Senators News & Rumors: Sanderson, Smith, Kastelic

The Ottawa Senators played their final preseason game on Saturday (Oct. 8) and will now turn their focus to the start of the main event. In the latest edition of News & Rumors, we’ll take a look at the post-game reaction from their overtime victory versus the Montreal Canadiens.

Senators head coach D.J. Smith iced a youthful squad for the visit of the Canadiens, with Shane Pinto, Jake Sanderson, and Erik Brännström leading Ottawa to a 3-2 win over a Montreal team that included Cole Caulfield, Sean Monahan, and Juraj Slafkovský.

In the end, Drake Batherson made the difference for the Senators. He notched the overtime winner, assisted by Derick Brassard on the power play:

After the final buzzer sounded, Sanderson, Smith, and Mark Kastelic spoke to reporters at the J.K Irving Centre. Here is what was said.

Jake Sanderson Enjoyed Top Pair Exposure vs. Canadiens

Sanderson has been an impressive performer throughout the preseason, vaulting his rivals to land a spot in Smith’s top four. He is also expected to slot into a role on the power play. Born in Whitefish, the 20-year-old defenceman left the ice after the Senators’ win over Montreal in high spirits.

“I thought it was good,” Sanderson said of the team’s performance. “We knew we had a lot of guys out of the lineup and those guys who are still fighting for jobs rose to the occasion and that’s all we can ask for. With it being our last preseason game, we knew what we were doing and we knew where each other would be. I guess [our improved structure] was the cherry on top.”

Sanderson joined the 23-year-old Brännström on the top pair and told reporters that he relished the experience of playing alongside a young teammate against high-calibre opponents.

“It feels good [to play on the first power play unit],” he explained. “It’s just about rising to the occasion and I think everyone on the team did that. I think [Brännström and I] did a great job. We were talking before the game about building chemistry and we did that. I’ve played in every situation: I’m not really out of my element whether it’s power play or penalty kill.”

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When asked for his perspective on his first preseason with the Senators, Sanderson added: “I think I improved as camp went on, I was happy with that and it’s all that I could ask for. It’s the same with the team: we’re gelling and getting to know each other better every day. We’re excited for the season to start.”

In the summer, The Hockey Writers suggested that Sanderson could be the story of the season for the Senators. His preseason progress falls in line with those expectations.

D.J. Smith Pleased with Senators’ Application in Preseason Finale

Smith left the rink in Bouctouche, New Brunswick with a smile on his face. Despite leaving their stars at home, the Senators overcame a strong Canadiens roster in their final preseason test.

“I thought we played hard, especially at five-on-five,” Smith told reporters. “Clearly, there were a lot of penalties, and you can’t take them when the regular season starts, but the penalty kill – outside the first one – did a nice job and our power play found a way to score.”

The Senators made the most of their opportunities around the net, with Brassard converting a cross-crease pass from Rourke Chartier to tie the game in the second period:

Smith was impressed by his team’s resilience, adding: “We thought they were going to go with a younger lineup but they went with their full crew. We knew that we were going to have to play tight, give up nothing, and put it in every time if we wanted a chance. Credit to the guys who came up from Belleville, they played really well.”

He also praised Brännström for his consistency throughout training camp. The Eksjö-born defender recorded 14 assists in 53 NHL appearances last season and started the preseason under pressure to find a higher level of performance.

“I think he continues to play well,” Smith said of Brännström. “He was good in his own zone and he’s skating well. He continues to progress [but] he isn’t a guy who is on the bubble. He’s here and we’ll continue to work with him.

“It was a great opportunity for those young players to play all those minutes against [Montreal’s] full team outside of [Nick] Suzuki. For those guys to be able to play against Caulfield and some of their skilled guys, it’s great experience that you’re not going to get any other time.”

D.J. Smith Ottawa Senators
D.J. Smith, head coach of the Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Finally, Smith looked ahead to the start of a pivotal season for the Senators. In his three years behind the bench in Ottawa, his team has started poorly. But the mood is different this time around.

“I feel good: we start with two on the road and we need to win at least one of them,” he continued. “We’ll be ready when the game comes in Buffalo. We’re getting better after every game; we know exactly what we want from our group. There’ll be hard decisions to make about who plays but we’ll be ready when the puck drops.”

Mark Kastelic Makes Final Push for Senators Roster Spot

Kastelic, approaching the final season of his entry-level contract, made his final pitch for a place on Smith’s roster, playing on the second line with Parker Kelly and Austin Watson. He provided his usual physical edge and finished the night with two shots and 12 penalty minutes.

“It was a great opportunity for me and guys who are fighting for roster spots,” he said post-game. “I tried to continue to play my game and show what I can bring to this team. I think I bring a different aspect of hockey: we have a good group up front and I think I can add a bit of physicality and presence out there.”

Mark Kastelic Ottawa Senators
Mark Kastelic, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kastelic, a former fifth-round pick, spent last season in the American Hockey League, recording 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 64 appearances. He also notched four points (two goals, and two assists) in 16 games for Ottawa. The 23-year-old is expected to start the season in Belleville but could be a bottom-six callup later in the season.

Looking Ahead for the Ottawa Senators

It’s time for the real season to begin, and the Senators have a difficult start to contend with. They open their campaign away in Buffalo, with games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and Washington Capitals to follow. In a highly competitive Atlantic Division, they must find their flow quickly.

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