|Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch believes he's mentally prepared now to challenge for a place in the Senators lineup when training camp gets underway in September at Scotiabank Place (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club photo).
In Patrick Wiercioch
's mind, it was anything but just an educated guess.
When the Ottawa Senators prospect decided to surrender his final two years of college hockey eligbility with the University of Denver to begin his professional career, he did so knowing the timing couldn't have been more right to make the move.
"I felt like I had an opportunity to make the team this year," said the 19-year-old native of Maple Ridge, B.C. "There's a lot of work ahead of me to earn that spot on the team but if there was ever a time in my life that I was prepared to do it, it would be right now.
"So I'm excited for the opportunity ... It's a goal of mine. I wouldn't have left school if I didn't think I had a legitimate chance to make the team."
Now, it should be noted that Wiercioch shared that sentiment both before and after the Senators added free agent defenceman Sergei Gonchar
to their blue-line brigade. That signing didn't leave a lot of room on a crowded back end in Ottawa, but Wiercioch isn't ready to resign himself to duty on the farm with the Binghamton Senators just yet.
"Hopefully, (I get) just one opportunity," he said. "You never know. The signing of Gonchar is phenomenal for the team ... hopefully, I'll get some mentorship from him as much as possible and learn what I need to do to make it to this level.
"If I do get the chance, I have to make the most of it. If it takes me a little while, it'll take me awhile, but I'm going to keep pushing through to stick with (the Senators)."
Nobody in the Senators organization doubts that the 6-4, 185-pound Wiercioch has a major future with the team. Already, the Senators are envisioning a defence corps that features first-round picks Erik Karlsson
(2008) and Jared Cowen
(2009), along with Wiercioch (second round, 2008) and Swedish blueliner David Rundblad, who was obtained for Ottawa's top selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
"He definitely makes great passes," said Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson, who patrolled National Hockey League blue lines for two decades. "He’s kind of got that sneaky, spidery skating style to gets around guys, almost like a Brian Leetch the way he joins the play ... (Wiercioch) knows when to get in on the offence, but he also knows when to get back and play good defence."
All of the above might take a few years yet to unfold, with Gonchar, veterans Chris Phillips
and Filip Kuba
and rugged Matt Carkner
all still very much in the picture. But Wiercioch feels he is better equipped than ever to make an impact in Ottawa, and sooner rather than later.
"Hopefully, (I get) just one opportunity. You never know. The signing of Gonchar is phenomenal for the team ... hopefully, I'll get some mentorship from him as much as possible and learn what I need to do to make it to this level. If I do get the chance, I have to make the most of it. If it takes me a little while, it'll take me awhile, but I'm going to keep pushing through to stick with (the Senators)." - Patrick Wiercioch
"I think I’m mentally prepared to make the jump," he said during a break from workouts at the annual Senators development camp. "Last year, I was raw. I was definitely a young kid awed by everyone around me. You get into the organization, you get into the locker room, the history of the fans and the city … it’s a little overwhelming.
"You want to become a professional, but I probably wasn’t ready for it last year. This year I feel, after another year of playing in a couple of big games (at Denver) … it's not quite like in the NHL, but the experience was good for me so hopefully, I can take that with me."
Wiercioch also soaked up everything he could when he spent the final few weeks of the Senators' 2009-10 season hanging around the big club, including their six-game playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"To get that little taste of the regular season and playoff run here was helpful, just to teach me how to be a pro," he said. "Day in and day out, you're no longer a student-athlete. You're a professional and you get paid to do your job. There's a lot of things you need to be aware of to take your game to that next level ... To see what guys do on the road to keep their routines and to keep it going for 82 games was pretty special."
With a grin on his face, Wiercioch admits it's the kind of environment he hopes to reside in regularly sometime very soon.
"It's a nice lifestyle," he said. "I'm not going to lie and beat around the bush. It's a great life to live, but it's not an easy life. There's only 600 or 700 individuals in the world that are privileged enough to do it.
"Hopefully, I'm one of those next year and can work my way into staying there."