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Sens training camp battles figure to be fierce

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Rookie hopeful Patrick Wiercioch (left) and veteran Sergei Gonchar smile before teeing off at the 17th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Golf Classic at Kanata Golf & Country Club on

Something old, something new? Cory Clouston isn't ruling out the possibility of such a mix.

While the Ottawa Senators head coach admits there is room for one of the team's bright young prospects to earn a job during training camp, in the same breath Clouston acknowledges it'll be anything but easy to crack a lineup which appears set in most positions.

"There aren't a lot (of openings)," Clouston said prior to teeing off at the 17th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Golf Classic earlier today at the Kanata Golf & Country Club. "But we want is for our young guys to push for spots and make decisions difficult for us."

And they'll get a fair shot at proving themselves, he added.

"If, in fact, a player ends up down in Binghamton (of the American Hockey League), at least he's been given the opportunity to show what he can do so if and when we need to call a guy up, we know exactly what he can do," said Clouston. "We want them to make decisions difficult for us and if someone takes a spot from a veteran, that gives us more assets and more options down the road."

The names that could put themselves into the mix are already fairly well known. Big blueliner Jared Cowen, the Senators' top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, is front and centre in that discussion, and fellow defence prospect Patrick Wiercioch belongs in the conversation. Up front, Zack Smith — who saw action in all six playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring — is a strong contender for a job, while Bobby Butler distinguished himself with his play in the just-completed rookie tournament in London, Ont.

"I had a good first game (with) a couple of goals," said Butler, the leading goal scorer in NCAA Division I hockey last season with the New Hampshire Wildcats. "I thought overall, the weekend went well. I'm definitely excited and ready for the next step."

"I think everybody knows that you just have to find a way to get into the playoffs. That’s the goal for everybody and if you do, we feel — as most teams do — that we have a chance to go far and maybe go all the way. It’s a long way to go, 82 games, to qualify for the playoffs and that’s our goal." - Daniel Alfredsson
Mike Hoffman, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's most valuable player in 2009-10 and a prolific goal scorer, also turned plenty of heads in London and could make an intriguing case for himself in main camp. For all of them, Clouston said, it's a matter of who steps up the most in camp and pre-season games.

"What we're going to need specifically is going to play out as pre-season goes along," he said. "We have a few different players that provide a little bit of a different flavour for us and they each have different strengths and weaknesses. How the pre-season plays out is going to determine a lot which one of the young guys — or if a young guy — stays with us. And we'll go from there."

No matter who lines up for the team on opening night Oct. 8, when the Buffalo Sabres visit Scotiabank Place, the goal remains a simple one: get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs and make it last longer than last season's first-round exit at the hands of the Penguins.

"I think everybody knows that you just have to find a way to get into the playoffs," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "That’s the goal for everybody and if you do, we feel — as most teams do — that we have a chance to go far and maybe go all the way. It’s a long way to go, 82 games, to qualify for the playoffs and that’s our goal."

The addition of veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar, one of the league's top power-play quarterbacks, adds to the enthusiasm.

"Everybody knows the impact he’s going to have on the power play, (but) I’m real excited about the 5-on-5 potential, too," said centre Jason Spezza. "I think he’s just an all-around factor in all aspects of the game and he’s so smooth. He’s definitely an exciting guy to have on your team."

Training camp officially opens on Friday with fitness testing and medicals, with the first on-ice sessions set for Saturday morning at Scotiabank Place.



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