They call it a whirlwind, and Jesse Winchester
has surely landed right in the middle of one.
And, just so you know, he’s loving every minute of it.
Mere days after finishing up his U.S. college career with the Colgate Red Raiders, the 24-year-old from nearby Long Sault, Ont., hit the ice for his first practice with the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday morning.
|College free-agent Jesse Winchester looks on behind veteran forward Dean McAmmond during practice Wednesday at Scotiabank Place. |
He couldn’t contain his excitement as he spoke about it all later.
“The last week has been pretty exciting,” said Winchester, who played his final game in a Colgate uniform last weekend, then signed a free-agent contract with the Senators on Monday afternoon.
“I’m thrilled to get here. The guys have been great so far in welcoming me to the new environment. I was nervous but they make you feel a part of it, so I’m grateful for that.”
Though there are some concerns about Winchester’s nagging “shoulder issue,” Senators head coach/general manager Bryan Murray is hopeful he can get the young prospect into a game before the regular season is over. According to National Hockey League rules, because of his signing date, Winchester isn’t eligible to participate in the playoffs and can’t be sent down to the Senators’ affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y.
“He said he felt okay (during practice),” said Murray. “But before I put him in, I want to make sure he’s more than okay. That may be tomorrow (against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place), but I haven’t had the chance to talk to him.
“I want to play him a game or two, depending on where we go here and what happens. But I’d like to see him in a game.”
Winchester says he’ll work his hardest to get that opportunity. It’s the same attitude, in great part, that allowed him to grow from an undrafted player as an 18-year-old into a college free agent highly coveted by a significant number of NHL teams.
“The only thing I control is how hard I work,” said Winchester. “I’ll work my hardest every day and whether that ends up getting me into the lineup, I don’t know. I’ll give it my best every single day that I’m here.
“(Playing in the NHL) is the goal. That’s why I’ve played the game my entire life. To be this close… I can assure you I’ll do my very best every day I put on this jersey. I know that I’m here right now and I’m blessed with this opportunity, and I hope I can work my way into a game.”