Senators show Lee way

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Brian Lee celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday by cleaning up pucks at Scotiabank Place.

The Senators rookie defenceman, who made his NHL debut in a 6-3 victory over the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday, was one of the last players off the ice following a 45-minute workout.

Like all good rookies, Lee helped newly signed forward Jesse Winchester pick up the pucks after the big boys left the playground yesterday, but that's about the only reason you'd know the blueliner doesn't have much NHL experience.

REDDEN HURTING

Even if defenceman Wade Redden is ready to return from a knee injury that forced him out of Tuesday's win, Lee will be in the lineup for tonight's rematch against the Sabres and he won't be going back to Binghamton this season.

"He's a good player. He's got good hands and a good head and he's really good defensively," said Senators coach and GM Bryan Murray. "We probably could have brought him up earlier. He was hurting for a while (and missed a month).

"We were a little concerned because we wanted him to get as much of a year (in the AHL) as we could. But I would say that he's going to play fairly regularly here now."

To call Lee's debut against the Sabres a success would be an understatement. The ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft finished with an even rating in 18:02 of ice time on 24 shifts, showing exceptional poise for any defenceman, let alone one playing in his first NHL game.

With Redden set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, the Senators have been grooming Lee to step into that role as a puck-moving blueliner.

"We're really pleased. (Lee) was so bad in warmup, I thought he might actually be good (against the Sabres)," said assistant GM Tim Murray. "He couldn't make a pass. He couldn't handle the puck. He was very, very nervous.

"All of a sudden, on his first shift, it was like he had been up here all year. Being in Binghamton, and not rushing him and allowing him to go down there and do a lot of things with the puck, gave him that confidence to be able to step up here at this time of year."

Lee, a University of North Dakota grad who has one season of pro hockey under his belt, had a deep bone bruise that kept him out of the lineup for a month in Binghamton, where he had three goals and 22 assists in 55 games.

Lee admitted he was nervous at the beginning of Tuesday's game, but felt comfortable once the puck was dropped.

Tonight, his parents Richard and Carol are making the trip to Ottawa from Minnesota to see Lee's home debut.

"The guys told me just to relax and try to enjoy it, so that's what I did," said the soft-spoken Lee. "It was a good first game and, hopefully, I can build on that."

Lee will stay paired with Chris Phillips while Andrej Meszaros and Mike Commodore will be together. If Redden doesn't play, Anton Volchenkov and Luke Richardson, who celebrated his 39th birthday yesterday, will form the other pairing.

"It's always good if you have an offensive type of guy with a defender. That's what I am looking at right now," said Bryan Murray.


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