Kid gloves for Kaigorodov

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

Special-K? Or Coco Puff?

Beyond deciding who will go and who will stay today, that's the answer the Senators must continue to seek in the case of Russian rookie Alexei Kaigorodov.

That's why the decision on where the 23-year-old will start the season is not as easy as simply deciding if he is among the Senators' top 12 or 13 forwards.

Senators coach John Muckler will make public the Senators' cuts today in preparation for Wednesday's regular-season opener in Toronto against the Leafs.

It will hardly be a suspenseful announcement as we're talking about the 13th forward and seventh defenceman positions here.

The most interesting thing revealed today will be the way the Senators have decided to handle the Kaigorodov file.

Kaigorodov hasn't played well enough in the pre-season to have definitively won a regular spot among the club's top 12 forwards.

His play has been tentative, he has shown a reluctance to get involved physically and too often he has played on the perimeter.

But there have been flashes of his ability to think the game and thread passes through traffic.

He is a project with potential and as such, allowances have to be made.

The broken foot suffered by defenceman Joe Corvo -- he will likely miss at least the first couple of weeks of the regular season -- will save the Senators from having to make a choice between say, 29-year-old Denis Hamel and Kaigorodov for now.

With Corvo out, Christoph Schubert, a good extra guy because he can play forward or defence, must move back onto the blue line.

That opens up a spot in the forward ranks coming out of camp.

Hamel had a strong camp, though he tailed off somewhat near the end, and, really, that is the issue he must address.

NEEDS TO BE CONSISTENT

He's going to have to be consistent to stay in the NHL. When Hamel plays at the top of his game -- as he did in a couple of pre-season games -- he is good enough to play in the NHL.

If the Senators decide they want a grittier type player for that extra role (they are loaded with skilled guys) then Rockland's Serge Payer could be the way to go.

But it is Kaigorodov who presents the most interesting questions.

The kid has potential, but expecting him to come in and be able to play in the NHL right away -- never mind be the second-line centre -- wound up being ridiculously far-fetched. He needs time to adjust to North America and the pro game here.

The second-round pick (47th overall in 2002) will probably be well-served staying with the Senators for a while so he can be tutored on what is expected of him at the NHL level.

If he continues to show progress, then he can be put in situations where he can get some on-the-job training.

The Senators want him to be more aggressive on the forecheck and will have to work with him to change his mind-set from the more passive Russian school. On the big ice, Europeans typically like to sit back and let the play come to them.

LACKING AGGRESSION

Kaigorodov has to recognize when he has the chance to be the first forward in the zone and create a turnover off the forecheck, he must get in there aggressively.

Keeping him at the NHL level and practising every day under the Senators coaching staff is an option that will likely speed up the process when it comes to working on those facets of his game.


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