Hot summer days will be much cooler this week. The Washington Capitals’ annual summer development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex opened on Monday. More than 40 young hockey hopefuls are in attendance at this week’s camp, which runs from July 7-12. Most of the participants are Washington draft choices from recent years. Players drafted and/or signed by the Capitals account for 24 of the 42 players at this week’s camp.
Players hit the ice in two groups on Monday, the first at 10 a.m. and the second at 2:30 p.m. The same schedule is in effect for Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday will feature group practices at 10 and 11:15 followed by a scrimmage between the two groups at 3:30. Friday’s late has group practices at 10 and 11:45. There will be a 10:30 a.m. scrimmage at Kettler on Saturday as part of the team’s 2008 Summer FanFest. Saturday’s scrimmage concludes the week’s activities.
Although he has been in attendance at each of Washington’s last three summer camps, coach Bruce Boudreau is running the show this time around. He’s spent the last several weeks planning drills and assembling lines and pairs. On Monday, he was like a kid in a candy store as he put the boys through their paces.
“I’m running it,” he responds, when asked for the biggest difference between this and previous camps. “The other ones I’ve either watched or taken direction. So it seems more important to me because I’m on the ground floor of doing this and setting up the practices and being out there with the kids and getting to know them. In the past, it was hard for me to get to know any of them.
“Now I’m finding I’m knowing the guys quicker because I’m the one calling their names out all the time. So when we talk in the future about a draft choice [I can say] ‘Oh yeah, I’ll remember him.’ Whereas there were times – especially in my first summer camp in Hershey – I didn’t even know who was there. I had no idea who was there, unless he played in Portland the year before. I’m more conscientious about that [now].”
A large contingent of local media was on hand to witness the two practices, and a decent amount of fans came out, too. Defenseman Karl Alzner
was one of the main attractions for both media and fans. The Capitals’ top draft choice (fifth overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Alzner is thought to have a good chance of cracking Washington’s opening night lineup. He will celebrate his 20th birthday during this fall’s training camp.
“He’s definitely got the pedigree,” says Boudreau of Alzner. “There are an awful lot of other players who have made the jump from junior to the NHL in recent years. Here’s a guy who was the captain of the World Junior Canadian team. You could see out there today that he’s got a lot more poise than some of the other guys his age. We’re going to give him a chance. It’s up to him.”
A lot of attention was also focused on young goaltenders Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth
, chosen in the first and second rounds of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, respectively. With Olie Kolzig having moved on to Tampa Bay and Jose Theodore signed for only the next two seasons, the Capitals are casting about for their next netminder of the future.
Along with the two goaltenders drafted in 2006, Dan Dunn and Braden Holtby
are in attendance this week. Dunn is a sixth-rounder from 2007 who is headed into his sophomore season at St. Cloud St. Holtby is a fourth-rounder chosen in last month’s 2008 draft in Ottawa. Holtby is a workhorse who plays junior hockey for Saskatoon of the WHL.
Boudreau was in mid-season form after the second of today’s scrimmages. The quotable coach dropped a few gems, and cagily danced around the kids in the crease.
“I don’t know,” he replies when asked how the goaltending will be sorted out. “We’ve got five of them here. They’re all young. Two of them are signed. Three of them are not. To be honest with you, I haven’t even begun to think about it. I’ll ask [general manager] George [McPhee] and Dave and the other guys about the goaltending and let them figure it out.”
The day one was pace was quick, the focus was on systems and each session was topped off with a lengthy dose of sprints.
“We put them through a pretty tough skate for an hour and a half for July,” admits Boudreau, “when you know they’re not in the condition they’re going to be in in September. You can see the guys like [Jay] Beagle and [Andrew] Gordon who have played pro a year are ahead of other guys. Some guys are in awe a little bit, but it will get there. We’re trying to go through all the systems to see who can get it and who can’t. “
Some of the kids here this week won’t be here in September when training camp gets underway. The mandated shortened camps of the post-lockout era have brought about streamlined camp rosters, so once the week is complete, we many not see some of these players again until next summer. Boudreau and his staff plan on making as much of an impression on the players as the players hope to make on the coaches.
“We told our coaches here we’re committed to talking to every player every day, so that every player gets to talk to everybody so they feel comfortable when they leave,”declares Boudreau. “We’ve got a list of who we have to talk to. We know the jobs and then we’ll discuss it and see if any of them are overwhelmed or whatever. We want them to feel comfortable.
“We want them when they leave here to think the Washington Capitals are the classiest team in the NHL and this is the team they want to play for. Because if you see their t-shirts, the t-shirts say, ‘The Future is Here.’ This is our future; camps like this and draft choices like this. In the NHL I believe your picks have got to be good and we want to make them good players right off the bat.”
********Five-Spot with defenseman Josh Godfrey (second round, 34th overall in 2007)
On whether he expects to be at Hershey this season:
“More than likely. Realistically, yes. But I’m going to do everything I can to try and make this club this year.”
On his 2007-08 season:
“It was a long year but it was very exciting. There is so much that went on last year from the Super Series to camp here, to our long playoff run and the World Juniors, the whole bit. I learned a lot from it. I feel more confident on the ice and just the experience made me a better player.”
On which area of his game saw the most improvement in 2007-08:
“Definitely my defensive play. Playing internationally on the bigger ice you’ve got to be more accountable out there and you’ve got to cover a lot more ice. I feel like I did a good job over there.”
On getting his feet wet as a pro in Hershey’s final playoff game of 2008:
“I wasn’t sure if I would get called up after [Sault Ste. Marie] got beat out, but I got the call saying they were going to bring me in. Then I wasn’t totally sure if I was going to play so I came ready to play and I ended up being in the lineup. I didn’t know how much I was going to play, but I guess I got a regular shift and in the last half of the game I got some power play time. I got to see what it’s all about.”
On the specific things he has been working on defensively:
“Just the awareness and being quicker to go to people. Just reading everything, whether it’s a 3-on-2 or a 2-on-1. The quicker you can read stuff, the quicker you can react to it.”