There was a lot of sourness in Sens Nation at the end of last season. A good many still believe Bryan Murray should be ridden out of town on a rail. But the way the Sens youth movement has performed in training camp and exhibition play says a lot about the system that Bryan and Tim Murray have been building here and on the farm in Binghamton.
I for one am looking forward to seeing Matt Carkner or Jeremy Yablonski called up for regular season matchups against the Leafs (or Buffalo for that matter) to shoulder some of the load for Chris Neil. Remember the year after the lockout when the Sens were tearing it up because Neil and McGrattan provided enough intimidation to opponents to keep the cheap stuff from touching the elite players on the team? That was the year that raised the quota for pizza to six goals. It's no coincidence.
But I digress. Now it's fair to say that the team hasn't squared off against a team full of NHL talent. Nobody has at this point, so the performance of some of these guys is coloured by that, there's no doubt. But these prospects don't just look promising, they are looking poised and just plain good. Jim O'Brien has been playing better since being sent back down to Binghamton. Zack Smith and Ilya Zubov can be said to have had a lukewarm pre-season - good, not great. Jared Cowan impressed before being sent back to his junior club for this season. Erik Karlsson seems to be a lock for a full-time job with Ottawa. The superlatives that keep getting used to describe the play of most of the prospects this pre-season have mostly been about poise, maturity, awareness.
And this is what you want in pre-season. You want your younger players pushing some of the guys who underperformed last season. Mike Fisher certainly seems energized. Six points in his last two games. The good play of the younger players is like a breath of fresh air for this organization, which seems to finally have turned a corner, be it psychologically or figuratively. And it says a lot about the philosophy of the Murrays where hockey is concerned, and the people they have hired to develop the talent in the organization.
No veterans have lost their jobs as a result of this pre-season. Let's have no illusions about that. But some guys may be hearing footsteps, and that's not such a bad thing. And if a few weeks into the season some can't get their game going, at least we know there are guys waiting in the wings who are hungry.
To me this is the most compelling part of this pre-season. It's not who Spezza and Alfie's new line-mate will be, or who will be on Kovalev's line - that will all get sorted out naturally. What's exciting to me the the total lack of complacency this year. Guys can't afford to have it, because if they do, chances are they won't be around long.