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Rookie tourney starting point for new Sens coach

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Now that he feels settled in his new hockey home, Paul MacLean is eager to begin the task of building his first Ottawa Senators lineup.

The process begins later this week, when the new Senators head coach gets his first real glimpse at some of the organization's top young talent at a rookie tournament in Oshawa, Ont. Ottawa's prospects will face off against its counterparts from Pittsburgh, Chicago and Toronto in a four-team affair that begins Saturday at the General Motors Centre.

"The future is key to us," MacLean during a guest appearance on the Team 1200 earlier today. "We're in a little bit of a rebuild and a lot of these guys that are playing in the (rookie tournament) are going to be a part of that. When we're real good, they're going to be a part of it, whether that's Mika Zibanejad, Jared Cowen or Patrick Wiercioch. (David) Rundblad is there, Robin Lehner is there.

"They're all players I haven't had a great opportunity to see yet and I'm looking forward to seeing them play. Whethey they can all play in the National Hockey League and play at the level we need them to be at, time will tell. But I'm looking forward to going to Oshawa."

MacLean, who completed a move from Detroit — where he was a longtime assistant coach with the Red Wings — to a new home in Stittsville last week, is entering the process of selecting a roster with a completely open mind, with the intent to find "the best 20 guys" to start the season.

"If you're ready to play in the National Hockey League, you should get the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League," said MacLean. "And if you're not ready to play, you should have to wait until you're ready to play. That depends on the player. I know we have a lot of expectations for our players in Binghamton last year that have had success in the American Hockey League, winning the Calder Cup.

"Can they all play in the National Hockey League? I don't know yet. But I know for sure that some of them are going to play in the NHL and if they're ready, we're going to have them play."

Ready is also the optimum word for Senators main camp, which is set to begin Sept. 16. MacLean envisions his team playing a much more up-tempo game, with a premium on skating. It's a message he's already communicated to his team's players in terms of their expected fitness level.

"In order to play in the NHL now, you have to be an elite athlete," said MacLean. "And if our team isn't elite in its fitness level, we're going to be behind 29 other teams in the league and that message was sent out shortly after I got the job, about my expectations that the players will be at elite (fitness) level. A lot of the players are — I'm not saying that was an issue here in the past.

"These players take a lot of pride in their job and they're going to be ready to go. That's an important part of the job. The only thing I told them after that is to be ready to skate, because we're going to skate."

While contract status will have a say in who eventually makes the roster, MacLean still expects plenty of competition for positioning with the team's roster.

"There's competition within the team for ice time as far as penalty killing, power play and 4-on-4 (situations)," he said. "Top six minutes compared to bottom six minutes can be a lot (of difference). There's still competition on this team, even though maybe there's not 20 jobs available for people coming to training camp. Within the 21 or 22 people we're going to keep on this team, there's definitely competition for the opportunity to play or for ice time."

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