OSHAWA — Tim Murray will head to the GM Centre Saturday with high expectations.
After gathering the crop of rookies and leaving some players eligible for the rookie tournament at home, the Senators assistant GM and the rest of the club's scouting staff are anxious to see how Ottawa's top prospects measure up.
While winning the four-team tourney, that runs until Tuesday, against the Penguins, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs isn't a priority, the Senators want to see their young players have a strong performance in preparation for main camp.
"We expect to be very competitive, if not win the tournament," said Murray. "We have a good group of guys here and we've got to the point where we had to phone five guys and let them know that we just want them to come to main camp.
"We're getting to the point we want to be at as far as drafting properly and signing the right free agents."
Here are five players you should keep an eye on as the Senators open the tournament against Pittsburgh at 2 p.m.:
David Rundblad, D: The 6-foot-2 Swedish blueliner is going to make his first appearance at rookie camp. He's got a spot locked up as long as he shows well and should be able to make the transition to the NHL. Had 50 points with Skelleftia and has tremendous offensive potential. "He's played much better hockey than this," said Murray. "We know that, but the rookie tournament will ease him into the smaller ice, ease him into a lesser competition and allow him to come to the big camp and be comfortable. He has a lot of expectations."
Jared Cowen, D: The club's top pick (No. 9 overall) in 2009 has completed his junior eligibility and is going to get a good shot in main camp. He's gotten stronger and should be ready to make the adjustment to the NHL level. At 6-foot-5, he needs to use his size. "He had a short summer, but he worked at it and he had a great sniff of what pro hockey is like in the playoffs in the AHL," said Murray. "He knows there's competition for a spot with guys like Rundblad and (Patrick) Wiercioch. There's a tough fight, but it's going to come down to who plays the best."
Mika Zibanejad, C: The top pick in last June's draft has a chance to be the club's second-line centre. There is an opening, but he'll have to battle Stephane Da Costa for it during main camp. The Senators don't want to rush Zibanejad, but he needs to dominate in Oshawa. "There's an opening and we're going to take a good hard look at him and Da Costa," said Murray. "We're going to see who is closest and who is ready. They're both on the rookie team, they'll both come to the main camp and they've got a chance."
Robin Lehner, G: He doesn't need to be at this camp after winning the AHL championship in Binghamton last spring, but he's still eligible to play. This won't hurt him. It would take a lot of convincing for the Senators to keep him in Ottawa this season. He'll be ready if Craig Anderson gets hurt. "Lehner is close (to the NHL). What he can do is make it tough for us to make some decisions," said Murray. "If he's the best goalie we have, then that makes us make tough decisions and makes us have to decide how we're going to make things work."
Stephane Da Costa, C: Signed as a UFA from Merrimack College, Da Costa spent the summer in Ottawa getting ready for main camp. He got a bit of NHL experience by suiting up for four games at the end of last season, but has a chance to play on the club's top two lines. "He's gotten stronger. He's made sacrifices to be over here: He rented his own apartment and he's done all the things he can do to make himself better," said Murray. "Now, he can come to camp to show us what he can do. I expect him to have a good camp and a good tournament. If he's not ready, I want him to show he's close."