Washington Capitals defenseman Jakub Cutta drove away from the Piney Orchard Ice Forum on the fifth day of the team’s on-ice portion of their summer mini-camp for rookies. 2001 draft pick Peter Polcik had forgotten his sticks and went back inside to get them. When he returned to the car, Cutta began to drive away. Cutta repeatedly stopped the car and started again as Polcik closed in on the door. The 19-year-old rookie forward was finally allowed into the car across the street from the Caps’ practice facility and Cutta had effectively reminded him who was the rookie and who was the veteran.
During the recent mini-camp, Cutta, 20, showed up in the best shape of his career and played better than almost every other player in attendance, looking more like a seasoned veteran than the over-achieving rookie who earned a roster spot in Washington in 2000.
Since Cutta was selected in the second round of the 2000 entry draft by the Caps, the 6-3, 210 pound defenseman has experienced a very unique three-year ride that has led him to a another chance at earning a roster spot with the Capitals.
In 2000, Cutta surprised Caps’ management by outplaying almost every other rookie and veteran at the Capitals’ rookie and training camps to make the team during his draft year.
“It was a great experience. Everything went well right away,” Cutta said. “I think I came over relaxed because no one expected anything from me because it was my first camp. That’s how I want to come up this year too, just relaxed.”
Cutta went scoreless in just three games in Washington before being returned to his junior club, the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. He had an excellent season in his last year in juniors (5 goals, 8 assists, 102 PIMs, +7), but hoped that his stay with the Capitals had lasted longer.
“I was a little bit [disappointed] because every player, it’s his dream to play in the National Hockey League,” Cutta said. “On the other hand, I am very thankful that I get that opportunity when I was such a young age.”
In 2001, Cutta participated in his second training camp in Washington. He played well enough to be at the camp, but was not the improved player the Caps were hoping for.
“I put maybe too much pressure last year and things didn’t go my way. I was getting down on myself and that’s how things started to not go the right way I wanted to,” he said.
The hulking defenseman spent the majority of the season playing for the team’s AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates. Under the direction of new Capitals assistant Glen Hanlon, Cutta learned to adapt to the professional game.
“It was my first professional season, so it’s a big jump from junior. Everything is new, so you have to adjust to the game,” Cutta said. “The game is played a different way. There are bigger guys and some big guys are faster. You have to learn how to deal with them and just find your way around.”
Cutta endured a tough season in his first year above juniors, but he came to fully realize the type of player he is and knows what he still has to work on to become a more complete defenseman.
“I am more like a defensive defenseman. I like to take pride in my defensive play. I don’t like to get scored on,” Cutta said. “I hope to make a good first pass. Making good passes, making good decisions.”
Though Cutta has already shown that he plays very well in his own end, he wants to continue to improve his defense and wants to become a better offensive player.
“I want to read the play more,” he said. “That’s how you play better. You think before even anything happens, you know what’s going to happen. That’s a pretty big positive for a defenseman.”
In early September, Cutta will return to Washington for his third training camp. He looks forward to the possibility of playing for Glen Hanlon again as they are already familiar with each other.
“[The opportunity to play for Hanlon again] is very good because we worked together last year,” Cutta said. “He knows how I play. We know each other, so we can just build from that. It’s a very good opportunity to work with him.”
Since Cutta played one full professional season and earned a roster spot out of training camp once before, he has become more modest about his chances of making the team.
“I just don’t think about that. I just want to come here and try my best and see what happens,” he said. “I just want to go day by day. That’s the best way. That’s how I always did it. That’s how I will do it.”
Cutta hopes the experience he has gained over the last few seasons will help him develop into a more complete player. If Cutta displays the poise and quickness he did at the summer mini-camp, he may finally realize his dream of staying in the NHL permanently.
Editor’s Note: To see pictures of Cutta driving away from fellow Caps prospect Peter Polcik (and other photos from the Caps prospect camp, check out CapsOnFilm.com.