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Senators camp already an eye opener

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Craig Hartsburg wasted little time turning heads at his first Ottawa Senators training camp.

The new head coach created a bit of a buzz during the team’s first practice session of the new season at Scotiabank Place by lining up rookie forward Jesse Winchester alongside the high-scoring duo of Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. It was an initial step toward fulfilling Hartsburg’s wish to distribute the scoring more evenly, with captain Daniel Alfredsson – who formed a powerhouse trio with Spezza and Heatley last season – skating alongside Chris Kelly and Nick Foligno during this morning’s on-ice session.

Defenceman Jason Smith watches the action during the first day of Senators training camp on Tuesday at Scotiabank Place.
But just as quickly, Hartsburg told the assembled media not to “read anything at all” into the set of combinations he put on display to open camp.

“I just wanted to put some young players in situations where they’re playing with good players,” Hartsburg said after what he called a “good day” all-around on the ice. “Once we start playing games, I think we’ll find some of the lines were pretty good today. But I wouldn’t read a lot into it yet.”

Surely, he gave Winchester – who’s taking part in his first full-fledged National Hockey League training camp – something to think about.

“It’s an eye-opener but it’s still early in camp,” said the 24-year-old from nearby Long Sault, Ont. “No team has been made yet and I’m just looking at it as a chance to showcase my ability and go about business the way I know how.”

Spezza, for one, can see Winchester potentially being a good fit on the top trio.

“Just seeing him play a little bit during the summer, he seems like a good puck possession guy and he’s a guy we figured would get a good look,” said Spezza. “He’s a pretty smart player and, hopefully, we can make it work.”

There is also work to be done assembling new defensive pairings, at least beyond the rock-solid duo of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. But Hartsburg said he can see a pair of veteran newcomers – Filip Kuba and Jason Smith – being a good match.

“They’re very solid, veteran players with good size,” said Hartsburg, a former stalwart of the Minnesota North Stars blue line for 10 seasons. “I can see that they can be a real good defensive pair and Kuba has the ability to help our offence as well.”

There have been suggestions already that Kuba, a nine-year NHL veteran, might be the man to run the Senators power play. That sounds good to the Czech blueliner.

“You want to be on the ice in every situation and help the team,” he said.

Smith likes the possibility of working alongside his fellow Senators newcomer.

“Having played against (Kuba), I know he’s a very good player,” said Smith, a former captain with the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. “He’s a guy that competes well and he’s good with the puck and shoots the puck well. I know that for sure.

“Hopefully, we can play solid defensively together and do good things.”

The depth on hand at this camp is already clear to see, with a number of tough, interesting decisions awaiting Hartsburg and team management. But veteran blueliner Luke Richardson, who’s battling to extend his career to a 21st season, sees that as a good thing.

“(Senators management) did add a lot of depth everywhere,” he said. “That’s great for the organization and that’s only going to improve and help over the course of 82 games and playoffs.”

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