Spezza proving his points

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Jason Spezza wants nothing more than to raise the Calder Cup this spring, but you can bet he already has achieved a sense of accomplishment this season.

Both the Ottawa Senators and Spezza agreed that Binghamton, the Sens' AHL affiliate, would be the best place for the 21-year-old to play during the NHL lockout. While the Sens and Spezza hoped he would develop further -- he did -- Spezza also set the league on fire. Thanks to a 117-point season, Spezza enters the playoffs tonight against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as the AHL MVP, the youngest winner of the Les Cunningham Award since 1989.

"I wanted to send a message that I could be a No. 1 centre in the NHL," Spezza said. "I wanted to prove I could handle playing a lot of minutes on winning club. I wanted to prove I could play in all situations."

There was not much wrong with Spezza's regular season with Ottawa a year ago. He was the Senators' top scoring centre with 55 points in 78 games and was tied among forwards with a team-high plus-22. But when the first round of the playoffs rolled around -- Ottawa eventually lost in seven games to the Maple Leafs -- Spezza was a healthy scratch for four games. Not long after, coach Jacques Martin was fired and Spezza was anticipating a refreshed approach with new coach Bryan Murray. But with the lockout, Spezza ended up having his way in the minors.

His 117 points in 80 games were the most by an AHL player in nine seasons and helped the Senators win their second division title in three years.

Yet, it was not just the points production that made Spezza, a Mississauga native, valuable to Binghamton. He killed penalties and became the Senators' best faceoff man, often finding himself taking draws in the final minute of close games.

"We saw a professional who is getting better at his overall game," Binghamton coach Dave Cameron said.

"Look what he did (last season) in Ottawa with limited ice time. Every once in a while, we had to rein him in, but he is extremely coachable. His biggest strength is his passion. You would forget sometimes the kid is only 21."

If there is no end in sight to the lockout in the fall, Spezza will consider seriously playing in Europe next season.

But he is grateful for the chance he has had to develop in the AHL.

"I think it's the best league in the world right now," said Spezza, who had a point in each of Binghamton's final 20 league games. "It was a mini-NHL with all the guys who would have been in the NHL. It made everything more gratifying."


Videos

Photos