Spezza worth the wait

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

Back before the hockey world knew of Sidney Crosby, a young teen named Jason Spezza was going to be the next one.

And for the first time in his NHL career, Spezza, who has made quick work of the AHL and OHL in the past, finally will have an opportunity to fully take advantage of his myriad hockey skills in the NHL.

Funny what a coaching change can do for someone, but with Bryan Murray having succeeded Jacques Martin behind the bench of the Ottawa Senators, the shackles are off Spezza.

The line of Spezza -- who has become the Sens' No. 1 centre -- between newcomer Dany Heatley and rookie Brandon Bochenski was the NHL's hottest in the pre-season.

"It's nice to get a chance to do the things I always have done and have been taught to do," Spezza said. "It is something I always have wanted, to be the No. 1 centre on a hockey club. Bryan has given me more freedom, but I know I have to be responsible in my own zone."

That was the rub with Martin. Two years ago, Spezza had 55 points in 78 games and was plus-22, but he never was able to do enough defensively to make Martin completely happy. In turn, Spezza grew frustrated that he wasn't able to truly use his talents.

"When you have the puck, as long as you score at the end, you can do whatever you want with it," Murray said. "Without the puck he is going to have to be like everybody else and help out in his own end. But he is a talented guy and you have to let talented people play."

Spezza has been magical with Heatley, another young Senator who is trying to turn over a new leaf in his career, but, of course, for completely different reasons. And Spezza is the least surprised at the success of Bochenski. The two were linemates with Binghamton of the AHL last season, when Spezza was the league MVP.

"The good thing about playing with Spezza is he always creates something out of nothing," Heatley said. "He always seems to find a hole for you. You know you are going to get the puck."

The pressure on Spezza, a Mississauga native, is greater than it has been before. At 22, he is centring the top line on a team that many have predicted will win the Stanley Cup. But those who know Spezza realize that he relishes the challenge.

"I know they made room for me and this is my time," Spezza said. "Now I have to run with it. People have high expectations for us but we have higher expectations."


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