Rookie tournament sharpens Senators’ prospect picture

There is a tendency to read too much into the outcome of games in an NHL rookie tournament.

Rookie tournament sharpens Senators’ prospect picture
Ottawa's Mark Stone collides with Toronto's Josh Leivo during the first period of the game between the Leafs and the Senators at the NHL Rookie Tournament at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario, September 8, 2013. (GEOFF ROBINS for The Ottawa Citizen)

LONDON, Ont. — There is a tendency to read too much into the outcome of games in an NHL rookie tournament.

It’s always great to win, but in the big picture, the results don’t go into any standings. On each of the four teams here this weekend — the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins — perhaps only a handful of players will see any NHL action this season.

The games are mostly about the future, giving the prospects a first-hand taste of head-to-head competition against their peers.

For all that, Senators management is enthused about what they saw from the rookie showcase which ended here Sunday with a come-from-behind 6-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in what could be described as The Battle of Ontario Lite.

The Senators swept their way to a perfect 3-0 record, putting the game away on a pair of third period goals from both Mark Stone and Gatineau’s Vincent Dunn. Dunn’s goals came eight seconds apart.

“You see all these young players with dreams of playing in the NHL,” said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. “It’s a measuring stick for a lot of them, too. We’ve got a lot of kids who have not played in tournaments like this before. They see the sweater on the Blackhawks, the Stanley Cup champions, and Pittsburgh, a top team, and the Maple Leafs, who they’re hopefully going to play many games against during their careers.

“It’s a real learning situation for a lot of people and for our (scouting) staff, too. We learn a lot about our players.”

So, what did we learn?

  • Centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau hasn’t lost his magic touch. Pageau, who has played nine regular season games and 10 playoff games in the NHL, was the best player in the tournament, everywhere offensively and defensively. Pageau is taking nothing for granted, not wanting anyone to take away his big-league job when the Senators main training camp opens Wednesday. “I have a little more experience than some of the guys and I just tried to show the way,” said Pageau. “I think it can help me get into game shape for the big camp. When I’ll be at the big camp, I will do everything I can to stay up.”
  • The fight for a possible big-league opening on the wings figures to be intense. Both Shane Prince (who scored the first two goals against Toronto) and Stone showed great hands and chemistry when playing with Pageau. Stone, who suffered an ankle injury in the playoffs, appears to be fully recovered. Prince, whose defensive commitment was lacking at the beginning of last season in Binghamton, has discovered how to play away from the puck. He also showed he can fight if he has to.
  • Andre Petersson, on the verge of being gone from the organization for good only a few months ago, could also play himself into the mix. He stood out against Chicago.
  • Curtis Lazar, the Senators’ first-round pick in June, didn’t look out of place against players with pro experience and he has an eye for getting the puck to scoring areas. Lazar also split time between wing and centre, displaying some versatility. That doesn’t bode well for Matt Puempel, who was nursing back spasms and missed all three games, perhaps putting him a step behind when main camp opens.
  • Defenceman Cody Ceci, the Senators’ first-round pick in 2012, needs to do things a tad faster: Getting the puck out of his own end, jumping into the rush and letting his heavy shot fly. “You’ve got to make plays a little quicker, decisions a little quicker and that’s tough, especially at the beginning of the year, coming off the summer,” he said. To his credit, Ceci raised his game a notch against Toronto, creating offensive chances and helping kill off a 5-on-3 penalty in the second period.
  • Even here, the Battle of Ontario matters. Sunday’s game featured four fights. Darren Kramer, Ben Blood, Vincent Dunn and Buddy Robinson fought for the Senators. When Toronto’s Zachary Yuen took a cheap shot at Dunn with the game out of reach, the 5-9, 165-pound Pageau jumped to his defence.

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