Jake Sanderson is making himself at home in his new home.
The Ottawa Senators’ top prospect on defense was there Friday with veteran blueliner Nick Holden when the club joined with members of the Ottawa Police Service in handing out bike helmets at Bayshore Park Rink to raise safety awareness for youth cyclists.
The 19-year-old Sanderson, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2020 National Hockey League draft, was wearing the No. 85 jersey he never got a chance to pull on last season while helping Holden and OPS members make sure every child received a helmet with a proper fit.
While most NHL players like to spend their summers at home, Sanderson returned to Ottawa a couple of weeks ago to train with Tyler Boucher, Ottawa’s top selection in the 2021 draft, and center Ridly Greig, who was taken No. 28 overall in 2020.
“I’m going to be here for about the next month, just training and working out,” Sanderson said. “Then I’m going to head home (to Whitefish, Mont.) just to be with my family for a bit before camp (starts in September).”
Signed to an entry-level deal in March, Sanderson didn’t play for the Senators because a hand he hurt while playing for the University of North Dakota was re-injured in April and required a second surgery. The hand had been accidentally cut by another player’s skate in a game on March 5 and he wasn’t able to suit up as UND was eliminated from the NCAA playoffs.
He’s still wearing a brace on the right hand to protect the injured tendon, but says he’ll be ready when the new season begins in October. The Senators will hold their annual development camp a couple of days after the NHL draft wraps up July 8 in Montreal, but it’s not known how much Sanderson will be able to participate then.
“It’s getting better,” Sanderson told this newspaper. “I’m working out every single day, I’m doing treatment for my hand, and I don’t really want to put a timeline on it. I do know that I’ll be ready for the season, but it’s getting better every single day and I’m happy with where it’s at.”
It was no surprise Sanderson wasn’t among the 60 players invited to attend camp for the US team in the IIHF world junior championship. He had been that club’s caption when that tournament started in Edmonton last Christmas, but it was postponed because of COVID-19 outbreaks, and the Senators politely declined a US team request to have him suit up in the event rescheduled for August.
By then, the Senators hope Sanderson will be ramping up for camp in September. It’s not known if he’ll be among the prospects that participate in the rookie tournament in early September. There’s been nothing formally announced, but talk in NHL circles is that the Senators may be part of a tournament in Buffalo.
Last season was difficult for Sanderson. He finished with eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 23 games in his final season at UND. He was about to join Team USA at the Winter Olympics in Beijing when he had to quarantine in a Los Angeles hotel because he contracted COVID-19. Then, he injured a shoulder after being one of the US club’s best players in a preliminary-round game against Canada.
Unfortunately, Sanderson still isn’t at a stage where he can shoot the puck, but he recently started going on the ice with Senators technical skating specialist Shelley Kettles. She’ll help him prepare to make the next step to the pro level after two years at UND.
“I started skating with her this past week and she’s really been awesome to work with on (power skating),” Sanderson said. “I love what she does, so I’ve been on the ice with her twice a week.”
The Senators had hoped Sanderson would be able to suit up for the final two regular-season games of 2021-22, but it never became a reality. The unexpected setback with his hand and the second surgery made it impossible.
I have found the two months I have spent around the Ottawa dressing room to be a valuable experience, though. He lived at the home that captain Brady Tkachuk was renting from former Senators winger Mark Stone, which allowed Sanderson to spend time with the group.
“It’s going to make the transition easier because I had the chance to come in here and meet all the guys,” Sanderson said. “I’ve been here now working with some of the other guys, so I feel like I will know everybody at camp, so that part of it will be nice.
“When I got here in March, they were strangers to me at the start, but everybody was really nice. Guys came up to me, shook my hand, met me, and that meant a lot to me. Living with Brady allowed me to feel at home, and I was super grateful for that.”
Friday’s community event was an opportunity to go into the community and spend time with a 35-year-old veteran like Holden, also a valuable experience. Small gestures can make a big impact and all you have to do is spend time with Sanderson to realize he’s mature beyond his years of him.
He’s getting ready for the challenge next season will present.