By Murray Pam
OTTAWA – Monday was a big day for the future of the Ottawa Senators with both the signing of Alex Kovalev and the wrap-up of the Sens’ annual rookie development camp.
The Senators invited three goaltenders, 11 defensemen and 18 forwards for a total of 32 players hoping to earn their way into the main camp come September. Eight of the Senators’ nine selections from the 2009 draft attended, including first-rounder Jared Cowen. First round picks from 2007 and 2008 – Jim O’Brien and Erik Karlsson – were also in attendance along with Cody Bass, Peter Regin and Zack Smith, who all saw NHL ice-time last season.
The camp focused on both off-ice and on-ice training to assess the skills of each player. The mornings were mainly reserved for off-ice workouts supervised by director of player development, Randy Lee and strength and conditioning coach, Chris Schwarz, who worked together to develop individual training programs for the prospects.
The off-ice agenda also included a healthy-eating seminar, a sports psychology session and a vision-training seminar that tested peripheral awareness, speed and hand-eye coordination.
On the ice, power skating specialist Marc Power and University of Guelph coach Shawn Camp handled the skating drills on one surface, while goaltending coach Eli Wilson studied the ‘tenders on another. Senators assistant coach Greg Carvel, video coach Tim Pattyson and former player Luke Richardson put the players through their paces for two hours a day.
For the first time since he had major reconstructive right knee surgery in February, Cowen donned the equipment and was able to take part in skating exercises and off-ice workout sessions. He affirmed to fans he will be ready to attend the world junior Canadian evaluation camp in August.
Assistant GM Tim Murray was impressed with Swedish goalie Robin Lehner’s competitive nature during the camp. Lehner, a 2009 second round pick, models himself after Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff.
“In Sweden I came out and challenged the shooter,” Lehner said. “I still want to do that and to learn how to do it successfully on a smaller ice surface.”
Lehner will be showcasing his talents next season with Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario League.
The Swede comes from a goaltending family, as his father Michael is a goalie coach with CKSA Moscow of the Kontinental League.
All eyes during the week were on Karlsson, who used the seven-day camp as a precursor for the Senators’ main camp in September. Karlsson is expected to be in the running for a spot on Ottawa’s defense next season.
“I am working hard everyday to get my strength up,” Karlsson said. “I think I have accomplished that.”
Already the defenseman has bulked up from a slight 155 pounds to a more imposing 170-pound frame and is also showing leadership qualities early in his career.
“I know how I was treated last year at camp,” Karlsson said of his experience a year ago. “I want to treat players the same way. I have a responsibility.”
Possibly the best player observed in training was another defenseman, Patrick Wiercioch, who was taken in the second round in 2008. Wiercioch completed an outstanding season at the University of Denver where he averaged a point per game, but he was also a late cut from the Canadian world junior squad. In his second go-around at the Senators prospects camp, Wiercioch was a little more prepared this time.
“I know what to expect,” Wiercioch explained. “My fitness testing is better as well.”
Wiercioch has grown an inch since he was drafted and now stands 6-foot-4. Perhaps more impressive, however, is that he has added more than 20 pounds to his frame.
“Once you get up to this level you have to be more durable,” Wiercioch explained. “The 82-game NHL season is a lot different than a 40-game collegiate season.”