Brian Lee is trying to make the most of his opportunity.
A healthy scratch for 25 straight games earlier this season, the Senators defenceman is getting a chance to play down the stretch — and make his case to stay next season.
Lee has come a long way from Nov. 31, when he was placed on waivers as GM Bryan Murray tried to give the 23-year-old a chance to play elsewhere. The fact there were no takers turned out to be a blessing for the Senators.
Lee has been put in a shutdown role with Chris Phillips to finish the season. Nobody is sure it will stay that way for 2011-12, but Lee has certainly shown poise and an ability to handle the increased ice time he’s being awarded.
“The way our pairings are, we’ve found some chemistry,” said coach Cory Clouston. “(Lee’s) had a much better second half than first half. He’s doing some really good things. He got off track for a couple of games, but he got back on track (vs. New Jersey last Thursday).
“He’s just got to keep it simple. He’s never going to be a top-end offensive guy. He’s a big strong body, he’s one of the strongest guys on our team in the gym. He’s worked hard to increase his upper-body strength. We need him to continue to do that.”
Lee said he tried to take the first-half setbacks in stride.
“I tried to work hard and keep myself in really good shape so when I had the opportunity I was ready,” said Lee, the club’s top pick in 2005. “I really watched closely up top the little things that guys do that make them successful.
“(In the press box) it always looks like you have more time than what it feels like. It makes you realize you can take half-a-second to look before you get the puck and make the right play. Sometimes you’ve got to get (the puck) up and out, but you can take that half-a-second to make a better play.”
Lee said he’s enjoying his role with Phillips.
“We’ve been winning games lately and that’s a sign that everybody’s pulling on the same rope and in the right direction,” said Lee. “Some nights, you’re not as good as you’d like to be. But I’m just looking to get better every night and continue to improve.
“This will definitely put a positive spin on the year. I won’t forget what happened (at the start), but it will motivate me to work hard in the summer. The last 25 games I’ve shown a little bit more of what I’m capable of.”