After missing the playoffs in the final week of the season last year, the Hershey Bears have looked strong this year, residing in second place of the AHL Eastern Conference’s East Division, trailing only the seemingly unstoppable Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by just seven points in the standings.
Rookie right wing Eric Fehr is a big part of the reason why.
A newcomer in Chocolatetown this year, Fehr has made his presence known from the drop of the puck this season. He is leading the team in scoring just past the midpoint of the season, collecting 19 goals and 23 assists, good for 42 points in 44 games.
And while putting up those types of numbers is nice in the regular season, Fehr knows his value to this team will skyrocket once the playoffs roll around – a challenge he looks forward to answering in the coming months.
“I just want to help this team get into the playoffs and have a good playoff run,” he said after scoring two goals in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Phantoms on January 20. “That’s the kind of stuff coaches and scouts look for – how you can help lead a team. I want to establish myself as a go-to guy offensively for this team.
“I think we have a team that can go really far in the playoffs,” he continued. “We’ve got a little bit of everything – goaltending, defense, and guys that can score – so, as long as we can keep things together here, we can go on a long playoff run and we should be fine.”
The Winkler, Manitoba native brings solid offensive credentials with him to Hershey. Fehr posted back-to-back 50-goal campaigns with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League before joining the Bears this season. Last year, he led the league with 59 goals and 111 points, garnering him all sorts of honors, including WHL MVP.
Fehr was selected by the Capitals in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft with the 18th overall pick. The talented forward hadn’t expected to hear his name get called that soon, but was thrilled to realize his childhood dream.
“I actually thought I was going to go later on,” he said. “I was thinking late first round or early second. I was kind of surprised and obviously really happy. I didn’t know too much about Washington, but I like what I’ve seen so far.”
And the Capitals like what they’re seeing out of him. While his ability on the ice makes him look like a seasoned veteran, Fehr is still a rookie adjusting to life as a professional athlete. He says his teammates have been instrumental in helping him find his way in the pro game, their captain in particular.
“I’ve been linemates with Boyd Kane for a while now,” he said. “I’m really trying to establish a work ethic like his. He’s a leader in the dressing room and on the ice. The biggest thing for me is working hard like the other players are and try to learn from these guys.”
The 20-year-old has made a relatively seamless transition from a stellar junior career to a successful professional one. But he acknowledges the jump from the WHL to the AHL was a big one to make.
“It’s definitely a lot tougher hockey,” he said. “I mean, you’re playing against older guys and the defense is much better at blocking shots and things like that, so it’s a totally different style of game.”
Possessing a hard shot, terrific hockey sense, and good size – he stands at 6’3, 190 pounds – Fehr has all the tools to make him an effective power forward in the NHL in the near future. Proving he can handle that role in the AHL, Fehr got a chance earlier this season to test his mettle at the NHL level.
The winger was averaging nearly a point a game at the time of his one-game call-up to Washington (28 points in 29 games) on December 18. He only played a single game with the Capitals against the Florida Panthers, and while the rookie was held scoreless in the contest, he was grateful for the opportunity.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I got a little bit of ice time up there and got a few scoring opportunities. But, most of all, I got a chance and it was exciting for me. I hope I can get a few more chances.”
During his brief stint with the big club, Fehr got the exciting opportunity to play alongside one of the game’s most heralded rookies in Alexander Ovechkin. Easily one of the most talented first-year players in the league in recent memory, Ovechkin has been one of only a few bright spots in an overall disappointing season for the Capitals, and Fehr was impressed with the Capitals phenom.
“I played a couple shifts with him and it’s amazing the kind of stuff he can create just by shooting the puck and going to the net and taking guys with him,” Fehr said. “He definitely makes everyone around him better and I hope one day to be able to play with him.”
Getting a chance to see the NHL game was beneficial to Fehr, as it gave him the chance to see firsthand what he needs to work on to stay in the big time on a permanent basis.
“I think my defensive play has got to improve, as well as my physical play and just my battling for the puck and my ability to compete harder,” he said. “The kind of guys that are in the NHL, they’re all there for a reason, and I have to try to work hard to get there.”
For now, Fehr is focused on helping the Bears win as many games as he can. And if the second half of his rookie year goes as well as the first, the Bears should have a lot of success to look forward to.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.