Mark Stone greeted by the bright lights of Broadway

NEW YORK – Times Square can be daunting even to a New Yorker.
The sidewalks of 42nd St. between 7th and 8th Ave. are usually so crowded that pedestrian traffic spills over to the street.
So imagine Mark Stone’s bewilderment when he arrived with his Ottawa Senator teammates on Friday afternoon and stepped off the bus into Times Square for the first time.
There might have been more people on that one New York block than the 46,000 who live in Brandon, Manitoba, where the 19-year-old Stone played junior hockey for four years
“This is a culture shock to me,” he said on Saturday morning, as the Senators finished up their pre-game skate.
“I’m used to small-town cities in the west.”
He didn’t have much time to get the stardust out of his eyes.
Less than a week after his junior career ended, Stone made his NHL debut for the Senators in the fifth game of their best-of-seven series against the New York Rangers.
With the way his scoring touch has exploded over the last two years, the Senators expect the 6-2, 188-pound right wing to be a big part of their offensive future, along with Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silvferberg, who arrives in Ottawa today.
Coach Paul MacLean was coy about his lineup after the morning skate, but he had obviously liked when he had seen and heard about Stone.
“He’s a good young player,” said MacLean.
“He’s had a great year. He played on the world junior team, he has great scoring ability, he has good size, and if we choose to use him he might help on the power play.”
All Stone could do at that point in the day was be hopeful.
“I came to Ottawa with realistic expectations,” he said.
“I just wanted to be here, be around the playoff atmosphere, and if I can get in it would be special for me, and something that will be exciting.”
When the Senators drafted Stone in 2010, it was a gamble. He was considered a poor skater, too slow, and injury prone. His first two years of junior hockey were unremarkable.
In 2008-09, he had 17 goals and 22 assists in 56 games, and in 2009-10, he had only 11 goals and 17 assists.
So even though the Senators picked him in the sixth round (178th overall), traditionally the time when general managers roll the dice, Stone was looking like he’d be a wasted draft pick.
But then the light went on. Stone became a poster boy for hard work, improved his skating, and became one of the better juniors in Canada.
In 2010-11, he had 37 goals and 69 assists in 71 games, and last season he had 41 goals and 82 assists. He also earned a spot on the 2012 world junior team and finished with a team-high seven goals and 10 points, becoming a household name when he started the tournament with a hat trick in an 8-1 win over Finland.
“My first two years in the (WHL) weren’t years I want to remember,” he said.
“But I got to take on a leadership role in my 18 and 19 years, and I got a lot of opportunity playing in Brandon.”
Whether it’s fair to toss an untested player into a heated playoff battle is a question that comes up every time someone like Stone is put into the lineup.
The Rangers were asked it when left wing Chris Kreider, fresh out of Boston College, made his NHL debut in the third game of the series.
Kreider said it was a challenge he wanted to have.
“It’s a great opportunity, and I was lucky to have been given that it,” he said on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming.
“I think the media frenzy around it might be a little overwhelming at times, but it’s hockey at the end of the day, and (my teammates are) all professionals, so they’re extremely, extremely helpful, and they’ve all been great helping me get acclimated.
“It’s about what I thought it would be. I knew it was going to be challenging, but it is the best league in the world.”
Jason Spezza said he felt the same way nine years ago when he made his playoff debut in the fifth game of the conference final against the New Jersey Devils.
“I think it’s a tough situation for them to come into, but it is a no-lose (situation) for them,” he said
“They can come in and play pretty pressure-free, and if it doesn’t go well, (the coach) can shorten the bench.
“I remember coming into the conference finals as a young guy and being really excited, and really having nothing to lose.
“If we get a (Mark Stone) in the lineup, or somebody who hasn’t played with us all year, you hope they don’t put too much pressure on themselves and just go out and play, and (they) have a chance to make good things happen.”
For his part, Stone said he was feeling confident.
“I mean, I’m part of the organization,” he said.
“I’d like to think they have some trust in me. I just want to help the team the best I can.”

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