Hamonic gets first chance to play supporting role for rookie Sanderson

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As Jake Sanderson takes his first steps toward his first NHL game, the prime job to become his defensive partner is up for grabs.

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It’s a place that demands a regular and experienced presence, a player who recognizes the role for what it is; a supportive position for the 20-year-old who carries so many expectations.

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Ideally, Sanderson will find chemistry with someone similar to what former star defender Erik Karlsson enjoyed with Filip Kuba and then Marc Methot.

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Let the auditions begin.

First up is Travis Hamonic, who is understandably thrilled to have the opportunity to skate alongside Sanderson, who was picked fifth overall by the Senators in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

“He’s an exceptional talent,” said Hamonic, moments after stepping off the ice with Sanderson following the club’s first intrasquad scrimmage at Canadian Tire Centre. “Skates love the wind. He has the head for the game.”

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Still, it’s a long and potentially bumpy road between the start of training camp and the regular season opener on Oct. 13 against the Buffalo Sabers.

It’s rarely easy for incoming defenders to find a comfort zone after turning pro. Karlsson played 12 games in the AHL before settling as a rookie and Thomas Chabot played 13 games in the minor leagues before staying in Ottawa.

As a result, coach DJ Smith attempted to tone down the hype, pointing out that dominating in a rookie game, as he did last week, is not the same as facing the star Maples. Toronto Leafs Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Finding the right mentor is invaluable.

In the past, Smith has spoken with Sanderson’s father, former NHL star Geoff Sanderson, about the importance of having a good guiding hand.

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Of course, little about the uncertain state of the Senators’ defense is guaranteed.

Chabot and Artem Zub appear to be locked in a top pair, but training camp will be a testing ground for several bubble defenders and a trade shouldn’t be ruled out.

If Sanderson doesn’t fit in at Hamonic, another option is fellow veteran Nick Holden.

To find out, however, Hamonic is about to take advantage of the situation.

“We’re trying to get to know each other off the ice and maybe that bodes well for a partnership on the ice, but I don’t have much to say or really do,” said Hamonic, who also spent some time with Sanderson during informal skates earlier in September.

“I just go out there and do my thing and let him do his thing and I know when he has the puck between the two of us, that’s probably a better thing.”

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Hamonic, 32, is an intriguing study himself.

Originally drafted by the New York Islanders in 2008, he was traded to the Calgary Flames in 2017.

After three seasons with the Flames, he attended training camp with the Vancouver Canucks as part of a pro trial offer ahead of the start of the C0VID-19-shortened 2021 season.

Hamonic signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Canucks the following summer, but slipped through the depth chart and was available on waiver.

The Senators raised eyebrows when they gave up a third-round draft pick to him at the trade deadline and he finished the season here, scoring one goal and two assists in 19 games.

“Thinking back when the trade happened, it was a blessing because it gave me the opportunity to come in early (this season),” said Hamonic, who has a young family. “I think I’m someone who plays my best when I’m comfortable in my environment on and off the ice. It really is an amazing place. It certainly fits our lifestyle and pace of life and the people here have been great.

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Hamonic, who played 718 regular season games, is confident he can do anything Smith asks him to do. That includes “staying away from (Sanderson)” as a defensive safety valve as the rookie showcases his dynamic offensive skills where he can.

“It kinda suits my style,” he said. “At this point in my career, I know what I am as a player and how I can help the team win. When you have a player like Jake and his caliber and skill level, you only have ‘to help support him all over the ice. He’s at his best when he’s moving the puck, getting on the ice and moving his feet. Being engaged. So for him to play that style, I think that ‘It’s important for him to know that I’m going to be back to try and help him and let him know he can take those risks offensively and be aggressive.

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