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That OTHER rookie tournament - Sens impressions.

As some will be aware, the Senators, Maple Leafs, Penguins and Blackhawks recently conducted their annual rookie tournament in London Ontario.

I had a chance to attend Saturday's games - including the Sens 4-3 shootout win over Chicago, and the Leafs 4-3 shootout win over Pittsburgh. I also paid attention to the other games, but most of my impressions come from seeing all four teams play on Saturday.

Here are one Sens fan's impressions of individual players (completely un-professional impressions, heavily biased towards the Sens, natch). Unfortunately, I didn't get to see Sens prospects Derek Grant, Matt Puempel or Shane Prince as they did not play Saturday. Prince had a great tournament despite not being in Saturday's lineup, including scoring a pair in the Sens 6-2 win over the leafs on Sunday night.

- Jean Gabriel Pageau: I have to join with the consensus here, and say he was the class of the tournament. As others have said, he appeared to be playing at a different level from the others in the tournament. He has great vision to read the play, good hands, and excellent speed to be sure - but I think his willingness to go into the tough spots is what brought him to a higher level. Chicago sent the monstrous Viktor Svedberg (6'9") to control him a few times - but Pageau was not only beating him with speed but also winning puck battles. Despite his small stature, he seems hard to knock off the puck.

- Mark Stone: I've often complained about the highly touted Stone's skating and even said it would prevent him from ever being effective at the NHL level , but he won me over a little. He kept up well with the speedy Pageau, and does seem to have an ability to read the play that makes up for his lack of foot speed. He and Pageau are developing some clear chemistry, and seem to be able to find eachother on the ice. Stone’s uncanny ability to get into open areas and release his quick shot mean that’s a great development, but Stone also demonstrated that he has the ability to make plays of his own.

- Curtis Lazar: Probably the guy who impressed me most overall, though possibly because I had no real pre-formed impression of him. I actually thought he was having trouble keeping up on his first shift, but it must have been early jitters because he was great for the rest of the game. Outstanding puckhandling ability, strong skater and a willingness to use his body to full advantage. His shootout winner was a real beauty, and he the defence behind more than once with a quick move crossing the blueline. I think he’d be a real outside shot to make the Sens, but I like the idea of him going back to junior to learn how to be dominant.

- Cody Ceci: I was impressed with his composure. In particular, his ability to remain calm when challenged on the powerplay gives him the ability to create time and space. He makes good decisions with the puck as a result of that poise. The other side of the coin, though, is maybe a lack of aggressiveness and intensity. There were also a few times I thought he had to catch up with the play defensively due to a lack of speed. In particular, he was often forced to turn and skate forward towards his net when he should have been skating backwards. He has good tools, but I had to conclude that anyone who thinks he’s got a shot of making the NHL team this year is probably kidding themselves.

- Vincent Dunn: For a kid with a reputation as an agitator, he’s got some great offensive instincts. These came more on display in the game against the Leafs, of course, but even on Saturday you could tell this kid was going to make the most of his opportunity to play with Pageau and Stone. While Stone and Pageau were stealing the show, it was clear that Dunn wasn’t out of place with them and he was able to bring something to the table himself. Dunn is the one player who was really off my radar before this tournament stood out the most.

- Andre Petersson: He’s got great puckhandling ability, and he’s also got very good vision as a playmaker – but I was hoping for more from a player as far along in his development. I don’t know if his late addition to the tournament means he thinks he’s got less to prove, but his game lacked intensity and seemed almost lazy – sharply contrasting with the players around him. I will say that he had a few turns on the powerplay with Stone and Pageau and that’s got the potential to be a very effective trio.

- Buddy Robinson: He’s big, that’s for sure. He’s also a very smooth skater for his size and he’s not afraid to get involved. If I had to pick a word to describe his game, though, I’d use ‘adjusting’ – he’s clearly trying to find the pace of the pro-game and figure out what will work and what won’t.

- Chris Wideman: The standout on the defence. It was only after watching the game that I heard Pierre Dorion say they’d like him to play more like Karlsson; and while the direct comparison probably isn’t quite apt you can definitely see that he’s trying to emulate #65 out there with some success. He was the defenseman who stood out the most for driving the offence forward with strong skating and smooth passing through the neutral zone and was the most effective powerplay quarterback of the bunch as well. Assuming Binghamton plays a similar system to Ottawa this year, Wideman will undoubtedly be a big part of it.

- Wacey Hamilton: Clearly a heart and soul guy. Didn’t look terrible out there – but it seemed clear he didn’t quite know what to do with the leadership role he was asked to play. In an effort to get things going, he stepped a little too far getting into the Chicago players faces at times. He was strong defensively, though.

