Silfverberg, Wiercioch need to turn heads quickly

First impressions are always important on the opening days of school.

When you have only a six-day training camp — not the typical three weeks — to prove you belong in the NHL, it’s even more paramount to establish yourself immediately.

Patrick Wiercioch #46, of the Ottawa Senators, participates in a practice in this file photo. Photo by Jana Chytilova / Ottawa Citizen

First impressions are always important on the opening days of school.

When you have only a six-day training camp — not the typical three weeks — to prove you belong in the NHL, it’s even more paramount to establish yourself immediately.

Welcome to the lives of 22-year-old rookies Jakob Silfverberg and Patrick Wiercioch, both aiming to be in the lineup Saturday when the Ottawa Senators open the season against the Winnipeg Jets.

Silfverberg found himself on the club’s top line when training camp opened Sunday, playing alongside Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Wiercioch is trying to fill a hole left by the injuries to Jared Cowen and Mike Lundin.

Senators coach Paul MacLean isn’t barking instructions at them left and right. Instead, he’s trying to leave them alone as much as possible.

“I have seen them play lots in Binghamton (of the AHL),” said MacLean, finally breaking out the whistle that has been silent for the past four months.

“We know how they can play. The biggest thing I think we can do is try and make them comfortable. We only have one week to do it and if we put them under a whole bunch of (pressure)…they have enough of their own internal stress coming to an NHL training camp without me adding to it, by saying ‘you have to do these three things or otherwise you have no chance to play’. If we can get them here and relaxed, I believe they can help our team.”

They’re both loaded with confidence; even if it was gained in different ways.

Silfverberg, the Swedish Elite League most valuable player last season, found his groove in the AHL in December after a longer than expected adjustment to the smaller ice surface. He leads Binghamton in scoring with 13 goals and 16 assists in 34 games, including a six-game goal scoring streak.

“The first 10 games, I felt awkward,” he said. “I didn’t think the change would be as big as it was. I struggled a lot. It was a good thing I had Luke (Richardson) as my coach and he believed in me and told me to be patient. Eventually, it became more and more comfortable.”

Through hard work, Silfverberg learned that “you have to be much quicker in you mindset, you have to know what you’re going to do with the puck when you get it.”

Richardson has marvelled about how quickly Silfverberg can release such a heavy shot and the Swede considers himself “a pretty good shooter.”

While Silfverberg is expected to score, the emergence of Wiercioch as an offensive threat from the Binghamton blueline came as a surprise. He has scored 10 goals and nine assists in 32 games with Binghamton this season. In 2010-11, he had four goals and 16 assists in 57 games and in his rookie year of 2009-10, he potted four goals and 14 assists.

“I don’t know what I changed, but (the goals) are coming,” he said.

Wiercioch, 6-5, is short-changing himself. During the summer, he dedicated himself to an intense workout schedule with Senators centre Kyle Turris, bulking up to 210 pounds from his former weight of 190.

Not coincidentally, his confidence has also grown. He has spent most of the season in Binghamton on a top defence tandem with veteran minor league Andre Benoit, who also has a shot at earning a spot with the Senators. The rugged Mark Borowiecki is also in the running for a defence spot, clearly the most intriguing position at training camp.

“The summer training has been huge, the confidence that you know you put the time and work in,” he said.

Wiercioch recognizes that the current situation represents the best shot he has ever had at making the Senators and he doesn’t want to waste any minute of training camp.

“That’s what this training camp is all about,” he said. “It’s short. Their minds are going to get made up as quickly as possible. Last year, it was a tough team to crack.”

Wiercioch also figures that because the Senators will be playing 48 games in a mere 99 days and are aiming to get off to a quick start, players who have been playing competitive games anywhere might have an early advantage.

Tags: ,

What do you think? Leave a comment