Thanks to the annual rookie tournament it’s become commonplace for fans to indulge in prospect porn and collectively go bat shit crazy with each Ottawa goal.
As fun as it's been watching most of the team’s young prospects for the first few times, I realize that it’s only a bit of a reprieve and as such, have tried to keep the bigger picture in mind.
Mind you, after what’s been described by the Globe and Mail as Ottawa’s "uninterrupted downward spiral", who can blame fans for getting a little jacked up? Until recently the team’s draft record and player development left something to be desired and left fans yearning for the days from the Marshall Johnston era. (What? You don’t believe me? Just listen to any Bryan or Tim Murray interview that touches on how the system has been stockpiled. They’ve been more than happy to point that when they inherited the front office the cupboard was more barren than a Leafs trophy case post ‘67.)
Nonetheless, please forgive me for not celebrating Stephane Da Costa’s hat-trick and excuse me for not getting too caught up in Mika Zibanejad’s strong start. Although they may figure into the conversation for a coveted center position, remember that these are two young players who have played against higher levels of competition than what they’re currently facing. Hell, it’d be more surprising if they played poorly throughout the course of the tournament. Let's not forget that this is an incredibly talented lineup which boasts a total of eight first and second round draft picks. Expectations should be high. If the Senators aren't going to be playing hockey in the spring we damn well expect our rookie roster to impress in the fall.
Rather than dwell on the camp’s minutia which some believe may afford either player a better opportunity to crack the lineup this season, I prefer to reflect on this tournament as a therapeutic process that allows us to temporarily forget about the present state of the Ottawa Senators NHL roster. We'll be clamoring for these rookie games when the regular season starts the same way we fondly recall Christmas gifts before the Visa bill arrives in the mail.
I mean, who really wants to read an article written under the headline “Phillips is ready to ‘be a leader’”? (Hmm… You mean to say he hasn’t been for the past 5 to 8 seasons? Preseason hockey is obviously a time when copy editors need to brush up on their headline skills. I thought the Phillips one was bad until the Ottawa Citizen trumped it with “Rundblad ‘ready to try’”.)
I tried to read it but when I came to the cringe inducing sentence, “A lot of the load will fall to Phillips and Sergei Gonchar”, I immediately directed my browser to YouTube so that I could watch some David Rundblad montages while reciting, “It will all be worth it. It will all be worth it. It will all be worth it.”
As much as I want to see two of Ottawa’s most heralded rookies play, it’s certainly going to come at a cost.
There’s nothing particularly reassuring about giving laborious workloads to Phillips and Gonchar who, in proportion to their respective salaries, are unequivocally coming off some of the worst seasons in modern Senators history. Whether either is capable of playing significant minutes at even-strength against the opposition’s best players is yet to be seen.
Ah well. Those are problems best reserved for the end of the preseason. By then people will have forgotten about Da Costa’s hat-trick and instead will be admiring Nikita Filatov or whoever stands out as this year’s Brandon Bochenski. In the meantime, be thankful to the hockey gods for providing this small glimpse into what should be a promising future.