The main purpose of the Capitals’ annual summer development camp is to get the team’s young prospects into town and give them a brief indoctrination into the making of an NHL player both on and off the ice. Recent camps have provided a bonus, allowing the Caps a chance to see and eventually sign undrafted free agent players who are ready to get their start in to professional ranks.
One of those players is defenseman Zach Miskovic
. Miskovic attended Washington’s 2008 summer camp, prior to his senior season at St. Lawrence University. The Caps liked what they saw from the 6-foot-1, 185-pound blueliner, and they signed him to a pro contract at the end of the 2008-09 season. He came to the 2009 camp under contract and on the verge of starting his pro career.
At 24 years of age, Miskovic is a shade older than most players who are setting out for the start of their pro hockey careers. But Miskovic has had the benefit of several seasons of competitive hockey at various levels. He spent three seasons with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League followed by four seasons with St. Lawrence University. Remarkably, he never missed a regular season game in any of those seven seasons, rolling up a string of 334 consecutive games played. He left St. Lawrence with a school record of 154 consecutive games played.
A native of River Forest, Ill., Miskovic played in the system locally before moving up to Cedar Rapids as a 17-year-old for the 2002-03 season.
“I started off in Chicago playing good solid D for the Chill in the Triple-A program there,” he recalls. “Then I got the opportunity to play in the USHL for Cedar Rapids. From there I tried to show my offensive skill. I brought it to the college level, and just built off that. I play solid D and jump into the play when I can.”
Miskovic has blossomed as an offensive defenseman over the years. In his first season with the RoughRiders, he put up modest totals of two goals and eight points in 60 games. Last season, he netted 16 goals for St. Lawrence, pacing all NCAA blueliners in that category in the process.
Miskovic enjoys the offensive aspects of the game, and he believes his team’s style of play helped him rack up those 16 goals in 2008-09.
“I think it’s a little combination of both,” he says, when asked if his offensive outburst was more due to his own style or the way his team played. “I have to give some credit to my teammates. They played really hard with me. We had a great club, great organization. The guys played really tough every game and I have to give some credit to them. It is part of the way I like to play. I like to play a little offensively but at the same time I am a defenseman and my first priority is playing good, solid D. And when I can I will jump into the rush and put my best foot forward on the offensive side.”
Miskovic was a first team All-ECAC selection in 2008-09 after being named to the third team as a junior in 2007-08, when he racked up eight goals and 21 points. He scored five power play goals in 2008-09 and led the team with four game-winners. Miskovic’s 16 goals tied for the team lead, and he was named as his team’s MVP. He signed with Washington in late March of this year, and then spent some time in Hershey where he practiced with the Calder Cup champion Bears during their title run.
“It was a great honor, obviously,” says Miskovic of his short stay with the Bears. “After playing four years at St. Lawrence University, your goal after those four years is to play professional hockey. It was a great honor to be able to sign with them, especially with them being such a deep organization with the Hershey Bears and the South Carolina [Stingrays] both winning their leagues. There is great depth there and great development and that’s one of the main reasons I decided to sign with the Washington Capitals.”
Miskovic will report to the Caps’ rookie camp early in September, and he’ll find the deck stacked fairly deep on defense.
As many as 11 defenseman can be seen as competing for six or seven spots in Washington, and the overflow from that group will form the nucleus at Hershey. The defending champion Bears figure to be stacked on defense as well, and so do the defending Kelly Cup champion Stingrays.
Miskovic knows his work is cut out for him, but he aims to land a spot in Hershey and to eventually bring his game to Washington.
“I spent just about a week [in Hershey] to check out the place and meet the organization and see the fans, which were great,” says Miskovic. “It’s a rowdy crew there and they really fill the building and get all the guys into it. It was a great experience. I got to meet the owner, the coaching staff and the players. They’re a great group of guys and I’m really looking forward to a chance to being part of the club.
“It’s definitely a step. You get to meet the guys. You understand what needs to get done, how you need to train; the mentality. It’s a long season so you’ve got to take each day as it comes. You really need to put your best effort forth every day, train hard and bring your “A” game every day.”
Whether Miskovic plays in Hershey, South Carolina or Washington, he’s a good example for future attendees to the team’s summer development camps. Along with Jay Beagle
and Jake Hauswirth, he is one of three free agents who opened eyes sufficiently at camp to earn a Capitals contract. Forward Michael Dubuc earned a Hershey contract on the basis of last year’s camp, and had a strong rookie season at South Carolina before shining even brighter at the Caps’ 2009 camp.
“I think they’re invaluable,” says Caps player development scout Steve Richmond of the team’s summer camps, “and I think our camp has gotten better each year the last three or four years with better quality players. It gets the young, drafted players into a pro environment so that when they come to rookie camp [in September] they’re not in awe of an NHL locker room, seeing NHL players and NHL coaches. They don’t know the drills, they don’t know the system. Here, they learn the drills, they learn the system. So they can just come in and start playing without any distractions.”
Richmond himself is a former NHL defenseman who turned pro after going undrafted and playing four seasons at the University of Michigan. His pro career lasted a decade and included 159 NHL games.
“With the free agents,” continues Richmond, “we get to spend a week with them, 12 hours a day. We get to know them on the ice, off the ice, their work habits. Instead of trying to guess what they’re like, are they good people, bad people, [we know what they’re like].
“When they do become free agents or they are ready to turn pro, if you’ve had them in your camp and they got to know you, too, and they say, ‘They took a liking to me, they brought me in, they worked with me, they wanted to see what I was all about.’ When push comes to shove, we’re in front of the line waiting for them. It works both ways.”
For Miskovic, last summer’s camp gave him a chance to open some eyes. This summer’s camp helped prepare him for his first pro season, and his first NHL training camp this fall.
“It was great actually,” says Miskovic of this year’s camp, “It feels a little more comfortable now. You kind of know what’s coming. You have an idea of the schedule and what they expect of you. Meeting all the coaches and having good communication with them, they really let you know what you need to improve on and what you need to work on.”
Author: Mike Vogel | WashingtonCaps.com Senior Writer