GARRIOCH: The battle for jobs is about to heat up at Senators training camp

“Coach DJ Smith has hinted the club could be reduced to 18 forwards and 10 defenders by Sunday, depending on what is required for the last three exhibition games.”

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WINNIPEG – This is a pivotal week for those fighting for jobs among Ottawa Senators.

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The Senators began this week’s show schedule with a visit to the Canada Life Center to take on the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night. It concludes with back-to-back games against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday in Belleville and a visit to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

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Before the final buzzer sounds against Montreal at the Canadian Tire Center, general manager Pierre Dorion, coach DJ Smith and the rest of the hockey team will have to make roster decisions with 54 players remaining at camp.

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“This week will be crucial and this next week will decide who comes East with us and who doesn’t,” Smith said Tuesday before facing the Jets. “It’s hard to tell after a game if one player is way ahead of the other or not. It’s fair to watch those three games and see from there.”

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There may be some reallocations of younger players back to their junior teams ahead of the weekend, but the Senators gave several newcomers a chance in Winnipeg. Smith expected this game to be a good benchmark given the Jets lineup had several regulars.

“That’s good. They’ve got their ranks in, they’ve got their top 4 (defenders), so how are you going to play this game? You’ve got to watch the puck, limit turnover and play with a lot of structure against proven NHL players,” he said Smith.

“But it’s a perfect opportunity for guys who are trying their hand at bottom six roles. It’s a perfect time to show who can and who can’t.”

The Senators will wrap up the preseason with four straight games against the Habs. After Saturday’s visit to the Canadian Tire Center, they will meet again in Montreal on Tuesday, before two meetings in Kraft Hockeyville on the east coast.

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Smith hinted the club could be down to 18 forwards and 10 defenders by Sunday, depending on what’s needed for the final three games. Belleville will open his camp on Sunday with medical checks and a meeting with trainer Troy Mann at 6pm

“We can go up to six lines depending on how many people are in the air, but I want to get a lot of reps for our crew who will be starting in Buffalo. But we need bodies there in case anything happens,” Smith said.

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What we learned after the Senators took on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a doubleheader at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday is that tough decisions lie ahead.

There weren’t many options in this camp and the fights unfolded as we expected. Dylan Gambrell has been signed as the center of the club’s fourth line but he gets a nudge from Mark Kastelic, who spent last season at Belleville.

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Kastelic is pushing to stay in Ottawa, but he may need some more time with the club’s AHL affiliate before making the move to that level. If it can’t be denied, we might see that a player didn’t anticipate a trade or waiver.

Veteran center Derick Brassard, here at a professional tryout, tries to earn a spot. The 35-year-old is an attractive option because he has 949 games in the NHL, is a good veteran, can take faceoffs and can play down the middle or on the wing.

If you look at the way this was set up preseason, the front three lines are set – Josh Norris between Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson, while Tim Stutzle has Alex DeBrincat and veteran Claude Giroux on the wings.

For the second year in a row, Shane Pinto formed a trio with Tyler Motte and Mathieu Joseph against the Jets. You could see a scenario where they start the season together. In the fourth line, Austin Watson knows his role and has a job, while Parker Kelly seems like the right cast.

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That will all change if restricted free agent winger Alex Formenton signs before the season begins Oct. 13 against the Buffalo Sabers, but there’s no indication that will happen any time soon.

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Or, of course, the biggest decisions have to be made on defense.

It was interesting that the club pitted Erik Brannstrom, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson and Maxence Guenette against a Jets team that was stacked because, to varying degrees, these four are trying to show where they belong in the organization.

Let’s get this straight, Brannstrom is an NHL player, he belongs at that level and it’s about deciding where he fits. One could imagine that he is part of the third pairing with veteran Nick Holden.

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Bernard-Docker, Thomson and Guenette are in a group of players pushing. If it doesn’t, they’re all just a phone call away, but this camp will go a long way in determining who gets the call first.

No, we haven’t forgotten about experienced defender Nikita Zaitsev. He struggled to find consistency last year and needs to show at this camp that he can return to the form that has made him a strong defender in this league.

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Twitter: @sungarrioch

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