In front of a near capacity crowd at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia, the Washington Capitals development campers, which includes Caps prospects who are under contract and recent draft picks who have not been signed yet, took to the ice for the first scrimmage of their week long summer session with the game ending in a 4-4 tie. This was the week’s first real test and evaluation for a group of over 40 players in a game situation and the intensity was rather high with many of the skaters very willing to dish out body checks and initiate contact.
“I liked a lot of guys because they brought intensity to a summer game and there was a lot of hitting and a lot of hard skating,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau when asked about Wednesday’s scrimmage.
Let’s get right to some of the highlights, more quotes, and analysis from a game that was sloppy, at times, but did not lack energy:
– For those of you who follow my twitter account (@Emfrank123), you know that I was impressed with 2010 first round draft choice, Evgeny Kuznetsov, from what I saw of him in drills on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he didn’t disappoint again and he was arguably the best player on the ice notching two goals and an assist. The young Russian, who is listed at 6 foot even and 172 pounds, was not only an offensive creator with the puck, but he showed a willingness to get his hands dirty by going to the net for the more tougher tallies. The 26th pick in the draft certainly appears to be having fun when he is playing the game and it definitely got the attention of his future head coach, Bruce Boudreau.
“He showed some good flashes and the other thing too is he’s got a personality. Some 18 year old Europeans when they come over they don’t have that. When he scored he did the pump, he made a nice pass and he’s smiling, working hard. I think he had two goals and an assist, not bad for his American debut,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner.
Kuznetsov spent some time with the media afterwards and he remarked that to get better he definitely needs to get quicker and “bulk up.”
“The main thing I figured out is I need to work on my speed because it is smaller rinks and things happen very fast here and the other thing I need to do is put on some weight, about 30 pounds,” said the young man who played for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in 2009-10, via Russian translator Dmitry Chesnokov (who also blogs for Puck Daddy over at Yahoo.com).
It’s only been three days but the young man Washington had listed as the 12th ranked player on their draft board certainly seems to have made a big impression already.
“We sure like his enthusiasm and he’s got a lot of talent. It’s early but it sure looks like a pretty good pick,” finished GM George McPhee on the man who wore #48 for the red team.
– 2009 first round pick (24th overall) Marcus Johansson can definitely skate well and he had a solid, but not flashy session on Wednesday. #90 appears to play bigger than the size he is listed at (5′ 11″, 189 pounds) on the development camp roster. Boudreau, who praised the skating strength of the young Swede on Monday when he compared him to Nicklas Backstrom, provided one of the best interview nuggets of the day when he talked about a system challenge that the 19 year old who played for Farjestad in the top Swedish league in 2009-10 is facing with the Caps and the NHL game.
“I just talked to him and I said we are going to have to get you accustomed to the North American game because in the Swedish games the centers don’t forecheck so it is hard to become an offensive player if you are going and then you slam on the breaks to be the third guy high. And he said ‘yeah’, he found it difficult but that’s going to be something that over time we’ll change his style a little bit. But you can see he can skate great, he circles a little bit, but those are all things that you see them here you can correct for August and September and further down the road,” added Boudreau on adjustments Johansson will need to make before playing in the NHL.
– A pleasant surprise today was the play of Dustin Stevenson, who is a hulk of a defenseman at 6′ 5″ and 220 pounds. Playing on the white team, the 20 year old who was the top player in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 2009-10, made things happen, including one shift that lasted about two minutes because he continually made solid plays on the left point to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Stevenson showed good mobility and ability for a guy who is making one of the biggest jumps in competition, something not lost on GM George McPhee, who said “I liked Stevenson on the blue line,” when asked about players he thought stood out on Wednesday.
– Another player I was eager to take a look at is 2009 2nd round draft pick, defenseman Dmitri Orlov. The man that former Flames GM Craig Button had Washington selecting in the first round of his mock draft had a sensational second period rushing the puck and creating scoring opportunities on nearly every shift. However, the young man who will turn 19 on July 23rd had a rough third period, primarily due to some poor play in his own end. Orlov, who played in the KHL last season, on one occassion blindly threw the puck up the boards without even looking, resulting in a giveaway. After the scrimmage, our friends over at Russian Machine Never Breaks interviewed the young defenseman and they mentioned that Dmitri was quite frustrated with the way he finished out a game that saw his red team lose a 3-1 lead in the final stanza. Coach Boudreau also felt that there was good and bad in Orlov’s play on Wednesday afternoon.
“I think it was a mixed bag in that he competed, he made a couple of good plays. I was telling one of the gentlemen here he makes the good first pass, at the same time it was a little scrambly. He’s playing on his offside as well so I don’t know if that’s good or bad or whether he prefers that. Most of these Europeans are used to the big ice and now all of a sudden they’ve got to come down. I thought he was fine,” added Boudreau, noting that the left shooting Orlov is playing on the unnatural right side on defense.
– As far as the goaltending was concerned, top prospect Braden Holtby did not suit up leaving the net minding duties to Dan Dunn and Philipp Grubauer to start for the white and red team, respectively. Dunn, who was selected by Washington in the 6th round of the 2007 NHL draft, and Grubauer, taken in the fourth round in 2010, both were fairly solid with Grubauer, who was the winning goalie in the 2010 Memorial Cup for Windsor, stopping several penalty shots (all whistled infractions resulted in penalty shots instead of two minute minors). Taylor Nelson of Ferris State and Nauris Enkuzens of Dynamo Riga finished up in goal and Enkuzens thwarted both Anton Gustaffson and Kuznetsov on penalty shots until he was finally beaten by forward Sean Wiles (Alaska-Anchorage) with four minutes left to put the red team up, 4-3. Eric Alexander then beat Nelson, his college teammate, with a sensational move and shot late in the contest to knot things up at four and close out the scoring.
– The biggest downer of the day was an injury to Hershey Bears defenseman Zach Miskovic, who hurt his left knee on what appeared to be a clean check at the blue line by Joe Finley (Caps 2005 1st round draft choice). Miskovic, who played in six AHL Calder Cup playoff games for the Bears in 2010, was helped off the ice, which is a concern considering he has a good chance to be a top 4 d-man in Chocolatetown in 2010-11. The hit resulted in Anthony Pisano of the white team challenging Finley to a bout, but no punches were really landed by either player before the two combatants fell to the ice.
“It’s something that will be sore and he’s out for the rest of the camp, but hopefully it doesn’t require surgery and we’ll just get it to settle down,” added McPhee on the status of the 25 year old Miskovic.
Notes: The Caps and Hershey Bears announced today that former Cap Brian Willsie has been signed on a two way contract, meaning the man who scored 19 goals for Washington in 2005-06 will likely play for the Bears and help fill some of the scoring void left by the departed Alexandre Giroux (signed a one way deal for $500K in Edmonton on July 3rd)…Gustafsson made it through the scrimmage without getting injured but he certainly is not as willing to put himself in harm’s way or make a solid body check like his old man would normally do. Bengt Gustafsson, pound for pound, was one of the best hitters in the NHL in his day…McPhee, when asked by Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post after the scrimmage, said that the Caps are pretty much done with signing free agents this summer…The players hit the ice again on Thursday morning at 9am for scrimmage number two. Look for coverage of that here at wnst.net on Thursday night.