OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators will begin the task of trying to return to the NHL Eastern Conference final without the guy who played a huge role in getting them there last season.
As expected, captain Erik Karlsson will not be available to play in Ottawa's season opener Thursday against the Washington Capitals.
Karlsson has been making huge strides in his recovery from ankle surgery this past summer after he played through a broken foot in last season's playoffs. But head coach Guy Boucher said Wednesday that while progress is being made, his top player won't be ready to face Washington and there is no set date for his return.
"It's an every day thing," Boucher said Wednesday. "It's better than an every week thing and before that an every month thing, so we're getting closer."
While there is no replacing Karlsson, Boucher said forward Derick Brassard had received full clearance and would be back in the lineup.
Brassard underwent right shoulder surgery four months ago and was hopeful he would play, as he's been feeling great.
"I have no pain anywhere, no restrictions," said Brassard following practice Wednesday morning. "I feel 100 per cent and the fact I had similar surgery before really helped me to make decisions and be comfortable on the ice."
That being said, Brassard anticipates having to make some adjustments seeing as he was unable to play in any pre-season games. He will centre a line between Bobby Ryan and Mark Stone to start the game.
"I think I'm going to have to keep it really simple," Brassard said. "I'm going to play with two really good players and it's going to be my job to just give them the puck and try to open space for them and try and get my legs and my cardio, my lungs into the game. It's going to be hard, but I'm ready for the challenge."
The Senators will have a few new faces in its lineup Thursday with defenceman Johnny Oduya and forward Nate Thompson, who both signed in the off-season, but no one will be more excited than 19-year-old Logan Brown.
Brown, the Senators first round pick in 2016, 11th overall, was impressive through training camp and earned the opportunity to play Thursday night, but says his goal is to prove he belongs here all year.
Should the Senators decide the young six-foot-six centre is unable to hold his own in the NHL they have no choice but to send him back to the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.
"It's a good feeling to be on the roster for now, but it's just a start and I want to be here all year," said Brown. "It's a lot of work up to now to get an opportunity to prove to them in the regular season that I'm ready, but like I said it's still a lot of work, but definitely a dream come true."
Brown will wear number 21 like his father, Jeff, a former NHL defenceman who spent 12 years in the NHL with Quebec, St. Louis, Vancouver, Hartford/Carolina, Toronto and Washington.
Despite advancing to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, where they lost in double overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Senators are well aware that many outside their team do not have lofty expectations for this group.
"I think the way that we play and our system, or whatever you want to call it, can kind of be boring at times and it doesn't garner a lot of respect," said Bobby Ryan. "People called it flukey and a lot of the wins or the one-goal wins have to turn on us at some point, but we just continued to kind of go about it last year and it worked for us and we played that underdog role great and I don't have any issue playing that again."
In many ways Boucher couldn't care less what's being said about his team as long as his players believe in themselves and what they can accomplish as a group.
"We know what we've got," Boucher said. "We know we're not a powerhouse team, we know that, but we know that every night if we're the best team, I didn't say the best players, but I said the best team, then we have a chance to win."
Notes: Craig Anderson will get the start in goal Thursday. Alex Formenton is expected to be a healthy scratch.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press