Training camp is less than a week old, and there has already been enough turmoil to last an entire season. It is difficult to keep track of all the storylines, and depending on how some of those scenarios play out – the opening day lineup could end up looking very different than the one we anticipate right now.
The most surprising move came after the first practice of camp. Free Agent acquisition Stephane Richer decided he didn’t have it in him to compete in another season, and announced his retirement. He had been brought in from St. Louis to boost our mediocre power play. The move came as a shock to players and fans alike; partly because of the unexpected nature of it, but mostly due to the timing.
Around the same time as the Richer announcement, defenseman Brendan Witt stated that he too was considering retirement. He is unhappy about the contract he received as a result of his arbitration loss during the off-season. Although he seems quite serious about this stance, it is hoped that he will eventually return to the lineup. It is also believed that George McPhee has no interset in renegotiating the pact, and expects Brendan to be in the lineup opening day.
The moment Caps fans have been waiting for came on Friday, when training camp began for real. This is expected to be another banner season for Washington, as nothing less than a repeat of the Division Championship will do. Although the fight for spots in the lineup will be tough, the most difficult job belongs to Head Coach Ron Wilson. It is his task to pare down the roster to 23 players for opening day.
There are 27 players in camp who took part in an NHL game last seaon. Also in the hunt are several young players looking to establish themselves. 1999 first round selection Kris Beech is being projected as a future star and will be given every chance to make the team. 2000 draftee Bjorn Nord also hopes to be around in October – as he is in an all-or-nothing situation. If he does not stick with the Caps, he will return home to Sweden.
There are two players in camp on a tryout basis – Forward Greg Davis and Goaltender Tim Barlow. Davis is a big centre who will be entering his sophomore year at McGill University in Canada. He is a very talented offensive player, and scored 42 points in 38 games last season. Barlow is a former teammate of Rastislav Stana in Moose Jaw (WHL). He inherited the starting job with the Warriors after Stana was dealt to Calgary.
The Portland Pirates will start their season in about a month’s time with more than half of last year’s roster intact. This will be a very different team however, as they will no longer have superstar goaltender Martin Brochu leading them into battle. Brochu signed with Calgary recently in an attempt to get to the NHL quicker.
The 2000-01 edition of the Pirates will have an overhauled defense corps, and should have a more potent offense. They will be counting on at least four rookies and four veteran additions to get them back to the form that had them first overall for an extended stretch last year.
Trying to predict a lineup before training camp begins is very difficult, as anything can and will happen before opening night. Using the entire organizational roster as a starting point, I have constructed what I think think the Pirates roster will look like.
The top line will consist of centre Jeff Nelson between wingers Mike Peluso and Matt Pettinger. Nelson is an offensive force for the Pirates and is a veteran leader among the forwards. Peluso has proved time and time again that he is top-line material and should once again be among the Pirates’ top scorers. Pettinger is a rookie, and would not normally be considered for the top line. However, the Pirates lost their top three left wingers in the off-season (Elomo, Moore, Toms) and are very thin at that position.
Last week we looked at the rookies that might be in Washington this season. This week, I would like to show you all the first-year pros in the Capitals organization, and where they fit in.
Most of these players will be assigned to the Capitals top farm club: the AHL Portland Pirates. All of them have the potential to be NHLers someday, and the Caps will be watching their development very closely.
Pettinger is one of three 2000 draftees that are expected to turn pro immediately for the Caps. The scouting staff thought so highly of him that they traded up to select him. Although he is considered more of a defensive player, he does have some offensive ability. Due to the Capitals lack of depth on the wings at the minor-league level, he should be Portland’s first or second-line left winger. Depending on who he gets paired with, he could put up some decent offensive numbers.
Barch truly impressed the coaches in his brief tryout at the end of last season. He had not played up to his full potential during his junior career, and was in danger of falling down the depth chart. He will be in tough to earn one of the top line positions, but the opportunity is there. The Capitals have always felt that Krys has enormous potential, and now is his chance to show it. The organization’s weakest position is left wing, and he can rise quickly if he plays well.
With training camp less than a month away, the Capitals’ roster is falling into place. It looks like Coach Ron Wilson is bringing back the same team as last season – with a couple of veteran additions. However, the opportunity is there for some rookies to gain a spot in the lineup, just as Jeff Halpern and Glen Metropolit did last year. So with that in mind, I present the five Caps rookies that could be playing in the NHL in 2000-01.
Kris Beech – centre (age 19) 98-99: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Kris is hoping to follow the lead set by Jeff Halpern a year ago. Last season, Halpern won the fourth-line centre position during training camp and was eased into full-time duties. Beech is being projected as the Caps star forward for the future, and he is ready to play now. Another season in junior would not help him at this stage, and the Capitals expect him to make the team. Kris is currently skating at the Canadian WJC team tryout camp and is a good bet to make the final roster. The Caps would most likely let him play in the tournament, as the big game experience would help his development. His vision and speed make him an excellent set-up man, but he would not be paired with linemates who have a lot of scoring ability at first.
Alexei Tezikov – defense (age 22) 98-99: Portland Pirates (AHL)