On the Eaves of opportunity

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

He would not have been a consideration for even your deepest hockey pools this time last year but today, mere hours into his second NHL camp, he'd probably be no worse than the fifth Senator on your pre-draft list.

Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Wade Redden ... Patrick Eaves.

Talk about scaling the company ladder. It appears Eaves has barely grazed some rungs in getting to a top position for which he is now under review. The job is left wing on the Senators' No. 1 line and -- while other candidates will also go on placement for an interview in which actions answer the questions -- the 22-year-old former Boston College Eagle is the leading candidate to start the season left of Spezza and Heatley.

Alfredsson was the last guy to skate regularly with those two, and all they did was help the leading scorer in franchise history to his best season ever. By, umm, 23 points.

"I found out with the rest of the guys when they put the lines up (on the dressing room board)," Eaves said yesterday. "When I saw I was with Heatley and Spezza, I was pretty excited about it."

A less reserved individual might have done backflips.

Listen, Eaves is no Brandon Bochenski. A first round pick (2003), young Patrick was cut by coach Bryan Murray at last year's camp while Bochenski, a seventh rounder, was kept around to see if he could maintain his pre-season pace as the Spezza-Heatley third.

He couldn't.

Injury and the truth kept Bochenski's Ottawa career to 20 games, during which he scored six goals, including three in one outing. He was dealt to Chicago and scored two goals and two assists in 20 games with the 'Hawks.

Meanwhile, Eaves had three stints and 18 games with the Baby Sens prior to being recalled for good the second week of December. He wound up with Cy Young-like goals-assists numbers (20-9) in 58 games, averaging just less than 12 minutes per night.

Now, if he could score 20 in 58 games with limited ice time, what do you think Eaves could do in 82 games, on the top line? Maybe 35? Maybe more? He won't be Spezza's first passing option, but he does have great hands and a willingness to park in front of the net.

'PLAY MY GAME'

"Last year (at camp), I just wanted to work hard and see what the other guys did ... I didn't know where I was going to be, but I wanted to get used to the pro game," said Eaves, who will not allow his mindset to change with the circumstances. "I'm just going to go out and play my game, not do anything differently. (Spezza and Heatley) are so smart, you always have to be ready for the puck, things happen so fast.

"But I don't look at it as any added pressure or anything ... I'm just going to go out there and have fun. It's a good time when we're all out there moving and skating."

Eaves shrugs at this season's adjustment of being a right-handed shot playing the left wing, as he has lined up on that side before and sees it almost as a advantageous move, offensively. Then, it's hard to imagine him complaining even if he didn't like it.

Eaves spent the summer in Minnesota, working on the house he and brother Ben own, and entertained visitors that dropped by for an extended stay. His workouts were primarily focused on improving his speed, and also his core strength, but he's no bigger than the 190 or so pounds he packed on his 6-foot frame last season.

He also has the same quiet and pleasant demeanour he brought to Ottawa as a rookie.

"He's got a really good release in the slot, he's a smart player who doesn't do too many things wrong," Spezza said. "He's a pretty consistent guy."

As it stands and as it could very well be to start the season, Peter Schaefer is the left wing on a line with Alexei Kaigorodov and Alfredsson. Antoine Vermette is the left wing with Mike Fisher and Chris Neil as linemates. And newcomer Dean McAmmond is playing left wing on a line with Chris Kelly and Brian McGrattan.

Everything seems to fit nicely, as is.

"Patrick is there right now and we know he can play at a good level in the NHL," said Murray.

"I'll probably flip a couple of other guys in there before the pre-season is over and, for their sake and my sake, make a determination who fits best.

"He's just smart. He passes the puck, he plays his position ... when (Heatley and Spezza) go on the attack and get deep in the offensive zone, I know I'll have a third guy that will read and react accordingly.

"But the other thing that I think, with him, the puck goes around the net, he's got the hands and head to either score or make a good play off it."

Grab him, if you can, in your pool.


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