- Darren Kramer: The BSens enforcer has a look on his face like he expects every shift will be the last one he will ever have. Plays with great intensity but doesn’t cross the line – he goes after the puck carrier, finishes his checks, and keeps the opponent hemmed into his own corner very well. Pretty much the opposite of Petersson, though, as he’s all intensity without a great deal of obvious skill. He threw a few bombs in his fight and it’s clear he knows what he’s doing there.

- Ben Harpur: Had a very rough game on Saturday. The first Hawks goal went in off of his face, and he was forced to leave the ice leaking heavily. He came back, but had the second goal come when he tried to make a stand at the offensive blue line and got bowled over and left in the dust (even losing his stick in the process). Those mistakes aside, though, he has a big body presence and can clear out the front of the net. Hopefully he takes this experience back to Guelph.

- Michael Sdao: The other big man really impressed me. He was probably our most solid defender from a purely defensive standpoint. His size is his obvious advantage, but I think the thing that made him more effective was his ability to anticipate the play and make the appropriate decision to stand at the blue line or get back quickly. He has more experience than guys Harpur and Ceci, though, so it’s probably to be expected.

- Ludvig (AKA: "The Other") Karlsson: There weren’t a lot of Sens fans present on Saturday and by the end of the day, it was the consensus in the stands that he must be Erik’s brother. I didn’t bother to correct them for the most part. I’d describe Karlsson’s game much the same as Robinson’s. He’s adjusting to something new. He didn’t look bad, but his name generated more chatter than his play.

- Freddy Claesson: Very steady, very focused on defence. Broke up plays with aplomb – had to work hard just to notice him, which probably means he’s doing his job very well.

- Ben Blood: Had trouble controlling guys a few times, but didn’t notice him very much. Not a standout for me either way.

- Daniel New: Didn’t notice him much except for a few puns in the stands on his name.

- Cole Schneider: Very strong defensively – tried to get something going the other way a few times, but it never really clicked. He seemed to be working hard every shift, though.

- Danny Hobbs: Our PTO was working very hard and seemed to communicate well on the ice. The only time he really stood out for me was when he delivered a freight train stile hit in the Chicago zone in the first period. Physical, role player type.

- Jakob Culek and Troy Rutkowski: If they played in Saturday’s game, that would be news to me (I don't believe they did).

- Andrew Hammond: Got beat by a really fluky bounce that went off Harpur’s face before ricocheting off Hammond’s equipment. Otherwise great – including on a long 5 on 3 kill.

- Francois Lassard: Didn’t have a bad game. Chicago had quite a few shots in the second half and the game tying goal in the last 30 seconds was a laser beam. I thought he could have had the first one, though.

Team impressions:

Ottawa Senators: As the undefeated record shows, they were the best team in this tournament. I will say that they had the advantage of relying pretty heavily on guys who are a little closer like Pageau and Stone.

Toronto Maple Leafs: They have a few very good players, and arguably rested their best prospect (Reilly) for most of the tournament. Tyler Biggs was the standout for me in the game against Pittsburgh, though I thought he started to disappear as the game wore on. Percy is another good prospect for them. On paper they have a much stronger team than Pittsburgh (in this tournament) so I wasn’t that impressed overall considering Pittsburgh led most of the game and took them to the shootout. I actually passed Randy Carlyle coming out of the rink and asked him if he had any thoughts. He shook his head and said ‘well, a win is a win’ – hardly a ringing endorsement. They finished 2-1.

Chicago: They have some good prospects – Goalie Whitney and Viktor Svedberg stand out, if only due to their size. Mark McNeil was good for them. Maxim Shalunov was good for them offensively, and has a great shot. Svedberg is huge, but very lanky – if he fills out he’ll be a monster, but he’ll need to adopt a Chara’esque training regimen.  Although they have less prospect depth in their system than the Leafs (many players were there on tryouts) I thought they were an overall better team than the one the Leafs put on the ice. They went 1-0-2 in the tournament.

Pittsburgh: Comprised of more tryouts than draft picks, the Pens were the least talented team in the tournament, showing signs of their prospect depth getting depleted regularly at the trade deadline. Scott Harrington on defence was probably the player I noticed the most favourably. They had very little going on offensively, which is why I didn’t think it looked good on the Leafs to get taken to a shootout. Top prospects Olli Maata and Derek Pouliot didn’t actually impress me too much – though in Maata’s case it may just be due to his less flashy defensive game. They went 0-2-1.

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