Center is a position at which the Washington Capitals find themselves well-stocked at the moment. Nicklas Backstrom, Brendan Morrison, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Michael Nylander, Keith Aucoin, Kyle Wilson and Mathieu Perreault are among the centers who are slated to be in Arlington next month when the Capitals open training camp in preparation for the start of the 2009-10 season.
Another young pivot who won’t be in Arlington next month hopes to insert his name into the discussion of the Caps’ future middle men with his performance at a different level this season. Phil DeSimone was Washington’s third-round choice (84th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Chosen on the heels of being named player of the year in the USHL for the 2006-07 season, DeSimone has played the last two seasons at the University of New Hampshire.
With Sioux City of the USHL in 2006-07, DeSimone had a terrific campaign. Serving as the Muskateers team captain, DeSimone totaled 26 goals and 73 points in 60 games. He finished second in the USHL scoring race and he tied for third in the circuit in assists. DeSimome added six goals and a dozen points in just seven playoff contests that season.
Going from a go-to guy in the USHL to a role player as an underclassman at the NCAA level has been difficult at times for DeSimone. He had three goals and 13 points in 38 games as a freshman at UNH in 2007-08. Last season, he totaled seven goals and 18 points in 38 games as a sophomore.
The downturn in production is due to several factors, not the least of which is a diminished role on the team. With his junior year on the horizon in 2009-10, DeSimone hopes to show steady improvement across the board as the start of his pro career draws nearer.
“Next year,” DeSimone says, “I’ll be a junior and I’ll be on one of the top two lines the whole year and I’ll be counted on to be one of the go-to guys every game. That’s something I’m looking forward to, finally getting my opportunity and I think I’m ready for it as well.”
New Hampshire was one of the elite teams in Hockey East last season, but none of its top four scorers from 2008-09 will be returning this season. DeSimone has finished 11th on the team in scoring in each of the last two seasons, but he’ll have an opportunity to make much more of a mark in 2009-10. He has paid his dues for two seasons, and now should have a chance to be a top six forward at New Hampshire.
“That’s the big thing in college,” says DeSimone. “You don’t play as many games and I feel like the more games I play the better I get adjusted. Another thing is that I haven’t really been given the opportunity to have the ice time that I had in juniors. I’ve had a few shots at it here and there; I played on the power play all last year but didn’t really play consistently on the top two lines.”
Although he has yet to take part in an NHL training camp, DeSimone was in town last month for his third summer development camp with the Caps since being drafted. He gains more comfort with each of those camps and hopes that experience – and a big year or two at UNH – will help springboard him to a spot in Washington’s camp within the next couple years.
“Every year I get more comfortable and every year I feel like I improve more in the off ice testing and stuff like that,” says DeSimone. “It’s a good experience and it’s a good week to gauge where you’re at, because college guys can’t go to main camp. This week is a good week to judge a few years down the road when I will be going to main camp, hopefully, where I need to be at in terms of that.”
The 22-year-old center from East Amherst, N.Y. has the usual laundry list of areas in which he is looking to improve.
“Just keep working on my skating and getting stronger,” he replies, when asked what aspects of his game need work. “You can never be good enough at something. [I need to] work on everything, speed and quickness and I need to put on a few pounds, I think. “
DeSimone acquitted himself well at Kettler last month and he is looking forward to a larger role and a bigger season as a junior at UNH in 2009-10. If he follows through, his name could be among those on the Washington depth chart up the middle within the next couple of years.