By Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun
With so many new faces emerging at 67’s camp, and so many old ones gone, two familiar faces are reshaping the look of the franchise.
And while captain-material Cody Ceci has already found his path to the NHL, another one awaits for emerging superstar Sean Monahan, who will soon make fans forget the reign of Tyler Toffoli and Shane Prince.
At 17, Monahan was tapped for first-line duty, and responded with a 33-goal, 78-point campaign, building his reputation as a big-time clutch scorer.
It’s a well-earned reputation that was already growing when he led his underdog Mississauga Rebels to an OHL Cup championship, where he was tournament MVP after figuring in on the scoring in seven straight Rebels goals on the final day of the tourney.
It only gained traction when he followed up his 20-goal OHL rookie season by scoring four goals to clinch gold for Team Ontario’s U-17 entry at the World Hockey Challenge.
And he opened last year’s playoffs with a hat trick against Belleville before lining up against NHL-tested centres in Barrie’s Mark Scheifele and Niagara’s Ryan Strome, winning more battles than he lost along the way.
Entering this summer’s Canada-Russia Challenge as the 13th forward, Monahan was soon recognized as one of the best, despite being one of the youngest players on the ice.
That’s the kind of pedigree that has scouts salivating as Monahan enters the most important season of his young career with the 2013 NHL draft on the horizon. He’ll be battling Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones for the head of the draft class.
“If that happens, it’d be great, but if not, I keep looking forward to getting better,” said Monahan. “When the game’s on the line I think I’m able to step up and that’s what I like to do, so that’s what I’m trying to do throughout my hockey career.”
Now, with former linemate Toffoli and his back-to-back 100-point campaigns graduating to the pro ranks, Monahan knows this is his team, and his time.
“He’s a great player and we shared opportunities, but I think this year I have a little more opportunity and a little more control in the offensive end,” Monahan said. “Toff won’t be there but we have some guys with high-end skill who will be on the puck a lot.”
If the pressure of the intense scrutiny that comes under the scouts’ spotlight gets to him, he’s got a good friend in teammate Cody Ceci — who just went through the experience and came out on the other side like he’d just won the lottery — firmly in his corner.
“Obviously he’s a good friend of mine now and a great teammate,” Monahan said of the Senators’ first-round pick. “With him going through it already, I can always ask him for advice about what goes on in the draft and throughout that draft year, so it’s great having him around.”
Ceci had some sound advice for his teammate.
“Just don’t get caught up in everything,” he said. “He had a blast last year and put up a ton of points, so he’s got to do the same thing this year, but he can’t go into a game thinking he’s got to score three points just because there’s a full house in the press box with scouts watching him. You have to go out there and not think about who’s watching you, and just have some fun. This year should be a breakout year for him, it’ll be a fun year for him and it’ll be fun playing with him.”
Both Ceci (illness) and Monahan (soreness) missed scrimmage Thursday, but coach and GM Chris Byrne wasn’t fretting.
“We’re not going to rush them. Those guys have already played four weeks of intense hockey this summer, so we’re not going to press too hard in training camp because they’re going to play a lot of hockey this year.”
For Ceci’s part, he’s ready for the added pressure that will come as part of Byrne’s leadership core, as a potential successor to the captaincy. With an NHL lockout looming, he could be the only Senator to grace the ice at Scotiabank Place for some time.
“It’s been a pretty crazy summer for me, I’ve been all over the place, it’s been a new spot almost every week,” said Ceci. “They were all great experiences... everything that’s happened, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been a great summer, but I’m looking forward to the season.
“We’ve had a lot of older guys leave, and we’re next up so it’s time to step up and play a bigger role in the room. (Players graduating) just makes more opportunity for the younger guys, and they just have to work that much harder. They’ll have to work for their ice time and if everyone’s pulling their weight we should have just as good of a team.”