OTTAWA – Jason Spezza’s offensive abilities have never been in question, but the Ottawa Senators’ star centre has added another aspect to his game this season.
The 28-year-old leads the team in scoring with 33 goals and 50 assists but is now also part of a leadership group that includes captain Daniel Alfredsson and fellow alternate Chris Phillips.
The trio has been through the highs like the team’s 2007 Stanley Cup final appearance and the lows, which included last season’s miserable showing that saw many veterans shipped out of town.
All three have had bounce back seasons in 2011-12 as the Senators exceeded expectations by qualifying for the playoffs.
“We all kind of approach things differently,” Spezza said Wednesday. “Alfie is very well spoken and Philly can be very level headed and I can be emotional at times and I think it’s a good mix of a group.
“As a leadership group we get along real well and that’s helped our team get success.”
With over 600 career games, Spezza is considered a veteran. But he’s also younger than Alfredsson and Phillips, meaning he can relate to everyone on the team.
“He’s a little more vocal of the three,” Senators winger Nick Foligno said. “He lets you know when he’s mad and he lets you know when he’s excited.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job as a leader on this team and making sure guys are all feeling good and knowing the feel of the room.
“Alfie and Philly have done a great job, but Jason is just closer to that age where he’s in the middle of the pack and can relate to both sides really well. I think our leadership group as a whole has been great.”
Alfredsson has watched Spezza develop from a rookie to the confident, dynamic player he is today.
“He’s definitely got to be one of the guys they consider (as a future captain),” Alfredsson said. “He knows how to talk to whoever it is—whether it’s a checker or a power-play guy he knows how to handle the different situations.”
Criticized in the past for his high-risk, high-reward style, Spezza hasn’t had nearly as many costly turnovers this season.
“That’s how (Spezza) plays, but I think that’s where he’s grown,” Phillips said. “He understands those risky areas a little more and he’s a little bit smarter in those areas and he’s still making unbelievable plays.”
Spezza provided one of those unbelievable plays last week in a game against the Winnipeg Jets where his puck-handling left many in awe.
“He’s a real dynamic player and he’s one of the reasons why we’re in the playoffs,” Foligno said. “He’s come up with huge goals, huge plays for us and we can’t say enough about his leadership and play.”
When asked about the play in question Spezza chose to deflect his personal success.
“It’s been a good season, but individuals have a good season when teams have a good season and our team has had a good season,” he said. “I’m a guy who plays a lot of minutes so with wins comes individual success.”
Off the ice, things are just as good for Spezza. His wife gave birth to their second daughter, Nicola Patricia, on Sunday.
Spezza says family life has had a positive impact on his career.
“As a young player maybe I brought the game home with me a little bit too much and worried about things too much,” said Spezza. “I still think about the game at home, but it definitely gives you a little break and gives you that breath of fresh air because you can laugh with your kid and laugh with your wife.”