Stanley Cup championship experience is always a valuable asset that's tough to come by. Getting it in someone who will be just 26 when the 2011-12 NHL season starts is even tougher.
The Washington Capitals managed to find both last Friday when they dealt their first-round pick in the 2011 Entry Draft to Chicago for left wing Troy Brouwer. While his total of 76 points over the last two seasons are solid but not overwhelming, Brouwer is likely going to be expected to bring that certain je ne sais quoi that one finds in a Stanley Cup champion.
A versatile part of Chicago's 2010 title run, in which Brouwer was able to play a grinding style both offensively and defensively while shifting between multiple lines, he believes he can provide that missing something that has prevented the Capitals from finally having a postseason breakthrough.
"Washington's got a great team with a lot of potential right now, they just need a little bit of help getting over that playoff bump there," Brouwer said during a conference call with the media Monday. "Sometimes you need a little bit of an outside view just to come in and make sure that guys are doing what they need to do in important games."
Brouwer would know that as well as anyone. Having spent three seasons shuttling between the AHL and a few cups of coffee with the Blackhawks, Brouwer had several years to bond with the top prospects of the Chicago system like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
As the talented crop of young players began to mature and reach the NHL, the Hawks went from a conference afterthought that had spent the better part of the past decade playing golf in April to postseason contenders that wound up making a surprise run to the 2009 Western Conference Finals before losing ultimately to Detroit. But it wasn't until the Blackhawks added a few veterans with Stanley Cup experience that they finally reached the top of the mountain.
With a ring in his back pocket, it's now Brouwer's turn to pay it forward.
"I'm hoping to bring some experience and some stability in that role," Brouwer said. "When we had [Andrew] Ladd and [John] Madden come in they brought in a calming and a soothing element to our game because we were just a couple of young guys who were just excited to be in the playoffs. They had won Stanley Cups before -- Madden had won two -- and he knows what it takes and he knows how to act in the room and to make sure that the room is calm when it needs to be calm and excited when it needs to be excited."
Brouwer admitted Monday that he was surprised to find himself as a Capital -- despite having heard rumors that he was on the block, he had not heard Washington among the teams interested -- but he gave reporters the full impression that he was ready to perform in a veteran capacity. He suspects that Washington general manager George McPhee feels the same way because, despite his youth and the restricted free agent's unresolved contract situation, in Brouwer's words, "Otherwise they wouldn't be trading a first-round pick for me."
In addition, having played with two of the League's top young stars over the last few seasons, he is less than intimidated by the prospect of playing alongside the Capitals' two big guns in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
"Kane and Toews are both guys that demand the puck all the time," Brouwer said. "They want the puck on their stick. I'm assuming Ovechkin and Backstrom are the exact same type of players who want the puck to make things happen. With the world class skill that those two players have, you're going to give them the puck and they'll be able to give it back to you."
It is worth noting that Brouwer, despite not being the marquee attraction in Chicago the past few seasons, was no spectator on the championship ride in 2010. He tallied 8 points that postseason and showed a knack for performing on the big stage with 2 goals and an assist in a wild Game 1 victory of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.
Where those Hawks showed the moxie and grit to win it all, these Caps have struggled. Despite bringing home four consecutive Southeast Division titles, the Caps have yet to get as far as the conference finals. The year Brouwer and the Blackhawks cracked open champagne, Washington suffered a stunning seven-game first-round loss to Montreal despite a 121-point season that gave the Caps their first ever Presidents' Trophy.
Washington has made similar moves to try and provide the veteran experience necessary for a deep playoff run, such as this past season's trade deadline acquisition of center Jason Arnott, but in Brouwer the Caps get a young player whose championship experience is so fresh he may not have had the chance to even polish his ring for the first time yet.
Brouwer's combination of youth and tested postseason ability has him thinking he may finally give the Caps the ingredient they've been missing.
"Anybody will tell you that there's no boundary on leadership age, and whether or not you're wearing a letter on a team that doesn't necessarily mean that you're not a leader," Brouwer said. "They've had a good team for a long time, and they just need to have a lot of good confidence and make sure that they're doing what they need to do to win a Stanley Cup and bring one to Washington."