Chemistry a work in progress for Spezza, Ryan and Michalek

How’s this for great expectations?

Chemistry a work in progress for Spezza, Ryan and Michalek
Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza practice at the Bell Sensplex. (Chris Mikula / Ottawa Citizen)

How’s this for great expectations?

When the first group of Ottawa Senators players stepped on the ice to open practice sessions at training camp Thursday, the big-name trio of left winger Milan Michalek, centre Jason Spezza and right winger Bobby Ryan immediately lined up together.

It was no grand surprise, of course. It was a unit people pretty much assumed would be together ever since Ryan was traded here on July 5 in the hours following the shock of Daniel Alfredsson’s departure to the Detroit Red Wings.

Yet a mere 90 minutes after going through opening day drills, all three players were pressed on whether the line could someday match the feats of the Dany Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson line, which was the league’s best for a stretch, routinely filling nets and carrying the Senators all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2007.

Spezza’s response to all that? Hold the phone. Let the wine breathe a little.

“It’s real early in the process,” said Spezza, who appears motivated to make up for losing the majority of his 2013 season due to back surgery, send a message to Canada’s Olympic team for leaving him off its summer evaluation camp roster and to prove the Senators can win without Alfredsson.

Spezza believes the ingredients for success are there. Or will be, at some point. The threesome could be physically imposing. Spezza is 6-3, 216 pounds, Ryan is 6-2 and 209 pounds and Michalek checks in at 6-2 and 217 pounds. They’ve had proven scoring success, combining for 545 goals and 720 assists during their NHL careers. Spezza calls himself a passer, Ryan labels himself a shooter and Michalek says he needs to drive the net.

At the same time, Spezza isn’t getting ahead of himself. While he and Ryan talked during the summer and played together during informal scrimmages leading up to training camp, Spezza says it will take time for all three to get a full understanding of each other. On Thursday, for instance, they discovered they had slightly different ideas about how to achieve power play success.

“If you have three guys that can make plays and handle pucks, it’s a big advantage, and a line (where players) think similarly, too, and has defined roles is good, too,” he said. “We have all the individual pieces to make up a good line, it’s just a matter of figuring out whether we can make it work together. Hopefully we get a few (exhibition) games here and a few chances at it to see if we can get familiar with each other.”

Spezza says there are some similarities between Ryan and Heatley. Yet he also cautions that the Senators play a different system under current coach Paul MacLean and that scoring in general has declined in the years since Heatley delivered consecutive 50-goal seasons as Spezza’s trigger man.

“The fact they both like to score goals is a nice quality they share,” he said. “Bobby is a little bit of a different player. I think he’s better with the puck, maybe moves a little bit better, (Heatley) probably shoots it a little better off the one-timer.”

All the talk about having another natural born scorer for Spezza to play with is appetizing for Senators fans. Spezza, however, has been around MacLean long enough to know that there are no certainties when it comes to line combinations. While Michalek boasts great speed and says his knee feels good following an off-season procedure in Germany, question marks remain about whether he can withstand the grind of the NHL season.

Ryan, who spent time with both Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Bonino as his centre in Anaheim last season, also isn’t taking anything for granted. In his ideal world, he says he would like score in the neighbourhood of 35 goals, which would be easier to accomplish if Spezza was his regular centre.

“We can win a lot of battles in the corners and we’re all pretty crafty with the puck,” said Ryan. “If things click right away, it could be a very dangerous line.”

At this point, though, Ryan says he’s just trying to get through the first few days of training camp. He figures it will probably take the full pre-season schedule, and maybe more, to discover the intricacies of Spezza and Michalek’s games.

“I told Spezza that on a lot of two-on-ones, you’re not going to get the puck because I can’t thread a needle and I’m shooting all the time,” Ryan said, with a laugh. “He said ‘I get it.’ That’s just the way it is. As long as we understand each other and (Michalek) complements us, I can complement (Michalek’s) speed and we can let all those things develop naturally, it’s going to be much easier.”

kwarren@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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