|Jim O'Brien's strong play for the Binghamton Senators has earned him two callups to Ottawa this season, the second one coming earlier today. Bobby Butler has also been summoned to Calgary for duty with the big club this evening (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images). |
It is a tricky but perpetual balancing act for any American Hockey League team.
Keep the pipeline of talent flowing steadily to the parent club while satisfying the home folks with a run to the playoffs.
The Binghamton Senators think they can take care of both this season.
With the AHL season just past its all-star break, the B-Sens are right in the thick of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. While Binghamton (25-20-3-3) sits in fifth spot in the rugged East Division, there is a crossover playoff spot also available if it finishes with more points than the fourth-place team in the Atlantic Division. And right now, the B-Sens hold a one-point edge over the Connecticut Whale in that area.
"I think we're playing great," forward Kaspars Daugavins
told the Binghamton Press-Bulletin
after the B-Sens helped their cause by picking up three points last weekend. "The team knows what's on the line here. We're one point in a playoff spot right now, but it's big to take every point we can.
"It's February and there are two months left until the regular season is done. We need to win a lot of games to make sure we're in the playoffs."
Given the relative youth of the current roster, B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst believes a playoff berth can play an important role in terms of overall player development.
"We’re on track and we want to make the playoffs," Kleinendorst told ottawasenators.com in a recent interview. "We’re right there and I think, for young players or even veteran players in all organizations, you want to be there at the end. You want to be in the playoffs.
"That’s a whole different experience in and of itself and we want to give our players exposure to that. But we’re still looking at 29 games (to go). We’ve got a lot of hockey left."
However, Kleinendorst also has to be mindful of having talent ready to roll if the Ottawa Senators come calling like they did earlier today, when forwards Bobby Butler
and Jim O'Brien
were summoned to the National Hockey League club to fill some injury holes.
"We’re on track and we want to make the playoffs. We’re right there and I think, for young players or even veteran players in all organizations, you want to be there at the end. You want to be in the playoffs. That’s a whole different experience in and of itself and we want to give our players exposure to that. But we’re still looking at 29 games (to go). We’ve got a lot of hockey left." - Kurt Kleinendorst
"The American league is always first about development, but winning takes a real close second," said Kleinendorst. "So it’s kind of finding a way to accomplish both. There will always be nights where sometimes development gets in the way of winning and every once in a while, depending on the moment, winning can get in the way of development.
"There’s a fine line there and knowing how Bryan (Murray, the Senators general manager) feels and Tim (Murray, the assistant GM), this is first about development and then winning."
Ask Kleinendorst about "pleasant surprises" in that area and he quickly points to O'Brien, a first-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (29th overall) whose growth has accelerated in a major way this season.
"Jim O’Brien has been somebody that I think everybody (in the organization) has been excited about because last year, he was a fourth-line player with high expectations as a first round pick and everything," he said. "And this year, he’s really started to progress and make strides. Roman Wick is a guy they brought in from (Switzerland) who hadn’t been here and he’s making progress. Bobby Butler
got a feel for what it’s like to be a pro here and he’s done well for himself."
Kleinendorst also had plenty of praise for big winger Colin Greening
, a former Cornell University captain who made his NHL debut last week in New Jersey. Greening ranks fifth among AHL rookie scorers with 34 points (12-22) in 50 games, one point better than Butler, the league's top rookie goal scorer (22).
"Personally, I just feel like (Greening) is one of those guys who’s accepted the challenge to get better every day and he’s kind of done that," said Kleinendorst. "He’s really made a case for himself and this is a guy that, down the road, I believe is going to play at the next level. He’s a rookie that really is every bit a pro as any of the guys."
The B-Sens hit the road this weekend for a trio of games on Friday (at Rochester), Saturday (at Hershey) and Sunday (at Adirondack). Binghamton's next home matchup is Feb. 18 against the Charlotte Checkers at Broome County Veterans' Memorial Arena.