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Capitals Camp: Search for No. 2 center continues

by Ben Raby
ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Sergei Fedorov left the NHL to play in his native Russia after the 2008-09 season, he also left the Capitals with a big vacancy. Two years later, the search for a second-line center continues in Washington.

"I've given a lot of thought to it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said, "and it will probably clear itself up next week. We'll probably experiment a little bit in the first three pre-season games with positions and stuff."

Since Fedorov's departure, the Caps revolving No. 2 center position has been filled by Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault and Jason Arnott.

As the Caps opened training camp today Laich, Johansson and Perreault remain options to center either the second or third lines while prospects Cody Eakin and Mattias Sjogren will also garner serious looks during the next two weeks.

"I have no idea," Laich said of where he expects to line up this season. "It's musical chairs for myself, but I've kind of gotten used to it."

Laich has spent much of his NHL career as a left winger but general manager George McPhee suggested during the summer that the natural center could see more time down the middle moving forward.

But on day one of camp there was Laich playing left wing alongside Backstrom and Alexander Semin.

"Right now it looks like maybe I'm slotted at wing, but that can change very soon," Laich said. "I think it kind of goes with the wind – one day the wind blows one way, one day it blows the other way.  Myself, I've gotten used to that … I like being on the ice at different positions and [taking on] different challenges, and it's something I look forward to."

Nicklas Backstrom and free agent signee Jeff Halpern have been penciled in as the team's No. 1 and No. 4 centers, although the 35-year-old Halpern is capable of moving up the depth chart.

The Potomac, Md., native returns to D.C. after suiting up for the Caps from 1998-2006 and captaining the team during Alex Ovechkin's rookie season.

"It's nice to come back this time around," Halpern said. "The city is at a whole new level as far as how they support the hockey team and it's fun to be a part of. … It seems like there's more of a passion for the team in the area, not just for the hockey fan, but for the casual fan as well.

"I think going into the season, this is the best chance I've had to win a cup. Obviously I don't have as many years ahead of me as I used to so I'm looking at this year as a tremendous opportunity to play whatever role is needed to win a cup."
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