Prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker and other young Sens hopefuls facing stiff test in Jets

Senators prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker played eight NHL games last season, including this one against Zach Hyman and the Edmonton Oilers. (Jason Franson/CP)

Veteran reporters used to refer to them as good “training camp stories.” 

These were pieces that focused on players who might not even be on the scene when the team plays real games, but for now, are having a moment. Good kids, long shots. 

Seven days into the Ottawa Senators camp, several players are having moments for a team that realistically doesn’t have a lot of spots open. Maybe one on the blueline? Although at this point it looks like a choice between veteran Nikita Zaitsev and the developing Erik Brannstrom for the sixth and final position. 

Maybe one at forward? Can Mark Kastelic earn a spot as fourth-line centre ahead of holdover Dylan Gambrell? Could a young pest like Ridly Greig start ahead of veteran pest Austin Watson?

These are all fun camp questions, especially if you disregard the cold matter of one-way NHL contracts and waiver eligibility that comes into play when final decisions are made. 

On Tuesday, the Senators skated in Ottawa and then flew to Winnipeg to play the Jets later that night with a roster chock full of camp aspirants and hopefuls, ranging from Mads Sogaard in goal to Max Guenette on defence, and PTO forward Derick Brassard. 

In fact, the defensive group in the lineup versus the Jets is full of players trying to make an impression, including Brannstrom, Guenette, Lassi Thomson and Jacob Bernard-Docker. Of that group, Brannstrom has the most NHL experience, and it’s not close. He has 116 NHL games to 16 for Thomson and 13 for Bernard-Docker. Guenette has none, but played well in 48 games with AHL Belleville last season. 

Up front, the likes of Parker Kelly, Brassard, Egor Sokolov, Kastelic and Tyler Boucher were among the prospects trying to follow up on the two Saturday games in Toronto with another good showing. Kelly, of course, likely already has the team made based on his play for the Senators last season. 

Bernard-Docker, better known around here as JBD, is one defence candidate who looks much more comfortable entering his third camp as a professional, since leaving the University of North Dakota in 2021. 

Asked to describe the difference between the JBD of last fall versus the spring, he gave a great, concise answer: “I think it’s just being less timid.”

Less afraid to make mistakes, and rolling with them when they happen. He has carried that mindset into camp. 

“I think I found my game at the end of the year in Belleville and those games up in the NHL (eight) were nice just to kind of see where I was at,” Bernard-Docker said. “This year, I’m just hoping to make that next step.”

Interestingly, JBD, who turned 22 in June, says he has a habit of being careful and cautious in his first year at a new level, whether it’s the jump to NCAA or pro. In 58 AHL games with Belleville last season, the six-foot Bernard Docker contributed two goals, nine points and 22 penalty minutes. Having had a long summer with which to train, he looks and feels more ready, physically and mentally. 

“Last summer (of 2021) was pretty short for me, with going to the worlds (winning gold with Canada) and coming out of college and playing those NHL games,” JBD said. “This summer, I felt like I actually had three full months to train, so I am definitely feeling better physically.”

At 192, Bernard-Docker is listed as a couple of pounds heavier than last season. He looks more solid. 

While he is known for having a great stick in his defensive game, Bernard-Docker doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into the defensive guy, staying home while the likes of Chabot, Jake Sanderson and Brannstrom roam up ice.

“I think in the modern day NHL, you have got to be able to move the puck, you’ve got to be able to skate,” Bernard-Docker says. “I’m not going to be the guy putting up crazy points, but I do want to contribute offensively when I can. 


The Senators were flying out on a game day, something that would almost never happen in the regular season. It’s one of the reasons head coach D.J. Smith was sending a young lineup, sparing his veterans the inconvenience, and potential injury. He also feels younger legs can handle the demands of a flight/game situation. 

With the Jets icing a strong roster on home ice, Smith likes the idea of testing his kids against established NHLers. He will be looking especially at the players fighting for spots in a bottom six role. 

“It’s the perfect time to see who can do it and who can’t,” Smith said. 

Realistically, though, the next three games will be looked at as markers for separating players, Smith said. 


For the first time in camp, forward Ridly Greig skated in drills without a non-contact jersey. Greig injured his shoulder playing for Canada at the recent world junior championship. Smith says that if Greig continues to practise without issue, he should be in the lineup either Friday in Belleville against the Maple Leafs or Saturday in Ottawa, when the Montreal Canadiens visit. 

Typically, Greig was throwing his body around on Tuesday, a good sign that he is physically ready. 


It didn’t take Mark Kastelic long to impress Senators staff. He finished second in physical testing to Josh Norris, then went out and played a great game in Toronto on the weekend, scoring a big goal in Game 2 versus the Leafs. 

Smith says that if Kastelic, 23, was a bit older and more experienced, he’d have made this team already based on performance and effort. As it is, the coaches and GM Pierre Dorion have to decide what is best for Kastelic’s development. A strong physical presence, Kastelic showed well in 16 games with Ottawa last season, but might need more seasoning in the AHL. 

“It’s going to come right down to the end for him and it’s a matter of how many minutes we can get him,” Smith said after the Toronto games. “He’s going to play in the NHL. He’s too big, too strong and his will is too good  . . . it’s just about what’s best for his career. Is is right now … two months in … Christmastime?

“The exhibition games can’t give us the exact timetable but I think we’ve got a really good one in him.”

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