All eyes on new Alexei

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

The last time a Russian centre named Alexei got this much attention at the opening of training camp, his last name was Yashin.

Now, comparing Alexei Kaigorodov to the former Senators all-star centre is unfair, but the expectations are being heaped on the 23-year-old rookie.

All eyes will be on Kaigorodov as the Senators take the ice today for the first day of on-ice workouts to officially begin the chase for the Stanley Cup.

If first impressions mean anything, people might want to be careful because it's going to take Kaigorodov time to adjust to the culture shock.

SPEECHLESS, SO FAR

"He looks like a rookie," Senators GM John Muckler said with a big grin on his face. "He looks scared and I don't think he's said a word since he got here."

But Kaigorodov, who has played in the Russian elite league for the last five years, is going to get a fair shake at earning the No. 2 centre's role behind Jason Spezza.

"I'm just going to try to do the best I can," Kaigorodov said through an interpreter.

That's why Senators coach Bryan Murray is going to start Kaigorodov with Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson on the right side because he wants the young man to have success.

"We want to see how this looks and we want to give (Kaigorodov) a fair opportunity," said Murray. "From everything I've read about him, he's going to be an offensive player and he's going to have a positive influence.

"We'll find out, because it's going to be a difficult adjustment. It always is. I've had guys like Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov and Vitaly Vishnevski. I know what a difficult adjustment it can be. The language is going to be tough for him and that's why I've got Anton Volchenkov in (Kaigorodov's) group because I want him to be able to help him a little bit and make him feel more comfortable."

OTHER FACES TO WATCH

But Kaigorodov won't be the only one being watched. Here's a list of new faces to keep your eyes on in the next two weeks as the Senators play nine exhibition games in 11 days.

* D Joe Corvo: Signed as a free agent from the Kings, he's going to play a lot of valuable minutes. He's an offensive player who moves the puck and is going to have to fit into the top four. Don't be surprised if he's paired with Wade Redden and sees time on the power play. Corvo didn't get a four-year, $10-million US deal to play a small role. "I like people who play the way he does, with the skill level and the little bit of jam that he has," said Muckler.

* LW Dean McAmmond: Signed as a free agent after spending last season with the Blues, McAmmond was brought in to help replace some of the veteran leadership that was lost with the departure of centre Bryan Smolinski in a deal to Chicago. McAmmond can play centre, but he will be used on the left wing. He can determine what kind of role he's going to have in the regular season with his performance during camp. He had 37 points last season with the Blues, has good speed and is a respected penalty killer.

* D Tom Preissing: Nobody in Ottawa saw much of him last year since he was with the Sharks, so everybody wants to get a look. He's another puck-moving defenceman who is similar to Corvo. The Senators were accused of being too offensive on the blue line last year, but they should be even more mobile this year.

* G Martin Gerber: He is coming to camp with a lot to prove. Sure, he won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes last year, but he did a lot of watching from the bench as the club rode Cam Ward. Ray Emery is going to get the chance to push him, but there are $11.1 million reasons why Gerber is going to be the No. 1 goalie.

"We've gone to more quickness with the people that we've assembled," said Muckler. "Let's hope that we're right."

Time will tell.


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