Right now it's looking 50/50 for new Senator Zenon Konopka to make the top 12 right out of the gate, for a variety of different reasons.
One, he had a slow camp with a minor injury that bothered him in the early going. Two, the Senators already had too many NHL forwards before Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa showed up and opened some eyes, likely forcing management to keep them around for a longer look. Three, the team is also overbooked at the centre position. Four, they aren't lacking toughness up front with Chris Neil and Zack Smith being regulars (and the league's top heavyweight Matt Carkner on the blueline, although he's also being bothered by injury which has slowed his camp showing).
But I'm betting Konopka will outright work his way onto this team once he gets his chance and shows what he's all about. Training camp isn't where you judge a guy like Konopka's value. He'll be a major spark for this team in the dog days of the season just like he was in Tampa and Long Island where he was very popular. Nobody likes to play against this guy because he's always on, always chirping, always finishing checks, always challenging players bigger than him.
To note: Konopka played all 82 games with the Islanders last year and 74 games with the Lightning the year before. He's an NHL regular, not a guy clinging on to a career.
There's also that comment coach Paul MacLean made when he was first hired that he liked "tough teams" and that he's already talked glowingly about Konopka for his faceoff abilities and highly recommended him to GM Bryan Murray. To me, it sounds like Konopka is one of MacLean's "guys" but that's really just an educated guess. For all I know, Konopka might be eating a lot of popcorn in the pressbox in October.
Somehow, I don't think so.
Konopka has had some memorable run-ins with the Senators in the past and here's a few of them:
Konopka vs. Chris Neil Dec. 2008
Most bizarre moment is when the colour commentator for Tampa says "Konopka likes long fights. Neil doesn't. This is one of the first times I've seen Neil drop his gloves". That's like saying the Germans don't like David Hasselhoff - empirically untrue. Regardless of the broadcast shenanigans, I'm sure Neil and Konopka have already reminisced fondly about this epic battle from a few years ago.
Konopka vs. Chris Phillips Oct. 2009
Zenon gives out a late shot as the buzzer goes and Chris Phillips goes on the attack, but watch Neil just dying to get in there at Konopka. It's really rare to see Phillips this angry as he's usually the picture of calm and stability back there, even when it gets hairy. Not the best fist thrower though. A little noodly.
Konopka vs Neil Oct. 2009
Just a few games later, Neil finally gets at Konopka. This one ends contentiously (how can a fight not be contentious from the start, you might ask?) when Konopka gets upset about a late punch thrown from Neil.
Konopka is going to be a fun player to watch in Ottawa this year. This guy has a presence as an agitator, but one who will do anything for his teammates. In a way, he's the de facto replacement for Jarkko Ruutu (who wasn't in his agitating prime while in Ottawa) but with the added bonus of being a faceoff ace.
Konopka is the forgotten forward right now, but Sens fans will be familiar with his style soon enough.