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Caps Set to Start Second KCI Rookie Camp

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
The last remaining vestiges of the summer portion of the local hockey calendar finally evaporate this weekend when the Capitals open their second annual rookie camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. More than two dozen participants will arrive in the next day or two, and their skates will collectively hit the ice at Kettler for the first session of camp at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Some – but not all – of the rookie camp participants will be invited to stay for training camp, which begins Sept. 20 at Kettler.

This year’s rookie camp will give Caps fans their first look at a couple of newly drafted (2008 NHL Entry Draft) Caps prospects. First-rounder Anton Gustafsson (first round, 21st oiverall) and Dmitry Kugryshev (second round, 58th overall) were both sidelined because of injuries during the team’s July summer development camp.

Here’s a quick study on who and what to watch at camp this week.

Plenty of eyes will be fixed upon the netminders at the Capitals 2008 rookie camp. Simeon
Simeon Varlamov Washington Capitals
Varlamov (first round, 23rd overall in 2006), Michal Neuvirth (second round, 34th overall in 2006) and Braden Holtby (fourth round, 93rd overall in 2008) are all Washington draft choices who were selected within the top 93 choices of the three most recent drafts.

Jose Theodore is signed for the next two seasons and Brent Johnson for the next one, but beyond that the Capitals netminding situation is wide open. The Caps hope their next franchise goaltender of the future will be one of the three aforementioned netminders. It’s more economically sound to draft and develop goaltenders than it is to have to go out and buy them every few years via the free agent route.

Varlamov is a 20-year-old from Russia and Neuvirth is a 20-year-old from the Czech Republic. Both are preparing to start their first seasons as pros in North America. Those two and 21-year-old third-year pro Daren Machesney will compete for the two available netminding posts at Hershey this season. Holtby will return to the WHL and play the 2008-09 season for the Saskatoon Blades.

Neuvirth got his NHL preseason baptism in Carolina last fall; both Varlamov and Neuvirth are likely to see preseason duty this fall. Each of those goalies and Holtby is likely to play a period of the Sept. 18 rookie camp scrimmage against Philadelphia.

Coming into camp, Varlamov may have an edge over Neuvirth by virtue of the fact that he played against more advanced competition last season. While Neuvirth was playing his second season in the OHL, Varlamov racked up a second straight impressive campaign in the Russian Super League.

Josh Godfrey Washington Capitals
Five of the nine defensemen in rookie camp were chosen in the first two rounds of the NHL Entry Draft between 2006-08. That’s to be expected; the Caps have chosen 10 defensemen in the first two rounds of the last five Entry Drafts. That’s a noteworthy departure from the prior philosophy. Washington chose a total of 10 defensemen in the first two rounds of the previous 12 Entry Drafts (1992-2003).

The Caps have successfully graduated two members of the Class of 2004 (Jeff Schultz and Mike Green) to regular duty on defense in D.C, and the next great blue(line) hope could follow in that duo’s skatesteps this October.

Karl Alzner (first round, fifth overall in 2007) has a chance to jump directly from the WHL to the NHL, and he will obviously attract the most attention of the rearguards at camp. Alzner is aiming to become the first Capitals defenseman in nearly a quarter century (Kevin Hatcher, 1985) to jump directly from junior hockey to the NHL without ever playing a game in the minor leagues. He’ll start his bid on Sunday when he takes the ice for the first scrimmage of rookie camp.

Alzner’s blueline partner in camp will be Josh Godfrey (second round, 34th overall in 2007). Like Alzner, Godfrey will be turning pro this season. Owner of one of the game’s best blueline bombs, Godfrey will work on rounding out the other areas of his game this season.

John Carlson (first round, 27th overall in 2008), Eric Mestery (second round, 57th overall in 2008) and Keith Seabrook (second round, 52nd overall in 2006) are the other three defensemen chosen in the first two rounds of the last few drafts. In all likelihood, Carlson will be playing for London of the OHL, Mestery for Tri-City of the WHL and Seabrook for Calgary of the WHL in 2008-09.

Draftees Patrick McNeill (fourth round, 118th overall in 2005) and Viktor Dovgan (seventh round, 209th overall in 2005), free agent signee Sean Collins and unsigned invite Craig Switzer round out the rookie camp blueline corps.

