He hasn’t played an NHL game yet, but rookie prospect Jake Sanderson is already immersed in the culture of Ottawa senators.
Over the weekend, Sanderson moved into the home of Senator Captain Brady Takachuk and took part in a small hockey game played by Senator Defenseman Nick Holden’s kids. Injured defender Thomas Chabot was also present.
After the senators’ 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, Sanderson saw Takachuk play some street hockey with the kids in their west-edge Ottawa neighborhood. Welcome to extended family, baby.
Sanderson promises to have fun on the ice and on the street as soon as his surgically repaired hand allows him.
“I’m sure I’ll do it in the end,” Sanderson said when asked if he was part of a street hockey game. “It sounds like fun. It’s a great setup (Chase Takachuke) and it’s a great place, so I’m very happy.”
Never feel a season like Sanderson, 19. Although it ended well, with a three-year, entry-level deal with the senators, the award-winning defender from the University of North Dakota had a surreal adventure: multiple injuries pushed him away from various college games, reducing his Olympic hockey experience with Team USA. And before that he had to look helpless because the World Juniors were suspended due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
It’s a good thing Sanderson’s maturity and family background keep things in perspective – Jake’s father, Geoff, has played over 1,100 games in the NHL.
Yet, who created this 2021-22 scenario? Sanderson’s sophomore season at UND ended with a serious hand injury to the Hobby Baker candidate that required surgery. Sanderson accidentally hit his hand while kicking with a skate after crashing into the goal crease to prevent a goal on March 5. On March 24, UND dropped out of the NCAA Tournament with an overtime rate near Notre Dame. Sanderson could have made a huge difference in that game.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Sanderson admitted, speaking to Ottawa Media on Monday at the Canadian Tire Center. “I had several injuries, one of which was a bummer, but you can’t really control those things, so you have to punch.
“I had a great season with my boys in North Dakota, and I had the opportunity to go to the Olympics, which was great. There were years, but a good year, for sure. “
It remains to be seen if and when Sanderson, Ottawa’s fifth overall draft pick in 2020, will play a game this season for senators. Sanderson hasn’t started skating here yet, but is expected this week.
“I had surgery a few weeks ago,” Sanderson said. “My rehabilitation is going well. I see improvement every day and also see doctors. Everything is up and positive. I’m not sure about the timeline right now, but I’m pretty confident about how I’m doing so far. “
Although Sanderson wants to play, he says his hand needs to be fully healed to join one of the season’s final games. The senators have 14 remaining on the schedule, which ends April 29 in Philadelphia.
“I don’t really want to force it right now, unless I’m 100 percent, just because I can hit it again,” he said. “So, I’m getting smarter and the trainers are getting smarter with it.”
Not surprisingly, this list of most young players has embraced the newest and youngest member of the team. It also helps bring Sanderson’s former teammate Shane Pinto to the UND.
“Shane is taking me under his wing, just as he did in North Dakota. He’s a great friend of mine and we’ve been hanging out a lot, “said Sanderson. “I certainly appreciate it.”
Sanderson said, “It was nice to just jump in and get jailed with the young core, but the older boys were good to him.”
There is an older boy, defender Nick Holden, a famous “babysitter” from Brady Takachuk, who took care of Holden’s children on the show. And so, Sanderson had to tag because Takachuk Holden took part in small hockey games played by a couple of four kids. (Tkachuk, not surprisingly, Rink had an animated audience).
Holden could also be Sanderson’s mentor as a fellow D-Man.
“It’s funny, the first time I met her, on Saturday, we had a day off and she was going to Brady’s house. And so, Brady and he came to my kids hockey games. So, it was, ‘Hey, thanks for coming, meet my kids.’ It was awesome. So far he seems to be a really good guy. Kind of cool, but outgoing at the same time.
“So, we’ll probably peel off more layers because he’ll be more comfortable and I’m excited to see him on the ice too.”
Holden says the key to guiding a young player is to let him be his own and to communicate as much as possible.
“I think you can just reach out to him and make sure he feels included – and just let him know you’re available,” Holden said.
Gaining as much experience as hockey prospects before turning 20 in July, Sanderson is conscious enough to know what his strengths are beyond his two-way play on the ice. He was asked why he thought his game could translate better at the NHL level.
“I think my maturity is on and off the ice,” says Whitefish, MT Native. “Just bring a professional mentality every day. I came here this past week and learned a lot, from the boys.
“On the ice, I think skating is one of my strengths. Just to be able to get up from the ice and join the drama. “
In 23 games this season, Sanderson had 26 points for UND, including 18 assists.
Sanderson said he chose the number 85 with Ottawa because he thought it was unique. It also has the number ‘8’, which his father used to wear. Retired here for 8th Frank Finnigan, one of the earliest Ottawa senators.
According to Jack, Geoff Sanderson did not put hockey on his three sons, Jack, his older brother Ben and younger brother Soar. But he could not be a better guide.
“He was huge,” Sanderson said. “He wasn’t a scream. He wasn’t going to force hockey on me or my brothers. I was just attracted to it and forced him to lean in some way through the contract process. The draft and all that stuff was definitely nice.”
The World Junior Tournament is being re-booked for this summer, but Sanderson is not sure if it is in his summer plans. He is now a professional and his focus is on recovering, perhaps playing an NHL game or two and then preparing for senator development camp.