The Draft is over, the Free Agent Frenzy fizzled for Sen’s fans, and now it is 94 days until the puck drops in Detroit for the opening game of the 2011-12 season. What will keep your interest between now and then?
SenShot presents the top 10 reasons to look forward to October 7th, 2011.
10. Robin Lehner – Although, if things go well for the Senators, he won’t see time in Ottawa, the performance of Ottawa’s top goalie prospect in the AHL playoffs set the stage for this season. Lehner will be able to focus on playing a full season in Binghamton, and if his performance continues to progress, he will be fighting with Craig Anderson for playing time if and when the 2012-13 season begins.
9. Zack Smith – Smith blossomed into the third line centre role following the trade of Chris Kelly. Armed with a brand new one-way contract, Smith must step up and provide the defensive, penalty killing prowess on a regular basis that he exhibited in the last months of the season. He can also provide a pugilistic element that Kelly didn’t have, but he must learn to pick his spots better, as he has become more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box.
8. Bingo Connection – Remember a couple of years ago when everyone held their breath when a call to Bingo was made for a replacement player? That is not the case anymore, as there will be half a dozen or more players at any one time who can be called upon in case of injury. Bryan and Tim Murray have done a great job in building the farm system, and the only problem will be finding enough callups to satisfy everyone who deserves it.
7. Nikita Filatov – Enigmatic players didn’t fare so well in the last regime (Kovalev, Heatley), so it will be interesting to see how Filatov and MacLean co-exist. Filatov has all the talent in the world, but has had difficulties getting on the same page as his coaches. If a successful relationship can be established, Filatov will be fun to watch, especially in tandem with Jason Spezza.
6. Cowen / Runblad – The future of the Senators blue line will come in together, and it will be interesting to see who they get paired with and how they react. Ideally a Phillips-Cowen partnership could be a shutdown pair while Karlsson or Gonchar with Runblad would be an offensively dynamic pairing. There might not be enough ice time for both to be in the top 4, with Gonchar and Kuba still around.
5. Mika Zibanejad – Perhaps many Senators fans watching the draft would have preferred Sean Couturier, but Zibanejad was a solid pickup and will surprise many who see him play. His Swedish Elite League stats can be misleading, and Zibanejad made perhaps the most progression in his draft year of any player picked in the top 10. I think he has a legitimate shot at being an Ottawa Senator next season.
4. Paul MacLean – The new Head Coach showed more personality and teamsmanship in his introductory press conference than Cory Clouston showed in his two years in Ottawa. If MacLean can make the team avoid multiple too many men on the ice penalties, he has already won the public over. He is more than just a moustache.
3. Craig Anderson – This season will be pivotal in Anderson’s career. A down season in Colorado last year can be blamed on a weak cast in front of him, but he was great in his 20 odd starts in Ottawa. He has been handed the #1 role outright and will be counted on to continue with the play that earned him a 4 year contract extension.
2. Jason Spezza – Coming off a shoulder injury to a roster depleted by injury and trade, Spezza was one of the league’s best players over the last two months of the season. He seemed to mature almost overnight into a 2 way presence who could be counted on in any situation. If this level of play carries over into the new season, he will be exciting to watch while also reducing the complaints that often crop up when discussing the centre’s creative license.
1. Daniel Alfredsson – With an NHL work stoppage on the horizon, this could unfortunately be the Captain’s final season. Alfredsson should be fully recovered from the surgery that fixed his ailing back and leg, and ready to go when training camp opens. Alfie is primed to show he has one more run in him, and I think he wants to give the fans of Ottawa who have been loyal to him and the team a great effort this season, and lead the team to the playoffs.
So Sens fans, hopefully this list keeps you excited for the coming season, and gets you through the next 94 days.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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