Notes: Sens dip into NCAA talent pool again

University of Connecticut left-winger Cole Schneider, signed to a two-year, two-way contract by the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, comes to the team with an impressive résumé.

University of Connecticut left-winger Cole Schneider, signed to a two-year, two-way contract by the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, comes to the team with an impressive résumé.

Then again, so did Bobby Butler and Stéphane Da Costa, the last two college free agents signed by the Senators, and neither has lived up his promise.

Butler has just six goals and nine assists in 52 games and was scratched for the fourth straight game against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, while Da Costa has been in the minors since the end of November.

So as Schneider gets ready to report to Binghamton on Monday, where he will be on an amateur tryout, here’s the question: Will he be someone who can play in the NHL, if not just on the fourth line, or will he be this year’s version of Butler and Da Costa?

Assistant general manager Tim Murray said the team has been watching Schneider since singling him out as a prospect early in the season.

“Obviously he has to get stronger, but we saw him night after night at UConn and he was the best player there,” said Murray. “We just like his skill set and we think he brings an offensive dimension to our team down the road. We watched him play a lot and we liked what we saw.”

Schneider, from Williamsville, New York, turns pro after setting the UConn point- and goal-scoring records this season with 23 goals and 22 assists.

After two seasons, Schneider, 21, had more points — 78 — than any sophomore in UConn history.

As a freshman, the 6-2, 185-pound Schneider set UConn freshman records with 33 points and 20 assists and was named to the Atlantic Hockey Association All-Rookie Team.

Before UConn, Schneider played one season with the Topeka RoadRunners of the North American Hockey League, scoring 25 goals and 14 assists in 29 games.

He played the 2008-09 season with the North American Hockey League’s Mahoning Valley Phantoms, scoring 17 goals and adding 16 assists in 42 games.

Schneider had second thoughts about leaving UConn after only two years, but he felt he was ready to play professional hockey.

“It’s really hard to leave the guys on the team, but in the end I had to do what’s best for me,” he told uconnhuskies.com. “Growing up, you dream of playing pro hockey and now I get to live that dream.

“The coaches really worked me hard this year. They got after me more and helped me improve what I needed to improve defensively. They helped me out with my all-around game really. The coaches were a huge part of this. Coming to UConn, I never would have thought this was possible after two years, but they really helped me, probably more than they know.”

His coach at UConn was sad to see him go, but happy for his success.

“Cole has worked hard to put himself in this position,” said Bruce Marshall. “He had a tremendous impact on our season and our success. We’re excited for the next opportunity that’s in front of him. We’re looking forward to following his continued success down the road.”

GILROY GETTING SETTLED

Defenceman Matt Gilroy, acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline, is finally getting a chance to see Ottawa, not just Kanata.

He also pretty well knows everyone’s name, as well, so that is making him feel more comfortable.

“There are still some things to learn and pick up on, like learning guys’ tendencies out on the ice, but it’s going in the right direction,” he said. “The coaching staff and the guys in the locker-room have been more than helpful in easing the transition and I’ve been able to see the city of Ottawa a little bit now, so that’s been nice, too. It’s a beautiful city and a great place to play hockey.”

However long this season lasts, the Senators will be watching Gilroy to see if he fits the bill as an offensive defenceman who can be part of the team’s future. They’ll have to make a decision on or before July 1, when Gilroy becomes a free agent.

For his part, Gilroy will also have to decide if he wants to return to Ottawa. For a start, though,  he does like the opportunity that’s in front of him.

“You always try to get better and better, and I think I made some steps forward with Tampa and have become a way better defenceman,” he said. “My offensive game started picking up there and now here I’m getting a lot of trust from the coaches, which is nice and hopefully I can grow with the team.

“It’s inviting and it gives you confidence. You can never have too much confidence, especially when the coaches are giving it to you and the team is giving it to you.

“It’s a great opportunity in Ottawa and I’m very thankful for it.”

Coach Paul MacLean said it’s going to take time before Gilroy is truly comfortable with the team’s system, but he’s seeing improvement.

“I think he’s getting better every day,” said MacLean. “There are parts of his game we’d like to see him do more.

“He can be a little more active. He can be a little more explosive himself with the puck, activate offensively a little bit more than he does.

“But at the same time, he wants to make sure that he’s got the defensive side of things in the proper place before he starts to do anything.

“We feel that his skating ability and his puck-moving abilities are going to come to the fore at some point for us, but we want to make sure that he’s comfortable with all the defensive side of things and the system side of things before he feels the confidence to go offensively.”

KARLSSON CHASING MILESTONE

If Erik Karlsson finishes in the Top 10 of NHL scoring, he’ll be the first defenceman to do that since Paul Coffey, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, did it in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, and Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers did it in the full season of 1991-92.

Coffey was tied for sixth with 58 points, while Leetch was ninth with 102 points.

Al MacInnis of the Calgary Flames finished ninth in 1990-91 with 103 points, and Coffey, again with the Penguins, finished ninth in 1989-90 with 103 points.

Karlsson went into Wednesday’s game sitting in ninth spot with 69 points.

“I didn’t know that,” he said. “But that’s not something I really pay attention to right now. Now it’s all about being consistent and keeping the good work and keep winning games.”

 

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