Lee's way looking good

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

For how long depends on the wooing abilities of GM Bryan Murray, but the Senators will have a couple of holes in their top four blue-line corps as of noon tomorrow.

At 12:01 p.m., Brian Lee will officially move into one of those slots on the depth chart -- and will stay there until Murray lands a better defenceman and signs restricted free agent Andrej Meszaros.

From looking like the neighbourhood paperboy when Ottawa made him its first pick (ninth overall) of the 2005 NHL draft -- and even a little too beanpole-lish upon his elevation from Binghamton for the Senators' final six games and playoffs last season -- Lee has carried a large and looming presence among the prospects during the team's development camp.

Off the ice, with the tan and long blond hair, he'll offer an appealing contrast to the team's female followers who are already missing Wade Redden, a stalwart the Senators hope Lee can help replace.

"I think I play a little bit like Wade," Lee said when asked what style and contribution he'll ultimately bring to the table. "Good first pass, solid defensively. I hope someday to be as smooth playing offence as he is, as smart offensively as he is."

Make no mistake, at just 21 and with only one season of pro hockey under his belt, the 6-foot-3 University of North Dakota product shouldn't immediately be expected to make anybody forget about Redden. And he knows it.

"I think there's a great D-corps here and I think all the guys will help kind of fill that void, because Wade is such a great player," said Lee, who had three goals and 25 points in 55 games with the Baby Sens. "I'm sure (management) will try and get somebody new, who will be a great player as well.

"I don't think I'll be filling that hole on my own. It's too big of shoes to fill right off the start."

Lee finished last season at 205 lbs. and now tips the scales around the 202 mark. He says he's already stronger now than then and that the off-ice training he's been doing at his gym in Minnesota has centred mostly on his legs.

"I'm trying (to build) on my upper body," said Lee, chucking, "but it's tough when you're long and lanky."

Randy Lee, the Senators' longtime strength and conditioning coach who was recently named the team's director of player development, says the defenceman Lee has made huge continual strides in his physical development the past three years. Just like what is expected from their 2008 first-round pick, 157-lb. defenceman Erik Karlsson.

"It's tough when you think of drafting these guys," said Randy Lee. "You've got to project where they're going to be. It's not where they're at when we draft them, but in two or three or four years. Some of them are just boys. They're physically immature."

Murray also likes the look of Lee and is hopeful he continues to grow into a prominent role with the team.

"He's better, he's stronger, he's a man now," said Murray. "When he came here as an 18-year-old, he looked like a boy. His body was tall and skinny. He's filled out. He looks like an NHL player.

"I don't know if he'll be a top four or not (this season). That would be nice. But that would be up to him. We just want him to be in the top six defencemen, to be able to dress every night and contribute. He'll find his way, through his play, whether he gets top-four minutes or not."

Lee said his brief stint with the Senators last season will help him immensely as he enters training camp in two-plus months.

"Mentally, I know I can play with these guys now," he said. "Physically, I know I should be here as well. I'm looking forward to this coming season."

THIS AND THAT

W Nick Foligno has added almost 10 lbs. since the season ended. The 6-footer now tips the scales at 210, which is also 22 lbs. bigger than he was when the Senators made him their first pick in the 2006 draft. "I'm at that age, 20 years old, where you work out and build and it comes quicker," said Foligno. "Your metabolism is going a little bit faster and you make gains faster. At the same time, I've been working really hard. (Murray) told me if I worked harder and got stronger, I'd give myself the best chance to make the team full-time this year. When you have that in your mind going back home for the summer, you're going to work your butt off." Does he see himself becoming an NHL power forward? "I want to be whatever they want me to be," he said ... Are players being worked hard at the development camp? F Cody Bass lost six lbs. the first day ... Murray doesn't believe he'll have to resort to trading either of restricted free agents W Antoine Vermette or Meszaros. "But that's up to them, I guess," he said. "You go and you just try to get a deal done, if it's too out of whack, you have to do what you have to do, financially."


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