The stage, in Antoine Vermette’s mind, couldn’t be more perfectly set.
Armed with a new two-year contract, the Ottawa Senators forward doesn’t choose to see or feel the pressure that some would suggest might go along with it. Rather, Vermette takes a more positive approach and welcomes the chance to become the hockey player he has always believed he can be.
“That’s the way I want it,” the 26-year-old from St-Agapit, Que., said about the new opportunity he believes has been presented to him in the seasons to come. “You always want to push yourself and make yourself the best player possible.
“I’m looking forward to this year. I’ve been working hard and I’m sure all the guys (on the team) have been doing the same thing. Personally, I look forward (to the new season) and it should be a good one.”
While Vermette has combined with Chris Kelly to form a standout penalty-killing duo in previous seasons, he believes more responsibility is on the way in the season to come. But it is something that he readily embraces.
“That’s what you want as a hockey player,” he said. “You want to get yourself in a better situation and always push your limit. I think that’s going to come with (the new contract) and I’m very excited about it.”
Vermette hit career highs in goals (24), assists (29) and points (53) in 2007-08, his fourth full season with the Senators. He has always yearned for a chance to produce more offensively and, to hear Sens general manager Bryan Murray tell it, Vermette will likely get that opportunity in the very near future.
“We (Senators management) see a certain player at the moment,” said Murray after completing the deal that retained Vermette’s services. “We have to realize he projects a little higher than that, which I’m very happy to hear. I believe that within three years, you’ll see a better offensive player than he is (right now).”
All of that sounds good to Vermette, who has prepared himself to make it happen.
“Definitely, a bigger role and probably a better contribution offensively (is possible), and being put in different situations,” he said. “I’m ready for that and I trained hard this summer for that.”
Perhaps the best part for Vermette: He gets to spend at least two more seasons playing in a city that he loves and with the only National Hockey League team he has ever known. Vermette was a second-round choice by the Senators in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft from the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I just feel like (I’m at ) home here,” Vermette said in explaining why he enjoys playing in Ottawa for the Senators. “I was drafted here and I like my teammates, the team and the organization.
“The city itself … I feel very comfortable here. It really feels like home, literally, like back home (in Quebec). It’s the same feeling. I’m used to the area and the fans. I get that connection with this city and this team, and it’s good.”
And now, in such a comfortable environment, Vermette has two more seasons to become the best player he can be. It was also another major factor, he said, in his decision to re-sign with the Senators in the off-season.
“You want to be put in a situation where you can optimize your potential,” said Vermette. “You’ve got to think about that and that’s one (important) thing, too. That was a big (part of my) decision.”