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Caps Add Pair of Ex-Isles

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
For the second straight summer, the Washington Capitals have kicked off the free agency shopping season with the signing of a Massachusetts-born defenseman to a four-year contract. A year ago today, the Capitals announced the signing of free agent defenseman Brian Pothier of New Bedford, Mass. Today, Washington inked Worcester, Mass. native and unrestricted free agent Tom Poti to a four-year deal.

Later in the day, the Caps made an additional splash into the free agent pool when they inked unrestricted free agent forward Viktor Kozlov. Both Poti and Kozlov played with the New York Islanders in 2006-07.

Originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers (third round, 59th overall) in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Poti is a veteran of eight NHL seasons and 594 regular season contests in the league. He moved directly from the campus of Boston U. to the NHL in 1998-99 and has never played a game in the minor leagues.

Poti has played for Edmonton, the New York Rangers and the Islanders. He spent last season on Long Island, where he led the Isles with 38 assists and paced the team’s blueliners in scoring with 44 points. He has tallied as many as 12 goals (in 2000-01 with Edmonton) and as many as 48 points (in 2002-03 with the Rangers).

“Our scouting staff felt that he had the best year of his career last year and that he is really coming into his own,” says Capitals general manager George McPhee. “We needed a left-handed shot for the power play. He is excellent on the penalty kill and he moves the puck very, very well. We felt we have some good young defensemen who are real good at shutting the other team down or are developing into those roles and will be really good at that one day, but we needed a little more skill to help us with our special teams.”

Poti also led all Islanders defensemen with an average of 25:42 in ice time each night, up significantly from the 20:46 he played with the Rangers in 2005-06. Poti ranked 11th in the NHL among all defensemen in ice time last season.

Chris Clark, Tom Poti
A power play specialist, Poti tallied all six of his goals with the extra man last season. Since the end of the lockout, eight of his nine goals have been scored while his team has enjoyed the man advantage. Poti’s 26 power play assists ranked 10th in the league among defensemen last season.

“Over the last year I was able to find a good niche on the team and play a lot of minutes,” says Poti. “I got a chance to play a lot of power play minutes and I was able to show everybody what I could do with a lot of ice time.”

Washington’s power play unit was 26th in 2005-05 and nudged its way up to 24th last season. Poti performed on the league’s eight best power play with the Rangers in 2005-06 and the 12th best extra-man unit in the league with the Islanders last season.

During a Sunday afternoon conference call, Poti was asked what qualities he brought to the successful power plays of the Rangers and the Islanders.

“Probably just my ability to see the whole ice,” he says. “I’m not a big shooting guy. I like to look for the pass first. I’m more of a set up guy. Bringing the puck up the ice and getting it set up in the zone is my forte, and just making plays from the blueline, making good passes and setting guys up.”

Washington was in need of a boost for its power play, and it was also seeking an experienced hand for its blueline corps. Poti has played more than twice as many NHL contests as any other Capitals defenseman.

“I was fortunate enough to play with guys like Brian Leetch over the course of my career,” states Poti. “He taught me so much. I have a lot of experience in this league and I think I can fit that role model type of guy right now and help out the younger guys. I worked a lot with young guys on the Islanders last year, and it’s something else I can bring to the team by helping the young guys along and teaching them some of the stuff I’ve learned over my career.”

Although he is known for his skills with the puck, Poti has quietly improved in his own end over the years. He ranked 14th in the league with 170 blocked shots last season and his 4:36 per game in shorthanded ice time was tops among all free agent defensemen and eighth overall in the NHL in 2006-07.

Poti was one of the first signings of the day, and by day’s end, one of his former Islander teammates was also headed to the District. Poti says that McPhee told him he wasn’t finished working the phones and trying to improve the Capitals.

“He said he was going to work on a few more guys,” Poti says. “They had a list of guys they were taking a hard line to get. He has assured me that they are committed to winning. They want to put Washington back on the map and get back to winning and get back in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He assured me of that and that’s one of the reasons why I signed with Washington. Playing against them the last couple of years, they have a lot of good young guys and a great upcoming team. I was very excited to be a part of that.”

Alex Ovechkin, Viktor Kozlov
Kozlov is a right-handed shooting forward who is capable of playing the wing or up the middle. If Washington is unable to procure a scoring line center, Kozlov can assume that role. But he is probably better suited for playing on the wing. Either way, he provides some needed size, skill and experience to Washington’s group of top six forwards.

“The nice thing about Kozlov is that you have versatility,” says McPhee. “Alex has spoken fairly highly of him in the past. He can play center, he can play the wing. He is also coming off one of the better years of his career. He is also pretty darned good in the shootout.”

The sixth player chosen overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, the 32-year-old Kozlov is an imposing physical specimen at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. He broke into the NHL with San Jose in 1994-95 and later toiled for Florida, New Jersey and the Islanders.

Kozlov first cracked the 50-point plateau in his fifth season in the league (1998-99). He reached 70 points the following season, still his career high. He has had two 20-goal seasons in the NHL and is coming off a career high 25-goal season with the Islanders. Kozlov also had 51 points and was a plus-12 with the Isles in 2006-07.

Kozlov has played in 749 NHL games, totaling 169 goals, 273 assists and 442 points along the way. As an added bonus, Kozlov has proven to be proficient in the shootout game. Since the NHL did away with tie games in favor of the shootout, Kozlov has scored on 13 of 25 tries (52%).

After spending the better part of the day on the phones, McPhee was asked if he was done.

“We’re never done.”

The question was then rephrased. Would you expect more signings tonight or are you going to take a breather and get back at it tomorrow?

“We’ll probably just get back at it tomorrow.”

Additional quotes:
Tom Poti
On whether he had spoken to McPhee after the signing:
“I talked to him this afternoon. He called me and we talked for five or 10 minutes. He just wants me to come in and do what I did for the Islanders last year, play hard and eat up a lot of minutes and play a lot of special teams.”

On who he admired and patterned his game after as a kid:
“I grew up in Boston so I pretty much dissected Ray Bourque through his whole career. I always studied him all through growing up. When I was in New York I got to play with Brian Leetch for two, two and a half years. I just learned so much from a guy like that. I try to follow some of the stuff he did and try to play like him.”

On other current Capitals he is acquainted with:
“Chris Clark called me this afternoon to tell me what the Caps were all about and tell me everything and give me a good heads up on what to expect there. He was a guy I played against growing up as a kid, probably from when I was eight or nine until I was 14 or 15. I also played with Brian Pothier growing up for a few years. I played with Ben Clymer in the World Juniors for two years. I know a few of the guys.”

On what led him to choose Washington:
“First of all, they were the first team to call at 12:01. They were very excited to talk to me, and then Chris Clark gave me a call this afternoon to try to sell me on Washington. I had four or five really good legitimate offers but I was excited to be a part of the Washington team and the Capitals organization knowing that what they sold me on was that they are committed to building a winner. Playing against guys like Ovechkin and Semin and guys like that, it’s very exciting to be on the same team as those guys. I think they definitely have a great chance to win and I want to be part of that.”

 07-01-07 Conference call with newly acquired Capital Tom Poti  

On how much influence Ovechkin had on the Kozlov signing:
“We make our own decisions on players here, you have to do that. But certainly we’re mindful of things that your players say about other players and players’ reputations. Kozlov is supposed to be a class act. He is a big man and we expect he can be really productive here. Chris Clark knows Poti real well and said some real positive things about him. Those are things that you certainly take into consideration.”

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