With Erik Karlsson gone, Sens try to see the positives

The Ottawa Senators training camp opened Friday with new faces and a lot of questions about who will lead the team.

'We just need to keep pushing, hold each other accountable, and we'll be good': right winger Mikkel Bødker

Head coach Guy Boucher and GM Pierre Dorion look on as Ottawa Senators players and prospects opened training camp on Friday. (Stu Mills/CBC)

For Guy Boucher, it's not a rebuild.

"That's [not a] word for me. I'm a coach, and every year, you build," the head coach of the Ottawa Senators said during his first press conference since owner Eugene Melnyk announced a plan to rebuild the team.

"That's what we did this morning, come up and build with the players we have, with all the hope they bring."

Training camp opened Friday with drills and a scrimmage made up of a lot of young and, for many fans, unknown prospects.

Afterward, players spoke about the gap left in the roster by departure of superstar defenceman and captain Erik Karlsson.

"I texted him a little bit after. I just wished him the best of luck," said Mark Borowiecki.

"I thanked him for the way he treated me. He was really good to me with some off-ice stuff that I dealt with. I just wanted him to know it was something I'd never forget, and it was just a pleasure to play with him."

Sens reflect on Karlsson trade, Pageau injury

6 years ago
Duration 0:56
The Ottawa Senators took to the ice this morning for training camp, a day after their captain Erik Karlsson was traded to the San Jose Sharks. They've also learned that centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau will be out for up to six months after tearing his Achilles tendon.

Veteran players need to lead

But Borowiecki said the team has been developing what he called a solid core of "secondary leadership" under the captain, and that those more veteran players need to set an example if the new and untested roster loses too many games.

"I'm not saying it will happen, but it might, and how are we going to react to that as a group?"

Eighteen-year-old Brady Tkachuk, who the Senators selected fourth overall in the 2018 NHL draft, called the acquisition of Josh Norris a bright spot in Thursday's Karlsson trade.

"Josh Norris, he called me right as it was becoming official," Tkachuk said. "He was super excited."

New players made introductions and shook hands with each other on the bench as the Sens training camp opened. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Norris — who is nearly the same age as Tkachuk and played with him in the U.S. — is an old friend of Tkachuk's. He was San Jose's first-round pick in the 2017 draft, and was a member of the U.S. bronze medal-winning team at the world junior championship last year.

Asked if he would try to convince the college-enrolled Norris to leave school early to join the Sens, Tkachuk demurred.

"I haven't talked to him much about that. Right now he's focusing on [the University of] Michigan, but you never know what might happen in April or March, when the season ends."

Tierney 'a really smart player'

Asked about his experience in San Jose playing alongside Chris Tierney, one of the NHLers acquired in the Karlsson trade, Sens right winger Mikkel Bødker​ called Tierney "a really smart player."

"He sees the game really well and he's an accountable guy on the ice, so I think he'll fit in well with our group," he said. "He had 17 goals last year, so he knows where the net is, too."

As for the rest of the team still taking shape, the Dane was similarly optimistic.

"We have some really good, talented players on this team as well, so we just need to keep pushing, hold each other accountable, and we'll be good," Bødker​ said.

No obvious choice for captain

The Senators are without an obvious choice for captain at the moment. Boucher called the selection process "an organizational thing," and added that club GM Pierre Dorion will be involved.

Right winger and alternate captain Mark Stone is one possible candidate, and was asked Friday if he'd like to lead the club.

"It's a tough question to answer when your captain was traded, you know, yesterday," he said, but went on to acknowledge that he's already part of the leadership of the team and would be happy to take on more responsibility.

Centre Matt Duchene is the other name that comes up in conversations about who will wear the "C."

"There's a lot of really good candidates in here," said the 27-year-old, who joked that the team's slump and much publicized off-ice problems seemed to have begun when he arrived.

"Hopefully it's not me," he laughed. "Everybody wants to crap all over us, but we're going to use that as motivation."