Buffalo – Jake Sanderson He has the appearance of a player ready to challenge for a spot on the roster with the Ottawa Senators.
The 20-year-old defender has confirmed that the nagging hand injury that prevented him from making his National Hockey League debut last season won’t deprive him of the same opportunity in 2022-23.
Sanderson, the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NHL competition, had plenty of ice time and played in all positions for the Senators in a 5-4 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Prospects Challenge at LECOM Harborcenter on Friday in each team’s first game.
It was Sanderson’s first match since February, when he represented the United States at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
“It’s been a while, so I was excited, maybe a little nervous before the game, but I had fun,” Sanderson said. “My hands have been 100 per cent for two weeks now. So, all I have to do is just prepare before the game and I am good to go.
“But I think for me, while playing this game I just tried to keep it simple and not do too much right away, especially since it’s my first game in a while. So, I just wanted to keep it simple.”
Sanderson was unable to participate in sessions on the ice when the senators held their development camp from July 11 to 14. He underwent surgery twice on his hand in 2022, once after stepping on it during a late-season game with the University of North Dakota, and again after what Sanderson called a “freak accident” at the gym.
“He rehabed him so hard, it’s a pity we weren’t able to get him in a game or two last year,” Senate coach DJ Smith said. “We tried but he wasn’t able to go, so he spent a lot of time rehab in Ottawa and a lot of time preparing for this year. But it’s hard to say when a young defensive man is ready. Talent can be there, everything can be There is, but there is still the mental part of the game.
“I try to explain to people on any given night that there could be 15 or 20 top five picks in one game, so you’re playing against your age group. That’s cool, but excelling at the next level is something completely different. We believe [Sanderson] It can get there, but we have a long process ahead.”
Sanderson was limited to 23 games for North Dakota last season, but he was one of two players on his team averaging more than one point per game (26 points; eight goals, 18 assists). The other is striker Raisi Jaber (37 points; 15 goals, 22 assists in 34 games).
Friday helped Sanderson acclimate to the pace of the game. Right on the right, he looked confident and comfortable in his area and pinch handling.
“I think play and rhythm were the biggest thing for me to test,” he said. “I haven’t played in half a year, so it was nice to play that match, and put my legs under me. I’m totally relieved. I’m ready to go.
“I have to keep doing what I’m doing, playing with the adults, and playing a tougher role. I feel confident doing that, and I feel like I can play with anyone.” Maxence Guenette (No. 187, 2019 NHL Draft) today and we thought we played great together. I feel like that’s a very strong thing about him, just talking to the guy before the match and kind of building that chemistry right away.”
Troy Mann, coach of the US Hockey League senator in Belleville, agreed with Sanderson’s assessment.
“From the bench, you can always tell how hockey I am in terms of making plays and seeing what’s going on there, and that’s probably the biggest strength I’ve seen in Jake in terms of finding that track,” Mann said. “He is an outstanding player and I think the organization is very fortunate to have someone of his level.”
After challenging prospects, Sanderson will try to stand out during next week’s bootcamp, possibly making a tough decision to manage the Senators.
He will become a man of the elite,” said Shin Pinto (draft 32, 2019 draft). “He’s very connected on the ice, very mature for his age and his play will take care of himself. I think you guys are going to see what kind of player he really is.”