Youth movement in Ottawa: David Rundblad, Mika Zibanejad and others make the cut

When you took a look at what the Ottawa Senators were going to have going on for them this season, chances are when you looked at their roster you found yourself asking, “Who? Wait… Who?” Sure there’s Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson and Craig Anderson in goal, but the rest of their support players aren’t exactly a laundry list of stars in the NHL.

With that kind of depth in question and injuries nagging those guys that would start like forwards Peter Regin and Jesse Winchester as well as defenseman Matt Carkner, the door has swung open in a big way for the host of young guys who made big impressions in Senators camp. Forwards Stephane Da Costa and Mika Zibanejad as well as defensemen David Rundblad and Jared Cowen will all be sticking around in Ottawa when the season starts next week helping make the Senators one of the youngest teams in the league.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun gives his take on Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick in 2011, getting his shot to shine.

Zibanejad isn’t here just because he was the No. 6 overall pick and the Senators are trying to sell hope. He deserves the nine-game audition (until his NHL contract kicks in) before a final decision has to be made.

Not only has Zibanejad shown he’s got the skills to compete, he has also worked hard to be physical. Alfredsson said the rookie impressed the coaching staff with a strong performance Thursday in a tough building in Boston.

“His overall game is really solid,” said Alfredsson. “If you’re going to play a lot of minutes, like he has during the exhibition (season), you have to know how to play all over the ice.

“When you’re a high pick, that usually means you have a lot of skill, but for a guy who doesn’t have much experience playing against men, he’s smart with and without the puck and that’s why he’s surprised a lot of people.”

Cowen and Zibanejad are first round picks of the Senators. Cowen was taken in the first round in 2009 while Zibanejad went in the first round just this past summer. Da Costa was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Merrimack College last spring while Runblad was acquired from St. Louis in an exchange of first round picks in 2010.

Now all four players are set to try and change things around in Ottawa under new coach Paul MacLean and they’re going to need them to play like veterans if Ottawa is going to hang tough in the Eastern Conference. As it was, Regin was likely set to be the Sens’ second line center and without much scoring help along the wings, Ottawa was set to look like a one-line team. With Spezza, Alfredsson, and Milan Michalek as their top line guys and only guys like Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler there with any kind of goal-scoring ability… It wasn’t shaping up to be too bright.

Ottawa hopes that Zibanejad, and to a lesser degree Da Costa, can help fill out ranks in a big way. Zibanejad has impressed in a big way in training camp and expect to see him get the full nine-game look before the team decides whether or not he’s headed back out.

On defense, Rundblad will likely get the long look while Carkner is out while Cowen looks to be ready to go regardless. Rundblad had the tendency to turn things over defensively in training camp but his offensive game looks good. Cowen is big and strong and looked NHL-ready all camp. While Carkner is a physical defenseman who fights, the talent level with Cowen and Rundblad is more useful. The only question there is whether the good stuff will outnumber the mistakes.

Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

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The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

“I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

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The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run

McPhee won’t bring Stanley, Vegas’ lucky golden rooster, to draft lottery

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There’s no way any lede I write will do this Review-Journal anecdote justice, so yeah, just read it:

[Vegas GM George] McPhee still has his superstitions like any former athlete. But don’t expect him to be rubbing a rabbit’s foot or holding a bunch of 4-leaf clovers in his pocket.

And he decided to leave Stanley the Rooster home rather than try and explain to Canadian Customs officials why the gift given to the team by the Mandarin Oriental back in February during Chinese New Year should be allowed into the country as a good luck prop.

The draft lottery goes Saturday in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Vegas won’t drop any lower than sixth and has a 10.3 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick, behind Colorado (18 percent) and Vancouver (12.1 percent). Arizona also has a 10.3 percent chance at getting top spot.

Hagelin making ‘significant steps’ in returning to Pens lineup

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It’s been nearly six weeks since Carl Hagelin last suited up for the Penguins.

His return sounds like it’s on the horizon.

Hagelin, out since Mar. 10 with a lower-body injury, was deemed “close” to coming back by Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, just ahead of tonight’s Game 1 against Washington.

“[Hagelin] is a day-to-day decision at this point,” Sullivan said. “He took limited contact this morning. The next step, obviously, will be the full contact approach.

“He is certainly making significant steps in the right direction here.”

The speedy Swede missed the final 16 games of the regular season with his ailment, and all five games in Pittsburgh’s opening-round win against the Blue Jackets. The end result was just six goals and 22 points in 61 games played, down from the impressive stretch he had last season after being acquired from Anaheim.

Pittsburgh is hopeful the 28-year-old can rejoin the team, and provide similar production as last year’s playoff run. Hagelin had six goals and 16 points in 24 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Hagelin isn’t the only veteran forward that could make his return this season. Earlier this week, the Pens announced winger Chris Kunitz had been cleared for contact, and is available for the Washington series.