The Capitals signed Minnesota State's Trevor Bruess yesterday. I know that not a lot of Caps fans are familiar with him and why Washington signed him. I watched probably over half of Bruess' games in college so I figured I'd share some thoughts about him.
First off, just the fact that he signed a professional contract is a pretty incredible story. Bruess played his high school hockey for Academy of Holy Angels in Minnesota and was really overshadowed by a bunch of other really great players(NHLers Erik Johnson and Jack Hillen were on his team, along with NHL draft picks Mike Carman and Jay Barriball). Coming out of his school, most people thought he'd maybe play junior hockey and that playing Division I hockey would be difficult. But he went to play in the USHL and really dedicated himself to becoming a better player. He earned a scholarship to Minnesota State and his career took off from there.
The other thing to know about him is that he's like a lot of tough guys in hockey in that he's one of the nicest kids you'll ever meet off the ice. I've never heard a bad thing said about him off the ice. He's also a pretty smart kid that did well in the classroom, earning WCHA All-Academic honors.
His freshman season at MSU, he was part of a huge group of freshmen forwards. The team struggled, and he had a respectable 14 points. His sophomore season was a breakout year for both him and MSU. MSU had one of their best seasons ever, and Bruess emerged as the team's leading scorer. He skated as the team's top line center and finished with 30 points in 38 games.
After that season, there was a lot of talk about NHL teams taking a look at Bruess after the year he had. I think Brian Burke and the Ducks were pretty interested at one point, but ultimately, I think it was decided that he would be better off coming back from another year to prove it wasn't just a one year fluke.
His junior year ended up not being as successful as hope for him and the team. He lost a linemate due to graduation coming into the year, and he never seemed to develop the type of chemistry his line had the previous year. He also got really bogged down with penalties. He's always played with an edge and earned his fair share of penalties, but because of his reputation, there weren't many he committed that got missed by the officials.
Still, there were quite a few teams interested in him after this past season. I guess Washington made the best offer and seemed like the best place for him to find a spot in the NHL.
As far as his style of play, Bruess is an absolutely tireless worker that relies on his ability to outskate opponents. He's also great working along the boards. In his successful sophomore year, Bruess and his linemates had the ability to cycle the puck around the boards in the offensive end at will and just grind opponents into dust. He's probably not going to score a ton of goals, especially once he reaches the professional ranks, but he'll be responsible defensively. There's also the toughness factor that people have mentioned here. He's a a very fiery player--sometimes to his detriment--that won't back down from anyone. I'm sure he'll get in his share of fights, but with his size, he's probably not going to be a heavyweight.
The "dirty player" stuff, I think some of it gets a little overblown. Individually, I don't think any one incident was all that bad or deserved even a one game suspension. Taken collectively though, he does have a tendency to get himself in trouble. But going to a league where he's just another guy instead of being a guy the officials are watching very closely will make a big difference for him.
Where do I think he fits into the Caps organization? Best case scenario, he'll add a little toughness and grit to either the third or fourth line for the Capitals, and be a guy that can step up if someone starts taking liberties with a more skilled player. The low side would probably be doing the same thing for Hershey.
I hope he can find a spot on the Caps though. It's always nice to see kids that get by on effort as opposed to relying just on talent.