Colin White was the Ottawa Senators’ No. 1 centre in the 2019-20 season opener in Toronto. This year, it appears he’s going to miss the opener as a healthy scratch for the revamped team.
White, who is in the second season of a six-year, $28.5 million contract extension, has skated on the Sens’ fifth line at the past two practices.
This was supposed to be a turnaround season for the 23-year-old, who struggled through injuries and confidence issues last season. Indications throughout camp from both general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach D.J. Smith were that White was having a strong camp, but the Senators' third highest-paid forward this season ($4.75 million) has been skating on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and taxi squad member Michael Haley since final cuts were made on Tuesday.
Smith says he still hasn’t decided on his final opening-night roster.
"There's two or three things that we're debating as to who gets in Friday night,” Smith confirmed after Thursday’s skate. “[White] had a very good practice today and these are tough decisions. It’s a good thing for a coach to have a guy like Arty [Artem Anisimov] that came back and wants to continue to get better and he's pushed some people. And then there's other guys that are saying that they don't want their spot taken.”
White, who had seven goals and 16 assists in 61 games for the Sens last season, said he will be ready to play whenever he gets his chance.
"I thought had a pretty good camp and lines change every day. For me it's just day in, day out, come to the rink and have a good attitude and to be a pro," said White. "…Whether I'm in the lineup or not, it's not going to change the way I play."
Defenceman Thomas Chabot was back at practice on Thursday after missing’s Tuesday’s session with a minor injury. He will be ready to go Friday with new partner Erik Gudbranson.
The 29-year-old Gudbranson is excited to get to suit up for his first game playing for his hometown team but is disappointed to not have his friends and family in the stands off a sold-out building.
“Yes, it's sad, you know. I mean, we're so excited to play hockey, but it's never going to be the same without fans," said Gudbranson.
Gudbranson is one of the several new defencemen that bring size and strength to the blueline. Gudbranson, Josh Brown and Braydon Coburn all stand 6-foot-5 and weigh more than 215 pounds. It was all part of a plan to bulk up a group that is going to try to out-muscle its opponents in the ultra-competitive all-Canadian division.
Dorion was asked Thursday to sum up the style of play Sens fans would see from their team this season.
“[It] is aggressive, structure, fast, competitiveness and if you take liberties, we've got the manpower to punch you back,” said Dorion.
The Senators are expected to ice a bigger, more physical lineup on Friday against their provincial rivals. Based on the defensive pairings on Thursday, Mike Reilly may be the odd man out, as he was paired with taxi squad member Artem Zub.
One player who wasn’t on the ice but continues to generate plenty of talk is centre Logan Brown. The 11th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft was sent down to the Senators' AHL affiliate in Belleville on Tuesday after failing to earn a spot with the big club.
Dorion said it was better to send Brown down and get him playing time rather than have him sitting on the taxi squad.
“First and foremost, 22 years old, he's got a long NHL career ahead of him,” said Dorion. “We feel that Logan is one of our most talented players here.
“…Some of D.J.’s practices were unbelievably hard this year, and we had quite a few practices on special teams. Both D.J. and I think we would agree that he was one of our best power-play players, but it's also playing the game five on five. But he's really close, and we have a very high talent in Logan Brown.”
Friday’s game will see a lot of the focus in the nation’s capital on rookie Tim Stützle. The third-overall pick in the 2020 Entry Draft will make his NHL debut while celebrating his 19th birthday. Stützle was impressive in his lone scrimmage on Monday night playing on the newly coined “Step Dad Line” with Derek Stepan and Evgenii Dadonov.
Matt Murray, who was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 7, will be setting a milestone as he also makes his Senators debut. The two-time Stanley Cup champion will be playing in his 200th career NHL game. Murray has a 3-3-1 lifetime record against the Maple Leafs.
Sens lines on Jan. 14, 2021
Brady Tkachuk – Josh Norris – Drake Batherson
Tim Stützle – Derek Stepan – Evgenii Dadonov
Nick Paul – Chris Tierney – Connor Brown
Cedric Paquette – Artem Anisimov – Austin Watson
Alex Galchenyuk – Colin White – Michael Haley
Thomas Chabot – Erik Gudbranson
Christian Wolanin – Nikita Zaitsev
Braydon Coburn – Josh Brown
Mike Reilly – Artem Zub