The Washington Capitals enter 2007 training camp amid a buzz, adding head-turning talent and their owner predicting a breakout season and playoff appearance. Along with the arrival of Swedish phenom Nicklas Backstrom and the contemplation of a legitimate playoff run, this season’s training camp could see bigger and better battles among players for the last few roster positions.
The main attraction at Capitals training camp is Backstrom. A lock to make the team, Backstrom has been working with fellow Swede Michal Nylander especially on the North American style of game. Watch for Backstrom improve throughout camp and develop chemistry with future linemates. Backstrom could certainly contend for the Calder Trophy, if he finds chemistry with linemates.
Besides Backstrom, there are very few sure bets for NHL spots. Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann with both are competing for roster spots. Both received limited time with the Capitals in 2006-07, and excelled at the AHL level. Fehr will likely have a leg up on Fleischmann, as he missed his NHL opportunity due to potentially serious injuries, while Fleischmann was simply inconsistent, but showed flashes of talent late in the season when given more playing time. Keep an eye on Fleischmann, who is in a contract year and needs to show urgency to get more opportunities at the NHL level.
Another player to keep an eye on is Chris Bourque. Not the biggest or most offensively gifted, Bourque is more than just a 5’7, 170 lbs son of an NHLer. With incredible work ethic and heart, Bourque is a natural leader who gives it all every game and finds ways to win. Bourque has been relentlessly working in the offseason, being one of the first players to training camp and looking good doing so. Bourque had 25 goals and 33 assists in 76 games last season with the Hershey Bears, proving that he is a two-way player who can also put up points and that he has what it takes. Right now Bourque is at the top of the list of Bears on call for the Capitals if injury strikes.
Though the forwards often take most of the attention in training camp, it’s on defense that a surprise rookie could emerge. First-round draft pick Karl Alzner missed half of rookie camp due to the Canada-Russia Super Series in which he helped lead Canada to win seven out of the eight games. But unless Alzner completely lights up training camp, he will be sent back to juniors where he will continue to work on his game.
Sasha Pokulok is one of the feel-good stories of camp as he is finally returning from what could have been career-ending post-concussion syndrome. He was barely able to train last season due to incredible headaches but has shown up early to training camp to compete and prove he is healthy, even participating in full contract scrimmages without side effects. At around 6’4, 220 lbs. he has the physical tools to have a successful career as long as he can stay healthy.
The Capitals received disappointing news that after the Canada-Russia Super Series, Russian goaltender Semen Varlamov would not be reporting to camp, but opting to begin camp with his Russian Super League team. This will give Michal Neuvirth a shot to get a step ahead. Neuvirth said in a recent interview that he would like to go pro this season to avoid playing with what he believes is going to be a very bad young Plymouth Whalers team. But the Capitals’ goalie ranks are tight at the moment, with very little space for Neuvirth. So unless Neuvirth plays so well that he earns a spot with the Hershey Bears, the Capitals would like to see him face some adversity at Plymouth, and try to carry the young team.
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