Saturday, September 19, 2009
Peter Regin Trumps Zack Smith In Battle Of Rookies
Going into training camp, there were two young rookies who were going to get every opportunity to make the Ottawa Senators. Erik Karlsson was the smallish but highly skilled 19 year old and Zack Smith was the gritty and tenacious 21 year old who was ready to take the next step after a short apprenticeship in the AHL.
Why am I talking in the past sense? Because, maybe, just maybe, the decisions on these two players have already been made.
Karlsson is now a lock to make the NHL right away. He has probably surpassed expectations and is already the most skilled blueliner the Senators have under contract. There is no doubt that he has already bumped Chris Campoli from his spot with Filip Kuba on the number one power play. He can skate effortlessly, make sick tape to tape passes at nearly every opportunity and has a heavy shot from the point. And so far, his size has proven to be a minor issue in his own zone. He's too crafty to be caught in a vulnerable position on the boards.
On the other hand, Smith has had a relatively quiet camp - not bad, but not great. The Senators clearly covet his toughness but the faster and more skilled Peter Regin is just too good not to keep at this point. It's crystal clear that Regin is NHL calibre now and could end up being one of those surprises that helps teams get over the top. Remember when David Krejci came out of nowhere in Boston last year? A line of Mike Fisher, Nick Foligno and Regin looked particularly dangerous against Montreal on Saturday night and may be kept together, giving the Senators 3 lines that can score.
Regin is a complete player and, unfortunately for Smith, his time is now. Still young and on a two-way contract, it looks like Smith could use another year in the AHL to get more assertive.
So where is that toughness going to come from if not from Zack Smith? If there's one thing the Senators haven't lacked this pre-season, it's toughness. Heart and soul Senator Chris Neil destroyed Nick Tarnasky of Florida while Matt Carkner and Jeremy Yablonski have gotten into multiple scraps - and won every single one of them.
With Yablonski only likely to see spot duty this season in the NHL (and even that is a longshot), the logical candidate is Carkner.
As discussed on the Team 1200 pre-game show, Carkner looks like he may have played his way into Christoph Schubert's job as a "swing man" (Schubert is likely to be put on waivers before the season starts). Carkner is exactly the type of player the Senators need now and have always needed. A tough as nails defenseman who plays the game simple and mean.
He can play forward if needed to but Carkner may get a spot on the blueline as it is now. The pairings could work like this:
Campoli - Carkner
Spare: Alex Picard
Or if Picard, who has had a good training camp so far, gets that last top 6 position, Carkner can be one of those guys who plays every other night and fill a valuable role on the team, either at forward or defense.
Just listen to his last name.
You can't help but be reminded of Terry Carkner, Matt's older cousin who played for a long time in the league with teams like the Flyers and the Red Wings while racking up over 100 PIM's nearly every season.
As they say, it takes different ingredients to "bake a cake" and guys like Chris Neil, Jarkko Ruutu, Shean Donovan and Matt Carkner compliment skilled players like Alex Kovalev and Jason Spezza.
Ottawa has never been mean enough, except maybe just after the lockout when they had Zdeno Chara, Brian McGrattan and Vaclav Varada along with Neil and Ray Emery. Only Neil remains from that ornery group but the Senators have a chance now to compete in a tough Eastern Conference that boasts the Chris Pronger led Flyers and the Brian Burke assembled Maple Leafs.
So even if Peter Regin makes the team at the expense of Zack Smith, the Senators have a good character guy in Matt Carkner to keep the opposition honest.