Jake Sanderson hopes his nagging hand injury will be over by the time the Ottawa Senators training camp opens in September.
The 20-year-old, the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, was unable to participate in ice sessions during the Ottawa development camp earlier this month.
“I want to be there, but I’ve learned to be patient throughout this process,” Sanderson said. “Obviously I’m kicking myself and I would love to be there with the guys and be able to skate with them, but I know my time will come and I have to be patient.”
Sanderson underwent hand surgery twice in 2022 — once after being stepped on during a season-ending game playing with the University of North Dakota, and a second time after a “bizarre accident” at the gym.
Further injuries and a trip to the Beijing 2022 Olympics to play for the United States meant Sanderson was limited to 23 games for North Dakota last season, but he managed to pull off good numbers. He was one of two players on his team with pace better than one point per game (26 points; eight goals, 18 assists). The other was forward Riese Gaber (37 points; 15 goals, 22 assists in 34 games).
Expectations are high in anticipation of Sanderson’s eventual NHL debut. Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion said Sanderson has a chance to be perhaps the best defender Ottawa has ever hired.
“I was part of a group that created Erik Karlsson and Thomas Chabot,” Dorion told TSN 1200 in May. “And I feel like we have someone… that impact can be as good or better than these two guys.
“We have something special in Jake Sanderson.”
All that said, Sanderson said his priority is to be ready to play in September, not necessarily comparing himself to Ottawa’s all-time greats.
Senators said Sanderson’s rehabilitation should be completed by mid-August, but the defender “doesn’t want to set a timeline for that.”
“I don’t want to be disappointed if I’m not ready to [camp]”, Sanderson said. “I’m very happy with the way things are going with my hand. I’m making progress every day and I’m feeling more comfortable with it. There will be a time when I know I’m 100%, but right now I’m just focused on day-to-day stuff.”
Prior to camp, Sanderson will take a trip back home to see his family in Montana, then return to Ottawa for more treatment and exercise. He’s not getting ahead of himself, but the idea of making his NHL debut with a team fresh out of several big offseason changes is more motivation to get healthy.
Among the new faces of senators this season will be forward Claude Girouxwho signed a three-year contract on July 13, forward Alex De Brincatacquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 7. Cam Talbotacquired in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on July 13.
“There are some big names and some really cool guys coming up,” Sanderson said. “I think the Ottawa senators will be an exciting team to watch next year.”