually is," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. "We have a number of (top) young guys that are going to be there. (Defenceman) Patrick Wiercioch, I think, will really benefit from a rookie camp situation. Certainly, Robin Lehner will benefit from it, just going through the experience of playing against pro players.

"What I've found is that I go to all these rookie tournaments and look at these kids play every year and I say they're going to be pretty good players. Out of that camp, there's always half a dozen that, for different reasons, end up playing. It's a very strong possibility that we'll have one at least."

A year ago, defenceman Erik Karlsson and centre Peter Regin both took part in the rookie tournament and eventually ended up earning regular spots in the Senators lineup. Defenceman Jared Cowen, the Senators' top pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, would appear to be the best bet to take that route in 2010, with forward Bobby Butler figuring to get a long look as well. Lehner, Wiercioch and high-scoring forward Mike Hoffman are top prospects from recent drafts that also have a chance to make an impression.

"We've had an open mind since we've been here," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray said in a radio interview with the Team 1200. "It will take something special (to crack the lineup). As open minded as we want to be and say we're going to be, salary cap and contracts do have a big say in it. In saying that, one guy may light it up. Who knows?

"There are openings. The door is not fully opened but it's ajar. It'll take a great performance to get things to change here. But our job is to win games ... we certainly won't make a decision that's going to make us win less games than we want to win, that's for sure."

The Senators open rookie tournament play against the Penguins prospects on Saturday at 2 p.m., then take on the Blackhawks on Sunday at the same time. They'll close it out Tuesday against the Leafs prospects at 7 p.m. All games are available locally on Rogers Television.

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