Olympic experience a plus for Meszaros

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:47 PM ET

Despite an NHL roster freeze, it appears the Senators have managed to trade a good defenceman for one that's even better.

In both cases, his name is Andrej Meszaros.

The 20-year-old Slovak rookie has returned from an Olympic tournament in which he played on his team's top blue-line pairing -- beside fellow Senator Zdeno Chara -- against the best forwards the world has to offer.

The thinking is such an experience has escalated the progress of a kid who was already coming along better than expected.

"For his age, he had a really big role," Chara said yesterday in the first sighting of both players at Scotiabank Place since their return from the Turin Games. "He played 20-25 minutes a game and he played well."

PLEASANT SURPRISE

The Senators' most pleasant surprise of the NHL season, Meszaros has averaged 16:27 of ice time through 56 games. If that's not impressive enough for a guy who came to camp in the No. 7 slot on the depth chart, he also leads the entire league with a plus-34 rating and has chipped in offensively with five goals and 19 assists.

In the weeks leading up to the Olympic break, the Senators were increasing Meszaros' power play presence -- only six first-year players have more than his 16 points in man-advantage situations. But with Team Slovak, he only had "one or two" such opportunities.

"Our job," Chara told Meszaros in Italy, "is to play really well defensively."

Meszaros relished the challenge to match up against the likes of Jaromir Jagr (Czechs) and Alex Kovalev (Russia).

"It was awesome to play against all the all-stars over there," said Meszaros. "It was a really good experience for me."

Said coach Bryan Murray: "For the young guys, playing at a level like that, they're going to get better because of it."

The non-Olympian Senators had their fourth, post-break practice yesterday, an on-ice workout that included skating drills with wind resistant parachutes on their backs and then time in the weight room.

Chara and Meszaros are expected to resume practising tomorrow, along with Canadian Olympians Wade Redden, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.

ALFIE WILL BE READY

Murray figures Daniel Alfredsson, who plays for Sweden in this morning's gold-medal final against Finland, will be ready to lace them up Wednesday when the Senators are face the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

As one of the Senators to have some fun in the sun during the break, a tanned Peter Schaefer enters the post-break schedule rejuvenated.

"For the guys who weren't over (at the Olympics), the rest was huge," said Schaefer, who enjoyed getaway time in Phoenix and Mexico. "We were struggling before the break a little, and now we've had a chance to regroup and get ready for Wednesday."

Chara, who believed the Slovaks would be playing for a medal, is ready to move past the disappointment of an early elimination.

"It was a very busy schedule and you really feel the pressure, that's for sure," he said. "Every shift, every game, you go hard, to your limits. It's very hard on your body, but I'd never regret going over there. It was a good experience overall.

"It was a little change mentally (from the upcoming NHL grind)," he added. "It was a little different. A different country, a different environment ... but next week it's time to get back to business."

ICE CHIPS: Martin Havlat skated with the team yesterday, another step along the road of progress from shoulder surgery ... Goalie Ian Dams of the CJHL's Nepean Raiders practised with the Senators yesterday ... Dominik Hasek worked out off ice.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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