It is going to be all about youth for the next few seasons in Ottawa. Fortunately for the Senators, our new head coach D.J. Smith knows all about the development of young talent having spent several seasons doing just that!
The 2019 NHL Draft is in the books, and Smith sounds like he can't wait to see what the Senators haul from Vancouver looks like when Development Camp starts next week back in Ottawa.
"It's an exciting time for Ottawa," Smith told reporters at the Draft. "You never know who is going to make your team. The plan is to develop these kids slowly."
"We have to make sure these kids (that were drafted in Vancouver) develop and that's on me. I am going to do everything in my power to maximize the potential of these young players."
Smith is making it clear in every interview he does that he is more than willing to be the main person accountable for developing all these young players and draft picks that will be coming into Ottawa in the next several years. Working with younger players, after all, is something the 42-year-old Smith has done for the majority of his career.
He's also been a part of an NHL team that started from ground zero as well.
Concussions cut Smith's playing career short after 45 NHL games and parts of nine seasons in the American Hockey League. Once he realized his playing career was over, he immediately turned his attention to coaching, and his start was in junior hockey.
He was an assistant coach with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League for six seasons, including winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010. He then became the head coach in Oshawa, where he won another Memorial Cup in 2015, beating some kid named Connor McDavid and the favoured Erie Otters in the OHL final en route.
His work with young junior players didn't go unnoticed. He comes to the Senators after four seasons as assistant coach to Mike Babcock with the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the Leafs finishing last overall in the NHL during his first season there playing a roster filled with youth.
So Smith knows all about working with young players at both the junior and pro level. He also knows all about coming off a last place overall season.
"D.J. won a Memorial Cup just four years ago, and he is very much in touch with younger players in the league," Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion says. "He can relate to younger players, he understands them, and they can see his energy and passion as well."
"Having that kind of a coach is really important when you have as many younger players as we do. He's going to be a great coach for the players we drafted this weekend."
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Smith was delighted to be in Vancouver and get to spend some time with the scouts and Dorion as they start to know each other better.
"You work your whole life for this opportunity and it's exciting to work with Pierre every day," Smith said. "He's doing everything to grow the team for now, but he also knows this is about the young kids, they have to play."
"I need to work with the scouts, I need to work with the management and we all need to work together to get the best out of these kids."
And what will be his advice to the newest crop of Senators drafted in Vancouver?
"The drafted players they all think they're ready to play tomorrow…there's no rush here. Your talent will show itself in time."
"Just come in and do what you do. Ultimately it's to be the best player you can be at 22, 23, 24, and it's not a race to get there right away. It's my job to make sure that when they do get to the NHL, they stay."