MONTREAL -- There were apparently 20 NHL teams lined up at Jesse Winchester's doorstep.
That's a lot of interest in a 24-year-old college senior who scored eight goals in 40 games with Colgate University.
The free agent chose yesterday to sign with the Senators and Ottawa assistant GM Tim Murray said Senators fans can expect to see the Long Sault native play with the club before the year is out.
"I think he'll get a chance to play," said Murray, allowing the final decision rests with Senators coach and GM Bryan Murray.
Winchester, who also had 29 assists for 37 points on a team that struggled to score, will be in Ottawa over the next couple of days to meet with doctors and training staff. He is getting over a shoulder injury.
He signed a one-year deal with the Senators and can become a restricted free agent this summer.
"Head and hands," said Bryan Murray when asked what he liked about Winchester's game. "He's not a great skater, but he's really smart. It seems like he has a real sense for the game."
Murray has made the recruiting and signing of college free agents a productive way of adding depth to an organization before.
When he was the general manager in Anaheim, the Ducks acquired Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner and Curtis Glencross via the college free agent route.
"They're free players," he said. "It's a free draft pick is what it is. You sign somebody like that and it adds depth to your organization and gives you a potential NHL player.
"You always look at the kids who go back to college. There's a whole bunch of different reasons, maybe in Tier II they weren't recognized, and it gives them a chance to develop physically and mentally."
"It's a dream come true," Winchester said of signing with the Senators. "It's something that's been a goal, to at least start a pro career some day. I've been lucky enough to have that be with a hometown team."
Winchester can't play with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League because he was not on the "clear-day" roster (fixed around the NHL trade deadline) when players' eligibility is established.
HEAR AND THERE: One of the reasons the Canadiens have enjoyed their success this season has been their remarkable health. They are missing defenceman Mike Komisarek now with a lower-body injury, but have been pretty lucky so far. They've lost only 91 man-games to injury, including players no longer on the roster... Mixed martial arts hero Georges St. Pierre was at the soldout Bell Centre last night. "Rush" will have the place packed himself April 19 when he headlines a UFC card here. Tickets for the event sold out in minutes despite a top end of $500 apiece.
THE BUZZ: Senators goaltending coach Eli Wilson had Habs rookie Carey Price at his goaltending camp last summer in Calgary. Goaltenders can come and go as they please. Price did it for a month, two hours a day (weekends off), plus off-ice stuff. It's not by accident the kid is good ... Habs fans chanted "MVP" whenever Alexei Kovalev handled the puck. That's a big difference from what they were yelling last year.
REVELATIONS: With the injuries to Chris Kelly and Dean McAmmond, Randy Robitaille got an opportunity to get back into the lineup last night. "He sat out (Saturday against the Leafs) and hopefully that lights a fire and he wants to show us he can play regularly and contribute," said Murray. Robitaille did contribute in the dressing room yesterday, doing a pretty funny impersonation of Jason Spezza while Spezza gave an interview next to him...
SPECULATIONS: Murray will maybe look at giving forward Cody Bass a shot at playing soon. He's missed the last 25 games after having surgery to fix his skate bite. "To put him in against the Montreal Canadiens would do him a disservice," said Murray. After watching that first period last night, he could have said that about a lot of Senators ... Talk is veteran referee Mick McGeough is retiring at the end of the season and might have worked his last game in Montreal last night. You see the size of the bucket he wears? That thing could hold 12 of his favourite beverage. Pull up an easy chair and enjoy retirement, Mick.
JUST WONDERING: Has there been a blacker eye in the NHL than the one Montreal forward Tom Kotsopoulos is sporting these days? That thing is ugly...You think the Habs' 11-game winning streak against the Boston Bruins is something? The franchise record for consecutive wins against one team is 23 agains the Washington Capitals, accomplished from Oct. 31, 1974 to March 25, 1978.
TIMEOUT: How stats can be misleading: Given that teams are playing out the schedule within their divisions, the bad news for the Boston Bruins is they have the second-worst record against their own division in the Eastern Conference (9-12-5), so your first take is they're going to have trouble hanging onto a playoff spot. The good news is they are done against the Canadiens against which they were 0-7-1. That leaves the B's with a decent 9-5-4 record against the rest of the Northeast. The Senators were 16-9 against the Northeast going into last night's game against the Habs, the third best divisional record in the East behind the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes.