It took little more than 20 seconds for the trio of Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux and Tim Stützle to score a goal in the Ottawa Senators’ first camp scrimmage on Thursday, Sept. 22.
Goal to Giroux, after a three-way passing play.
Wait until they get to know each other.
“I think Alex can maybe shoot the puck a bit better,” Giroux teased, smiling. “But you know, he knows what he’s doing out there. And Timmy just controls the play. He likes to hold onto the puck and beat guys one on one, and when he does that, it just makes our job a lot easier.”
In fact, DeBrincat didn’t get all of the shot that produced his goal in the scrimmage, which came after Giroux’s early goal to provide Team Phillips, in white, with the 2-1 victory over Team Neil, in red. The teams were named after longtime Senators Chris Phillips and Chris Neil. In a nice touch, the two alumni were behind the respective benches “coaching” their groups while head coach D.J. Smith observed from the stands.
Stützle assisted on both goals, and it’s no wonder. The trio had the puck on a string for most of the scrimmage, always looking out for each other. Number 12 (DeBrincat), 18 (Stützle, at centre) and Giroux, in his familiar 28, though now in red and white instead of orange and black.
Giroux, of course, is a natural centre and gives a strong faceoff presence, but is comfortable sliding over to right wing as well.
The hands of DeBrincat were apparent long before the scrimmage, when he was finishing off plays in close, during drills. He believes the trio will get a lot better, and of course will need to, when the line faces National Hockey League (NHL) rivals in actual games.
“I’m still kind of learning where they’re going and stuff, learning the new systems, but I had fun out there,” said DeBrincat, the two-time 41-goal scorer who came to Ottawa from Chicago in the off-season.
With Giroux signed as a free agent, and Stützle ready to blossom in his third NHL season, the trio has the makings of a potent line.
“He’s going to be a deadly player,” DeBrincat said of Stützle. “He’s got a lot of speed and a lot of skill and I think that’s going to be a lot of fun to play with. He can move the puck and keep it himself, too.”
The line has been skating together in informal skates for a couple of weeks, so the trio was able to hit the ice running on day one of training camp.
And if teams want to focus on this line, the Senators have their holdover No. 1 line of captain Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson.
Giroux, the veteran of the line at 34, was impressed by the pace of play and the finesse of his linemates in the first scrimmage.
“I think we have some good chemistry,” Giroux said. “Any time you play somewhat of a real game, you want to have some chemistry and I think that was a good first day.”
Those informal ‘Captain Skates’ of recent weeks helped Giroux ease in with his new mates, and took out any strange feeling he might have had in this first NHL camp not in Philadelphia.
“It feels right,” Giroux said, of joining his hometown Senators, not far from where he once starred for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Asked if he is aware of the excitement in the community over the new-look Sens, Giroux said he certainly is, and then added: “I wish you could see in the locker room how excited the guys are.”
Hamonic awed by Sanderson
If defenceman Travis Hamonic, 32, is supposed to play the role of sage, veteran mentor for rookie defenceman Jake Sanderson, he certainly looked the part on day one. Hamonic, a former Vancouver Canuck and New York Islander, is happy to play any role asked of him with the Senators – and for the moment, that is in a top-four spot, alongside young Sanderson.
Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub are the top pair.
“Exceptional talent,” Hamonic said of Sanderson. “I mean, I probably see what you guys see -- he skates like the wind. He’s got a head for the game. I saw when skating with him the past couple of weeks in the Captain Skates, his skill level and just how he carries himself.”
Hamonic believes the relationship as teammates and playing partners will improve as they get to know each other, on and off the ice. Already, Hamonic says, Sanderson, 20, has been picking the veteran’s brain for little tips and advice on coach Smith’s systems. Hamonic joined the Senators at the trade deadline.
“There’s not too much I have to say or do, just go out and do my thing and let him do his thing,” Hamonic said. “And when he has the puck, between the two of us, it’s probably a better thing.”
As more of a defensive defenceman, Hamonic says he is happy to stay back and let Sanderson roam up ice as he sees fit. Sanderson looked comfortable in his first camp drills and scrimmage.
Smith said afterward, “the best six guys will play,” and isn’t overly concerned about left-shooting D-men playing the right side or vice versa. That wasn’t always the case in the past few seasons. For now, he wants Sanderson on his left side, next to right-shot Hamonic.
Sounding every bit the team guy, Hamonic said he will play whatever minutes asked of him, whether it’s his career-usual 20 minutes, 24 or 15.
The defence is going to be the scene of some of the best camp battles, as veteran and young D-men jockey not only for the top six spots, but also meaningful minutes.
“I think when you can have a competition like that, internally, not just in camp but throughout the season, I think it helps,” Hamonic said.
Batherson asked about 2018 World Junior team
Clearly advised by his handlers, Batherson had little to say when asked about his connection to the 2018 Canadian World Junior team being investigated for sexual assault allegations.
Batherson and Senators teammate Alex Formenton were both members of the Canadian junior team that year. Formenton is not at camp as he does not yet have a contract.
"I’ve been cooperating with the ongoing investigations,” Batherson said to reporters. “Out of respect for the person involved, I am not going to be making a comment on it now or in the future.”
Asked why he did not make any public or online statements in recent weeks, as some members of the junior team had done, Batherson said, “no comment.”