By this point, members of the media are probably as weary of asking Logan Brown questions about making the Senators roster as he is answering them.
Let’s call this the make or break year for the six-foot-six, 220-pound centre, drafted by the Senators in the first round, 11th overall (OHL Windsor) way back in 2016.
When healthy, Brown has shown he can put up good numbers and run a power play. In 2019-20, Brown had seven goals and 28 points in 25 games for AHL Belleville, and eight points in 23 NHL games with Ottawa.
Although Brown doesn’t like to talk about being at a career crossroads here, many see it that way.
“Coming into camp every year I'm trying to make the NHL,” Brown said, on a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday, “This year especially.
“I had a lot of time over the last nine months to get ready and take a job here. That's my plan, that’s my goal.”
One entry onto the roster could be Brown’s slick entries into the zone on the power play, plus his puck work setting up with the extra man. Head coach D.J. Smith has mentioned the power play as an area of focus this year, and Brown has impressed in that area.
“He’s been really good in special team practices, he excels on the power play,” Smith says.
“He has great hands on entry. He made a nice play on a (scrimmage) goal. And he scored a goal on the backside. He’s pushing hard for a spot.”
Brown takes pride in his ability to protect the puck and distribute it with the extra man.
“The power play is something I always enjoyed doing and really focus on,” he says. “I try to use it to my advantage. Hopefully, I can get the opportunity to show him what I can do there and help the team out with a better power play.”
Brown said he worked on every aspect of his game during the nine-month layoff and has grown as a player and a person in 2020.
“It’s the most dedicated summer I've had,” Brown says. “My mindset has changed a lot. I'm living it day by day.
“This is my fourth year with the Sens and my fifth camp. I continue to grow and learn. Mentally I'm in a good spot here and hopefully, that’s enough.
“All I can do right now is be hungry every day, try to push myself and win a spot.”
With veteran centre Derek Stepan not cleared to join the team until Sunday, Brown has had his opportunities to play on top lines. On Thursday he centred a line with wingers Brady Tkachuk and Evgenii Dadonov.
Smith said the roster spots being battled for among young forwards like Brown, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, and more, will be determined off a critical Friday scrimmage and then the final days of camp prior to Ottawa’s Jan. 15 opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s going to come down to how guys do in the last five, six days of camp,” Smith says. “We’re going to push really hard here and see if guys drop off or not. Guys you think could be in the starting lineup today could change. Things will happen and guys will drop with the pace and conditioning and what have you.”
‘B’ Group includes Formenton, Lajoie, Jaros
For the first time in camp, the Senators split into a main group and a ‘B’ squad for practice sessions. Notable on the ‘B’ Group were forward prospects Alex Formenton and Egor Sokolov plus defence hopefuls Christian Jaros and Max Lajoie.
Veteran centre Chris Tierney also skated with the ‘B’ squad but he is returning from an injury.
Goaltender Joey Daccord was in that group as well. His Belleville tandem partner last season, Filip Gustavsson, was absent. Smith said Gustavsson wasn’t feeling well.
‘Great day’ for hockey
Smith called Thursday’s session the most impressive since Ottawa started its training camp on Dec. 31.
*“This was probably our best day of camp,” Smith said. “We’re starting to get that mentality that we have to work to be in this (North) division. I thought today was a great day.”
Smith says the separation between the NHL group and the rest is about to get more pronounced.
“We are starting to trend in that direction but we still have some guys who haven’t skated with us yet,” Smith said. “There’s guys fighting for spots right now. Tomorrow we’re having a scrimmage that will help or hurt some guys and that will really help us get where we need to be.”
Stuetzle, Stepan and Brannstrom expected to skate Sunday
Following Friday’s scrimmage, the Senators are scheduled to have a day off on Saturday. When they return to the ice on Sunday, it is expected that forward prospect Tim Stuetzle, veteran centre Derek Stepan and defensive hopeful Erik Brannstrom will join the team after completing their COVID-19 protocols.
Stuetzle, Ottawa’s third overall draft choice in 2020, was in quarantine following his participation in the world juniors in Edmonton. Stepan was in Arizona with his wife for the birth of their third child. Brannstrom, who had been expected to join Ottawa’s camp on time, was in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined as a precaution.
Batherson: pal of Sid and proud of Cape Breton Eagles
As he usually does in the off-season, winger Drake Batherson skated with Sidney Crosby and other players from Nova Scotia. Batherson, who looks to be a lock to start the season with Ottawa, said he practiced with the Pittsburgh Penguins captain for “close to two months” before arriving in Ottawa on Dec. 11.
In his fourth Senators camp, Batherson has had lots of company from Cape Breton, including four players who have played with the same Cape Breton Eagles organization that launched Batherson’s career.
Forwards Egor Sokolov and Logan Shaw plus goaltenders Kevin Mandolese and Francois Brassard are all in Ottawa’s camp.
“It’s been fun having all these Eagles here,” Batherson said. “It’s great to see for the Eagles organization, too, that we can all have success there and then come here and see each other again.”