|Centre Peter Regin is among the young Senators that are in position to take "a big step forward" during the 2010-11 season, according to general manager Bryan Murray (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
The way Bryan Murray sees it, the Ottawa Senators are primed and ready to pick up exactly where they left off.
Meaning the Senators general manager figures his team should be right in the thick of the playoff mix again when the puck drops to start a new National Hockey League season in about six weeks' time. And with prize free-agent defenceman pickup Sergei Gonchar
now on board, Murray is steadfast in his belief that the Senators have the goods to improve on their 2009-10 performance, which produced a 44-32-6 record and a fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
"We have a good hockey team," Murray told reporters earlier today. "I think we're a contending team in the East. There are a number of good teams, mind you, (but) I suspect we'll be better than last year. Some of our young players, in particular, should be better. Nick Foligno
, Peter Regin
, Erik Karlsson
— people of that nature — have a chance to take a big step forward.
"You pair that with the veterans coming back and continuing the kind of play they've had and we should be a good hockey club." (mp3 audio)
Indeed, a lot of Murray's optimism is centred around the arrival of Gonchar — a dominant power-play force during his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that outlasted the Senators in the first round of last spring's playoffs — and the continued growth of some of the young talent that emerged last season. Top prospects such as forward Zack Smith
and defenceman Jared Cowen
should also get long looks from team management during training camp, which opens Sept. 17 at Scotiabank Place.
"I always hinge a lot (of hopes) on the youth on your team," said Murray (mp3 audio).
"Do they have the potential to get better? If that's true, and I believe it is, then your team should grow accordingly. We know that Alfie (captain Daniel Alfredsson
) and Alex (Kovalev) and people of that nature that are the more veteran group on the team ... they will continue to play at a good level.
"I suspect we'll be better than last year. Some of our young players, in particular, should be better. Nick Foligno, Peter Regin, Erik Karlsson — people of that nature — have a chance to take a big step forward. You pair that with the veterans coming back and continuing the kind of play they've had and we should be a good hockey club." - Bryan Murray
"If the younger guys improve as we suspect they will ... there are no guarantees and that doesn't always relate to a win in every single individual game. But over the course of the year, it should pay strong dividends for you."
Cowen, the Senators' top pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, had a bit of a setback during the off-season when a bout of mononucleosis kept him from participating in Hockey Canada's summer junior evaluation camp. But Murray expects the 6-5, 220-pound blueliner to be rarin' to go when rookie camp gets underway Sept. 9.
"He's actually been skating," Murray said of Cowen. "We think he's a real good prospect, for sure, and I don't think the mono will set him back very much. It may be that we have to be a little bit careful from the first days of camp to make sure that his body reacts okay. For the next couple of months, he certainly should be an improving player." (mp3 audio)
Alfredsson (sports hernia), Kovalev (knee) and forward Milan Michalek
(knee) are all coming off significant off-season surgeries, but Murray expects all will be good to go for main camp.
"We believe that everyone has recovered from the surgery, that each and every one of them has skated to this point," he said (mp3audio).
"Getting on the ice in competitive situations is a little bit different and they'll have to be tested as we go forward. But it appears that they're all 100 per cent, that everything was successful.
"They've had a good summer working out, they have skated and they're excited about coming back for camp. I think it speaks really well for the type of team we possibly have going forward."