When the Caps held their Development Camp back in July of 2007, fans flocked to get what was for most of them a first glimpse of Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov and other key pieces of the franchise's future. The more die-hard fans in the crowd that week could probably have told you a bit about guys like Francois Bouchard or Andrew Gordon, Mathieu Perreault and Michal Neuvirth. Heck, you probably could have found a few folks who could pick Brett Leffler out of a lineup.
But you'd likely have been hard-pressed to get much information about an undrafted free agent taking part in the week's drills and testing who'd spent the previous season at the University of Alaska-Anchorage before finishing it up with the ECHL Idaho Steelheads.
Three years later, that player is once again a free agent, only this time he's a restricted free agent... with two Calder Cups and fourteen NHL games - including four in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals - under his belt. That player is Jay Beagle, who signed with the Caps on March 26, 2008 while playing in Hershey on an AHL deal that he'd earned the previous summer. And while Beagle is still far from a household name, he's played a big part in Hershey's success over the past few seasons and shown himself to be a serviceable checking-line NHLer (albeit in a limited sample). In other words, he's done what some of his more highly-touted fellow Development Campers have thus far failed to do.
And Beagle isn't alone in his invite-to-contract story. Jake Hauswirth is described in the team's 2010 Development Camp Guide as "the poster boy for development camp," a 2008 camper who had a great week followed by a big season in the USHL and a three-year deal with the Caps. Zach Miskovic, also a 2008 free agent invitee, signed a one-year deal with the team in March of 2009 and played 65 games for Hershey this past season. Forward Michal Dubuc earned a minor league contract after standing out at 2008's summer camp. As Director of Player Development Steve Richmond noted last year of these mid-summer weeks:
"With the free agents, we get to spend a week with them, 12 hours a day. We get to know them on the ice, off the ice, their work habits. Instead of trying to guess what they’re like, are they good people, bad people, [we know what they’re like]. When they do become free agents or they are ready to turn pro, if you’ve had them in your camp and they got to know you, too, and they say, ‘They took a liking to me, they brought me in, they worked with me, they wanted to see what I was all about.’ When push comes to shove, we’re in front of the line waiting for them. It works both ways."
So when you're out at Kettler this week marveling at Marcus Johansson's skating or Evgeny Kuznetsov's skill or trying to hope Joe Finley into an NHLer, pay some attention to the guys whose names aren't even on the rosters being handed out, guys like local product Patrick Cullen or Andy Miele or any of the other kids listed here; you just might be seeing them again in the future. After all, for these free agents, hope skates on.