|Erik Karlsson was a standout for Sweden at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. Now the top Senators prospect will take the next step in his development at the team's annual rookie camp starting this weekend (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).
For some, it represents the opportunity to grab a piece of a hockey dream.
But for others, Ottawa Senators rookie camp is merely the next step along the road toward full-time employment in the National Hockey League.
Expect to see a mix of both when 21 of the organization's top prospects gather at Scotiabank Place on Saturday for the opening of 2009 rookie camp. After two days of medical and fitness testing, along with a pair of on-ice sessions at the Bell Sensplex, the Sens will head off to Kitchener, Ont., for a four-team rookie tournament that also involves prospects from the host Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
Randy Lee, the Senators' director of hockey administration and player development, calls the rookie camp "an important measuring stick" for the organization and its prospects.
"It’s just a way for us to get our top prospects who are eligible to play – the major junior guys and the guys down in Binghamton – into camp together to see where they’re at," said Lee. "It’s good because you’re going against guys with the same skill set who are still in the same place in terms of their development."
At stake are potential prized invites to the Senators' main training camp, which begins Sept. 12.
"There is definitely an opportunity for guys who are invited or on tryout agreements to earn spots to go to main camp and it has translated into guys getting jobs on this team in the past," said Lee. "Guys like Geoff Waugh come to this camp, impress upon us, do a good job, go down and get a job in Binghamton. And that’s what they want. All they want is a fair shake and that’s what we try to be up front with them about, to make sure they realize they will get a fair shake."
Two forwards attending this camp, Peter Regin
and Zack Smith
, got a taste of NHL action this season and are safe bets to get the chance to show their wares again at main camp. Senators general manager Bryan Murray has already suggested Smith, in particular, should have a decent shot at earning a roster position in Ottawa to start the season.
All eyes, however, figure to be on Erik Karlsson
, the Swedish blueliner the Senators made the 15th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. If Karlsson is to play his way into the Ottawa lineup – and by all accounts, he'll be given every chance to do just that – it starts this weekend.
"It’s just the first step," said Lee. "He has to be a dominant player here, and that’s the thing. At world juniors (in Ottawa in January), he was (playing) against younger players, guys who are junior age. Now he’s going to be against older players, more established players.
"But it’s relative. He can’t just be average. The challenge for him will be to really dominate and excel, which he can do."
"He has to be a dominant player here, and that’s the thing. At world juniors (in Ottawa in January), he was (playing) against younger players, guys who are junior age. Now he’s going to be against older players, more established players. But it’s relative. He can’t just be average. The challenge for him will be to really dominate and excel, which he can do." - Randy Lee
The 19-year-old Karlsson has been taking the necessary steps in that direction, arriving back in Ottawa two weeks ago. Since then, he's been sharing ice with Senators veterans during some informal sessions at the Bell Sensplex.
"He’s come in early on his own to do extra work and he’s worked with (Senators strength and conditioning coach) Chris Schwarz and a lot of other people," said Lee. "He’s doing all this extra work as in investment to make sure that he can show the best possible at main camp and rookie camp."
Since the day he was drafted as a 156-pounder, Karlsson's size has been a much-discussed issue in terms of his potential arrival date in the NHL. He's bulked up to 172 pounds since then and Lee said he's doing it the right way.
"We've seen a significant increase in strength and significant increase in weight," said Lee. "His mass is more effective. It’s more functional strength. He’s been skating with our veterans and he’s having no problem with guys handling coming down on him that are 220 pounds, which is a real testament to his commitment.
"He’s gone to the thresholds which we have put out for him and surpassed that. And it’s good strength. Sometimes, guys just get bigger for the sake of getting bigger. He is functionally stronger, so he’s more effective on the ice. He’s got the skill set that’s as good as anybody’s. He just needs to get the body to support that."
Author: Rob Brodie