|Jesse Winchester's faceoff ability adds to his value as a fill-in on the Senators' top line in the absence of centre Jason Spezza, who is sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a torn MCL in his right knee (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images).
Two months ago, Jesse Winchester
found himself spending much of his time wondering when he'd see the ice again.
Now, the soft-spoken product of nearby Long Sault, Ont., is suddenly the Ottawa Senators' latest centre of attention.
Funny how fast things can change sometimes in the National Hockey League. But in the wake of the devastating news that No. 1 centre Jason Spezza
will be lost for 6-8 weeks with a torn MCL in his right knee, the spotlight now figures to shine a little more brightly on more secondary players in the Senators lineup.
It appears none more so than Winchester, the second-year Senator who's been moved from the fourth line into Spezza's old spot between captain Daniel Alfredsson
and the speedy Milan Michalek
. The move, starting with tonight's matchup with the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200), is a tribute to a hard-working guy whose faceoff and penalty-killing abilities have rushed to the fore in recent weeks.
"His work ethic, and he's so strong on the puck, too," Alfredsson said when asked why Winchester can be a good fit with the Senators' top trio. "I think he can come in and help us as far as (playing) low, supporting us in our own end, getting the puck to us and being a real presence on faceoffs as well.
"He's really done well there this year and I'm looking forward to it."
Quite the change, indeed, for Winchester, who injured a knee himself early in training camp and didn't see any game action until Nov. 7. Now head coach Cory Clouston finds it hard to keep the hard-working Winchester out of the lineup. With two goals and six points in 16 games, he's well on his way to surpassing his production (3-15-18) during his rookie season.
But Winchester's contributions go well beyond the scoreboard. He's been a physical presence since his return to the lineup, which was bolstered by a two-week conditioning stint with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League.
"His work ethic, and he's so strong on the puck, too. I think he can come in and help us as far as (playing) low, supporting us in our own end, getting the puck to us and being a real presence on faceoffs as well. He's really done well there this year and I'm looking forward to it." - Daniel Alfredsson
"The beginning of the year was a little unfortunate," said Winchester in reflecting upon the start to his season. "I didn’t really have a chance to fight for my spot because I got injured so early in camp. But I think the time that I spent in Binghamton allowed me to focus on what I have to do to be a consistent player.
"Since being back, I’ve focused on being physical and trying to make plays in the offensive zone. So far, things have been going well. Being put on the (penalty kill) adds a little bit of ice time and with that comes confidence."
While his role might change in terms of ice time, Clouston expects the same type of performance that earned him this opportunity. And nobody understands that more than Winchester.
"I'm not as skilled as (Spezza) and I'm not going to be the one to have the puck as much as he likes it," said Winchester. "But I think I can be effective with (Alfredsson and Michalek) because they're a line that does wear other lines down and I think my game is suited for that. I'm not going to be flashy, but I know what I have to do and hopefully, I can come in and play my game, play within my game and contribute."