Perhaps it’s only natural that Guillaume Latendresse has felt some nerves while skating with his Ottawa Senators teammates at Scotiabank Place for the past two days.
While every player is anxious to make up for lost time, Latendresse has been playing the waiting game seemingly forever. The happy-go-lucky left winger hasn’t played in a competitive game since before Christmas – Christmas 2011, that is.
His last NHL game was on Dec. 14, 2011. In fact, he’s played a mere 27 games since the end of the 2009-10 season, due to concussion and hip problems.
“It’s coming, it always takes a few days,” said Latendresse, who is pencilled in to start the season on a line with Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson. “(Wednesday), I was a bit nervous on the ice, even though I had skated with some of those guys before, but I think I will just feel better every day. I think (Thursday) was a better day than (Wednesday). If I go day by day, I think I will feel good by the start of the season.”
Of all the moves Senators general manager Bryan Murray made last summer, the addition of Latendresse as a free agent must be considered the biggest gamble.
It has the makings of being either a boom or a bust. The former Quebec junior star, drafted 45th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2005, has had some shining moments with Montreal and the Minnesota Wild. He potted 25 goals in only 55 games with Minnesota in 2009-10, aptly fitting the description of a power forward. The injury bug, though, has followed him ever since.
“The last two years was pretty tough for me, with all the injuries, and missing a few months from the start (this season), it’s going to be important to be ready mentally and the confidence needs to be high,” he said. “It was a good three, four months to get my head and my hips ready. I don’t have any pain right now.”
The true test won’t come until Jan. 19, when Latendresse finds himself in the heat of an NHL game again.
“That’s going to be the toughest part for the first game, when you receive the pass and you look at the ice at the same time and the guy is coming to hit you,” he said. “That’s the toughest part, to get the co-ordination going, the hand-eye, that’s the big part of the game.”
While injuries have been a huge story during Latendresse’s career, so, too, has been his conditioning level, where he’s never been at the top of the dressing room class. The 6-2 winger says he’ll be checking in to training camp at what he says is a comfortable weight.
“I’m pretty much where I play at,” he said. “I like to play a little heavy. I like to be strong on the ice, so I’m about there, now. I’m at about 233-234 (pounds). I like to be between 230-235 pounds.”
He’s also carrying the weight of trying to re-start his career – during a 48-game season.
“You have half the games to prove yourself, so for a player like me, if I go into a slump for 10 games, that gives me only 38 games to go to make sure I can bring up the points and the goals,” he said. “That’s the toughest part, to be able to show yourself.”