Three (or four) rookies to watch

In a pre-rookie camp conversation on the Team 1200-AM Tuesday, Senators general manager Bryan Murray suggested that there are “three or four serious candidates” from the rookie camp who could still be in the mix to make the team after the main training camp.

Off the top of my head, I would guess those candidates would be defencemen David Rundblad and Jared Cowen, along with 18-year-old centre Mika Zibanejad and goaltender Robin Lehner.

Rundblad will need to adjust to the NHL-sized rink and more intense forechecking than he was familiar with in the Swedish Elite League. Cowen will have to prove he can handle big-league speed, as the NHL is a step up from both junior and the American Hockey League, where he starred last season.

The Senators are set on planting Lehner’s feet firmly in Binghamton, wanting him to play as many as 60 games. But as any one even remotely familiar with the organization’s goaltending soap opera over the years knows, injuries have had a funny way of altering plans.

As for Zibanejad, the Senators are only likely to keep him around if he’s lights out during the pre-season schedule. If they rush him too fast, there’s a big risk of him losing confidence, rather than being a dominating player in the Swedish League. But again, Zibanejad will be given every chance to prove himself.

If there’s one wildcard, it might be Andre Petersson, who has big league hands, if not big league size (5-9, 173 pounds). Petersson is expected to start the season with Binghamton, but for a team which will struggle to score, he could open some eyes.

The other intriguing tidbit from Murray was the suggestion that the team could possibly afford to keep a few younger players around longer than normal because they’re not a salary cap team. The Senators currently sit at $51.8 million, well below the $64.3 million maximum. If a rookie outperforms a player who has a one-way, guaranteed NHL contract, he could stick around. That might be good news for both Rundblad and Cowen, considering the team already has Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson, Matt Carkner and Brian Lee signed on defence.

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