|Rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson is among the young talent pushing hard for a roster spot with the Ottawa Senators to start the 2009-10 season (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
A wholesale changing of the guard isn't exactly at hand just yet.
But Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray acknowledges some "tough decisions" still need to be made before the team's final roster is set for the start of the 2009-10 season. Twenty-seven players – three goaltenders, eight defencemen and 16 forwards – remain in camp heading into the Senators' final pre-season game Friday night at Scotiabank Place against the Boston Bruins (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200).
Making the process difficult has been the emerging play of some of the organization's young, up-and-coming talent. Defenceman Erik Karlsson
and Peter Regin
, to name two, are making strong cases to earn spots on the roster and Murray admits both are more than capable of making an impact at the National Hockey League level.
Even sending big blueliner Jared Cowen
back to the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs – a move the Senators made official today – pained Murray, who believes the team's top pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft isn't far from being NHL-ready (mp3.file
"To me, that was real hard because I could see him, in November, being able to play at a very good level in this league," Murray said of the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Cowen, who is just returning to game action after missing eight months while recovering from major knee surgery.
"I really like young players that step up the way he did. It was such a good performance overall (Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning) for a guy that hadn't played hockey in a long time. But probably, in the long run, it's better for him (to go back to junior hockey)."
The decisions aren't so cut and dried for the likes of Karlsson and Regin, the two Scandinavian sensations of this training camp. Karlsson, a flashy Swedish blueliner with a wealth of offensive skills and instincts, has already shown he can add some juice to the Ottawa power play. Senators management believed he had a realistic shot at earning a spot with the big spot and that feeling hasn't wavered one bit.
"Erik, we know, is a very talented young man," said Murray. "There's a couple of things on the power play I'd like to see him do quicker ... but beyond that, he has come in and played well. And (that was) not unexpected, mind you. He's certainly a guy with very strong possibilities, I would say, to make the hockey team."
Regin, meanwhile, has shone on a line with Mike Fisher and Nick Foligno
over the past two pre-season games. The 23-year-old native of Herning, Denmark, who saw 11 games worth of NHL action last season, is doing his best to show he's ready for even more in the season ahead.
"The way Peter has played the last two games with Mike Fisher ... he's turned Mike into a goal-scoring machine," said Murray. "He makes plays. He made a great play on the goal (by Fisher) last night. I thought in the Montreal game (on Saturday, when Regin collected a goal and two assists), he made a couple of fine plays.
"He's fast, he's creative, he gets back and he helps out defensively. There's no question he's ready to play in the NHL."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
has been intrigued by the training camp battles.
"I think it's great," he said. "We have more depth than we've had in previous years. Competition is good and it's going to push everybody, so it's a good thing."
But while the Senators would love to inject some youth into their lineup, Murray also knows he's got enough NHL-calibre veterans on hand to fill out the roster.
"The way Peter has played the last two games with Mike Fisher ... he's turned Mike into a goal-scoring machine. He makes plays. He's fast, he's creative, he gets back and he helps out defensively. There's no question he's ready to play in the NHL." - Bryan Murray
"Sometimes, we look past (the veterans)," he said. "If they're not scoring goals or doing something special, we look by them and look toward the next generation of players quite early. We're all guilty of doing that very often.
"I've been through so many training camps where young players look like a million dollars and then you drop the puck in the real season and they're just not ready to play. We certainly have to be aware of this as well."
Nobody, however, is more aware than Murray of the need to find the improvement that's necessary to get the Senators back into the post-season.
"We didn't make the playoffs last year. We've got to be better," he said. "We can't (let it be) a wait-and-see kind of thing. We want to find out if this team is going to be better and I believe it's a lot better right now than it was at this time last year. But let's find out."