|Corey Locke suited up for three games with the New York Rangers last season. The former Ottawa 67's star hopes a better NHL opportunity awaits him in the future with the Senators (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
Corey Locke is coming home to resume chasing his hockey dream.
The former Ottawa 67's standout inked a two-year, two-way contract today with the Senators, with whom Locke hopes to finally get his first true big shot at the National Hockey League.
"I had a few offers on the table and interest from (several) teams," said Locke, 26, who has spent the majority of his six-year pro career in the American Hockey League. "It took some time with my agent, a lot of discussion and trying to find the best scenario. The objective going into July 1 and free agency was to find the best opportunity for me to play in the NHL as much as possible.
"When it came down to it, we felt Ottawa was the best situation ... We looked at depth charts, we talked to people in the organization and heard what they thought about it. It just came down to thinking it was the best opportunity and the best fit. I'm really happy with the decision I made."
Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray called the acquistion of the Toronto native "a great signing for the organization."
"(Locke) is a semi-local guy," said Murray. "He was a great junior player (in Ottawa) and a popular player. At worst, he's a top-end American league player and at best, he's a player who can get called up and give us quality minutes. He's a power-play type forward with a lot of skill.
"He's one of those players that makes top dollar in the American Hockey League, so you have to step up financially. There were certainly other teams involved. I believe he may have even left money on the table for a two-year deal. He's familiar with the city and he likes his chances."
A fourth-round selection (113th overall) by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Locke spent the first four seasons of his pro career with the Habs organization but saw just one game's worth of NHL action. He was part of the Calder Cup-winning Hamilton Bulldogs in 2006-07.
"The objective going into July 1 and free agency was to find the best opportunity for me to play in the NHL as much as possible. When it came down to it, we felt Ottawa was the best situation ... We looked at depth charts, we talked to people in the organization and heard what they thought about it. It just came down to thinking it was the best opportunity and the best fit. I'm really happy with the decision I made." - Corey Locke
Locke is coming off a career-high 85-point season (including 31 goals) in 2009-10 with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top farm team of the New York Rangers. The 5-9, 189-pound forward also suited up for three games with the Blueshirts but didn't produce a point.
"Sometimes, it's a numbers game," Locke said when asked why he hasn't yet found permanent employment in the NHL. "Some think maybe it's a little bit on the defensive side and some say (it's about) size and speed, maybe. But I just feel I really haven't gotten an opportunity.
"I try to do everything in the minors to improve and I think I've improved every year on both sides of the puck. I just wanted an opportunity and I haven't really gotten a chance. I feel like I need one and I can take advantage of it."
Perhaps he'll find it in Ottawa, where he had a pair of 100-point seasons and was a two-time Ontario Hockey League player of the year. In 2002-03, he racked up 63 goals and 151 points and was named the top player in Canadian junior hockey.
"I had a great time," Locke said of his junior career in Ottawa. "Being coached by Brian Kilrea, I learned a lot, and a lot of the hockey I've moved on to in pro has (benefited) from a lot of learning in Ottawa and maturing.
"It was a great place to play junior and I hope it's a great place to play in the NHL ... It does feel like home a bit, just because I did spend some time there. It was kind of like a second home. It's very familiar to me."