It was a very busy day at Kettler Ice Plex today as the Washington Capitals opened up their 2009 summer development camp with two different groups of skaters hitting the ice in the morning and afternoon and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau running the players through several drills. But more on that in a moment as we have some house keeping to take care of first.
Mark French has been promoted from assistant coach of the Hershey Bears to head coach effective today. In addition, French will have a new assistant coach in Troy Mann. Basically the Capitals continued their trend of promoting from within, something that GM George McPhee says has been working well for the organization in recent years. We in the media had a chance to talk with McPhee, French, and Mann about the coaching changes and here are some of the highlights:
- McPhee stated that they were leaning towards promoting French to head coach in Hershey but they wanted to wait to get through the draft and free agency before announcing the move.
- French was clearly ecstatic about coaching the Bears calling Hershey “an institution” and reiterating that the organization’s philosophy is “winning is a part of the development process.” French said the biggest change for him will be the media requirements that come with the job and that his ultimate goal is to coach in the NHL. The new Bears coach also said he will have a daily one on one dialogue with Boudreau, similar to what Woods and “Gabby” had done since the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner took over as Washington head coach.
- Mann apparently has relationships with Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods that go back to the 90′s and French said he was recommended by both of them. He hasn’t been an assistant coach since the 2005-06 season so this will be an adjustment for the man who has six years of coaching experience. He also noted that he coached against the Caps ECHL team, the South Carolina Stingrays, numerous times this past season and to win in those leagues you have to have “good contract players” meaning players signed and being developed by the parent club. Mann mentioned that it is clear to him that Washington is very focused on supplying the best players at all levels of their organization. He also said that he had an opportunity to join Woods in 2007, who was named Hershey head coach when Boudreau was promoted to the Capitals, but that he couldn’t pull it off contractually or from a family stanpoint. Mann also had good things to say about forward Michael Dubuc and thinks he has a good chance to make the Bears this season. He also seemed encouraged by the Boyd Kane acquisition.
In addition to the coaching news, McPhee announced late in the day that forward Boyd Gordon, a grinder and penalty killing specialist who was drafted by the Caps in the first round of the 2002 NHL entry draft, has accepted his qualifying offer and will return to the team for the 2009-10 season. Also, according to Tarik, Shaone Morrisonn, Eric Fehr, and Jeff Schultz have until July 15th to sign their offers. Defenseman Milan Jurcina, a restricted free agent, has filed for arbitration.
Now back to day one of the development camp. There were a few guys who really stood out today, the first being Washington 2008 first round pick (27th overall), defenseman John Carlson. Carlson, who played in London of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season until they were eliminated in the playoffs by Windsor, played a prominent role in the Hershey Calder Cup run (he received top 4 d-level ice time). Clearly he was still in good shape today and Boudreau raved about him afterwards. When I asked the coach what he thought about Carlson being asked to come try out for the US Junior National Team this August in Lake Placid he responded with “He should have been on that team last year.” Carlson also seemed a bit perturbed that he wasn’t selected last December as well when we spoke with him after practice. The young man from New Jersey says his goal is to make the Caps in training camp. He sure seems to have a bright future.
Another player who caught my attention was forward Mathieu Perreault, who was taken in the 6th round of the 2006 NHL draft by the Caps. Perreault is very fast and unfortunately is still the same size as he was last summer but the young center, who played very well with Chris Bourque and Jay Beagle in the Calder Cup finals, continues to progress and impress. In fact, when I asked Boudreau about him today he said that he could easily see the 2007-08 leading scorer of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) playing some games in Washington this season.
2008 first round draft pick (21st overall), Anton Gustafsson, had a solid day showing off his immense talent and skill, and more importantly, he did not get hurt despite going hard into the goal at one point as a result of a collision with defenseman Dmitri Orlov (Caps 2009 2nd round pick). The young Swede said he had not been on the ice since April, because they “melt them” once the big teams finish up in his home country. I watched Gustafsson so effectively play keep away from defenseman Patrick Wey (Caps 2009 4th round pick) on several occasions in one of the opening drills of the afternoon session that Wey had to take what would definitely be called a penalty (trip or hook) to get the puck away from Anton. Boudreau was happy to see Gustafsson finish the “suicide” skating drills at the end of the afternoon session, something he was unable to do last summer. In other news, the young man who said he also played soccer and golf growing up, wants to play in North America this year and he said if he has to go to Hershey to do that he is totally fine with it.
Other Notes: Orlov, who apparently doesn’t speak any English at all, has a rocket of a shot. He clearly has offensive skills but initially it looks like he will really need to work on his own end abilities. We got a chance to chat with goalie Braden Holtby (2008 4th round draft pick), who had a great season in Saskatoon this year and was able to practice with Hershey during their Calder Cup run, and he said he considers himself a “hybrid” goalie in that he relies a lot on his athletic ability but that he can butterfly as well. Holtby seems very smart and level-headed and said one of his big strengths is his ability to handle the puck and he pointed out that “it can really help your team if done properly like a Marty Turco or Martin Brodeur.” He also said he was rusty today and expects Caps goalie coach Dave Prior to be on him good to pick it up on Tuesday. I can’t put my finger on it but I really liked what I saw from defenseman Eric Mestery (2008 2nd round pick) on Monday. He just seemed to be in the right position in many of the drills so he was noticeable, which was good because I wasn’t particularly planning on focusing on him and there were a lot of guys out on the ice overall today. Defenseman Josh Godfrey did not skate today due to an injury situation.
Final note: Unfortunately due to my day job and a family trip to OC later in the week I won’t be able to get back to Kettler for the rest of this development camp. However, you can attend for free and see these young players for yourself. If you can’t make it and want to get more info you can check out the blogs from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, Corey Masisak of the Washington Times, and also go to Japers Rink, your one stop shop for Capitals hockey for other blogs on development camp.