OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators will play their final pre-season game Friday against Buffalo with what could be their opening night roster. That group will include forward Ryan Dzingel, a pleasant surprise in camp who caught the eye of new head coach Guy Boucher.
Considered one of the bubble players fighting for a forward position, the 24-year-old Dzingel made an impression on his new boss.
"Since day one he's given us everything we're asking for," Boucher said. "I was really impressed. Since the beginning of the camp he's definitely been somebody who's been consistent offensively and defensively.
"Offensively he's surprising because he's getting breakaways, he's making smart plays. You can see in practice he reads his time and space well so he's earned it. He definitely has earned it."
Dzingel will be given the opportunity to play on the left side of Derrick Brassard and Bobby Ryan against the Sabres.
The Senators have reduced their roster to 25 players and are looking forward to seeing how their trimmed-down team performs.
"We've never had our whole team together," said Boucher. "It's urgent for us to have our team, with our players to get time together to play our style … it's the one thing that bothers me is how little time we have to put everything in place in comparison to teams that have the same coach and the same system as last year."
While there still could be some changes before Wednesday's season opener, Friday's game will give Boucher a good idea of what he's working with.
Ideally the Senators would like to have Mark Stone and Zack Smith in the lineup. Stone, who is recovering from a concussion, will need to pass his baseline test, while Smith was dealing with a deep bruise to his foot and the team wants to ensure he's fully recovered.
Stone will line up with Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris if cleared to play.
Boucher is expected to go with seven defencemen and 11 forwards Friday, a trend he will likely carry into the regular season.
One of those defencemen will be rookie Thomas Chabot who impressed Boucher enough to make it through the final cuts, but his future with the Senators is anything but guaranteed.
The final verdict remains unclear on Chabot, but the 19-year-old can play nine games in the NHL before a decision needs to ultimately be made.
"He still needs to show us defensively that he's able to be thrown on the ice," said Boucher. "We don't want to be closing our eyes every time that he goes on the ice. That's the thing.
"He's a great player, he's very smart, he's got great speed, he can transition the puck exactly the way you want it in the NHL, but he has to be able to be sent on the ice knowing that he's going to have the basic skills and the intensity and the strength to defend against NHL players. In that respect there have been ups and downs."
After missing all of training camp the Senators were encouraged to see Curtis Lazar on the ice.
Lazar had been unable to participate in camp as he was sidelined with mononucleosis, but Friday he was finally able to join his teammates on the ice, although he still hasn't been cleared for contact.
"I got another ultrasound this morning and still waiting on the word, but it's about a 90 per cent chance that I'll be cleared for contact," said Lazar. "I feel good, I feel fresh and I can't wait to get back into the lineup whenever that may be."
Lazar has been skating hard on his own the past couple weeks and as such doesn't feel like he'll be too far back conditioning wise, but will leave his return up to the coaches.
"You can't simulate a game and I know that, but the only way to go after that is to get in there and give it my all. I know when I get my chance, that opportunity, to just keep it simple, short shifts and I'll be up to par pretty quick."