McNeill and Collins both turned pro last season while Dovgan did so in 2006-07 before spending last season in the Russian Super League. McNeill split 2007-08 between South Carolina and Hershey, totaling a combined six goals and 30 assists. That point total was fourth best among all defensemen in the Caps’ system last season.

Switzer played four seasons at the University of New Hampshire. A Nashville Predators (ninth round, 275th overall in 2004) draft choice, Switzer became a free agent on Aug. 15 when the Preds did not tender him an entry level contract.

There are 13 forwards on the roster for next week’s rookie camp, including four who will be turning pro this season. Caps fans are excited to see how Francois Bouchard (second round, 35th overall in 2006) and Mathieu Perreault (sixth round, 177th overall) will fare in their first full seasons as professionals. Both players were stars in the Quebec League for the last two seasons and both got a taste of the pro game with Hershey in the playoffs last spring.

Two more members of the class of 2006 will also play professionally in 2008-09. Oskar Osala (fourth round, 97th overall) was rookie of the year in the Finnish League last season. Maxime Lacroix (fifth round, 127th overall) got his feet wet as a pro in two playoff games with the Bears last spring. He has been signed to a Hershey contract for the upcoming season.
Francois Bouchard

Half a dozen of the forwards in camp will almost certainly be returned to their junior team or European team for the 2008-09 season. Gustafsson and Kugryshev highlight that group of players, along with fellow 2008 draftees Joel Broda (fifth round, 144th overall) and Stefan Della Rovere (seventh round, 204th overall). Brett Leffler (fifth round, 125th overall) and Justin Taylor (sixth round, 180th overall) were both chosen in the 2007 draft.

Gustafsson will play in his native Sweden in 2008-09 while Kugryshev is slated to play in the QMJHL. Leffler and Broda will play in the WHL and Taylor and Della Rovere will play in the OHL.

Two of the forwards in camp put the first full season’s worth of pro hockey on their résumés last season. Travis Morin (ninth round, 263rd overall in 2004) finished third in the ECHL scoring race with 84 points in his pro debut while Steve Pinizzotto (free agent signee) totaled 15 goals and 32 points in 40 games with South Carolina.

Left wing Michael Dubuc rounds out the baker’s dozen of forwards. He potted 39 goals in 2006-07 and 44 more (good for second in the circuit) in 2007-08. Dubuc’s solid showing at Washington’s summer development camp earned him another look here in September.

Alzner has the best shot of the bunch to crack the Washington roster this fall, but several of the others should eventually see duty in the District. Twenty-one of the 25 players in Caps are Caps draft choices, and 10 of those 21 were selected in the first or second rounds of the last three NHL Entry Drafts.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau and Hershey coach Bob Woods have a great working relationship that has been forged over years together in two different leagues. That strong bond should benefit the Capitals organization and the team's young prospects as they grow and develop toward what they hope will be regular roles in the NHL someday.

Set to run his first rookie camp and his first NHL training camp, Boudreau has a lot of experience in player development and in working closely with the parent club. He believes the relationship he has built over the years with Woods will be an asset this fall and going forward.

“More than I’ve ever had in my American League to NHL relationships,” says when asked about the cohesion between he and Woods. “And I loved [former Kings coach] Andy Murray and I liked Glen Hanlon. But Woody can call me five times a day or in the middle of the night and we’ll have a conversation, whereas no matter how well you got along with those other guys, you’d be really on edge when they phoned you. You’d have to make sure you were saying the right things, because you don’t know them from [personal] history, you know them from working.

“So if I say, ‘Bob, we’re working this system at both organizations all year,’ he knows. He knows the drills I use in practice; they’re very similar. He’ll be doing things similar to the way I do. I think the cohesion is great and it’s there.”

Practices will take place daily at 10:30 beginning on Sunday, and are free to the public. A scrimmage will be held on Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s scrimmage against the Philadelphia Flyers. Wednesday’s scrimmage is also free to the public, as is Thursday’s against the Flyers. But those who come to the Flyers scrimmage will need a ticket to enter the building, and those tickets sold out last week.

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