Keeping Development in Perspective

Photo by Bridget Samuels, via Flickr

Every summer the Capitals invite a slew of young NHL hopefuls to participate in a development camp - for one week these prospects, recent draftees and free agent invitees are put through their paces and given an opportunity to make an impression on the organization's brass. And every summer there are standouts and disappointments, pleasant (and not so pleasant) surprises and previously unknown names that are suddenly on the radar.

The 2011 Development Camp has come and gone, the prospects returned to their various hometowns, but the impressions remain relatively fresh - of a late-round draftee from last month's draft, or a veteran of three camps who knows he still has some work to do, or a Russian defenseman looking to get his first season of North American hockey underway.

And yet as we sift through the multitude of articles and blog posts cataloging and categorizing the various attendees from this past week's camp, it's important to remember that this is just a first look. Sometimes a standout performance is a good predictor of future success, sometimes not, just as a lackluster performance can be a sign of things to come as easily as it could be merely a stumble en route to NHL success. So when people are lauding Garrett Haar or down on Cody Eakin, all of these impressions should be taken with a grain of salt.

To gain a little perspective, a look back at some hits...and misses...from past development camps after the jump.

Hit: Marcus Johansson

When you're a Swedish center drafted by an organization that boasts Nicklas Backstrom as one of its stars, the comparisons are inevitable - and coming into camp, that was the standard against which most observers (including the coach) measured Marcus Johansson:

"[H]e carries himself like he's going to be a very good player ... "He's got the Nicklas Backstrom stride, almost. He's a better skater than Nick, but he's big in the back[side], so you can see where he can control the puck and will be hard to knock off the puck. You can see that he sees the play real well." - Bruce Boudreau, 7/12/10

Miss: Joe Finley

Drafted in the "pass the mental bleach" fiasco that was the Capitals' 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Finley was seen by many as a bit of a reach right from the start. But his size and snarl endeared him to some and helped them to overlook a bit of pesky mascot-attacking and lawnmower-throwing. He even temporarily impressed Caps guru Mike Vogel - proof that even the wisest minds slip up, albeit rarely. We'll let this one slide, Vogs:

"Finley came to camp with the reputation of a big guy with a mean streak, a physical defenseman with decent mobility. That’s all true. But I have also been impressed by other aspects of his game. He has a heavy shot that he gets on goal, and he knows when and when not to use it. For a guy with one goal in his two college seasons, he looks remarkably comfortable on the power play." - Dump 'n Chase, 7/15/07

Hit: John Carlson

A year after being drafted by the Caps in the first round, Carlson established himself as the standout of the 2009 Development Camp. Dubbed the most NHL-ready of all the prospects by Boudreau, it was easy to see that his talents were turning heads and penciling him into an NHL spot - despite the fact that he wouldn't become a permanent part of the Caps' roster for another year:

"[Carlson] plays solid defense. His outlet passes are hard and accurate. And when the pressure is on, he demands the puck with a stern whack of his stick on the ice. Did anyone mention that he's only 19?" - Tarik El-Bashir, 7/14/09

Miss: Anton Gustafsson

He was the one everyone wanted to see succeed. The son of former Caps' great Bengt, Anton Gustafsson had the pedigree to be a big star for the Caps. What he didn't have was the ability to stay healthy, or ultimately the drive to be an NHLer at all. Still, it wasn't immediately evident that things wouldn't work out with the kid dubbed "AnGus" - there were flashes of ability, and the future seemed (temporarily) bright:

[H]e was the second-best player on the ice behind Carlson. The 2008 first-rounder also said he plans to play in North America this upcoming season, whether it's in Hershey or Washington. - Tarik El-Bashir, 7/13/09

Hit: Karl Alzner

The newly re-signed defenseman was the Caps' first round pick in 2007, taken 5th overall and immediately tabbed as the future of the Washington blueline. After a season that saw him captain his WHL team, win gold at the World Junior Championships and earn Defenseman of the Year honors for the Canadian Hockey League, Alzner entered 2008's development camp as that year's "one to watch". His performance even then was a great predictor of the kind of player Alzner would eventually become:

"He is very mature as a person and as a player. He thinks the game really well, and there’s not a lot of panic in his game. He’s under control, and as a result of that he sees the ice really well and he makes good decisions not only when he has the puck but when he doesn’t. He is usually in pretty good position defensively. He’s got kind of an uncanny ability to deflect a lot of pucks." - Ross Mahoney, 7/8/08

Miss: Michael Dubuc

A veteran of two development camps, Dubuc came to the Caps as a free agent hopeful back in 2008 and impressed enough his first time out to earn a two-way contract with the Hershey Bears. His scoring touch was well-known and on full display during each of his summers at Kettler, picking up seven goals in three scrimmages during the 2009 Development Camp alone. Since then, however, he's bounced between the AHL and ECHL and has been bounced from the organization for good - still, it wasn't that long ago where he was singled out as one of the stars of camp and a top Caps prospect:

"The lanky winger spent most of last season in the ECHL, but he's definitely on the Caps/Bears radar now. A native of Quebec, Dubuc struck twice in today's camp-closing scrimmage to lead the Team White to a 4-2 win and extend his development camp record to seven goals in three scrimmages. He notched 35 goals in 49 games for South Carolina last season, but something tells me he's going challenge for a spot in Hershey this fall." - Tarik El-Bashir, 7/18/09

Hit: Mathieu Perreault

He may not have cracked the NHL full time just yet, but the fact that a 5'10" kid (...on skates, maybe) drafted 177th overall has even hung around let alone been on the cusp of making the Caps' roster year after year is something to note. Despite his status as a late-round draft pick, Perreault made a splash in each development camp he attended and had people noticing that he could (and can) play:

"He's still small (listed at 5-9, 165) but everything else about his game is blossoming. No one plays as hard as Perreault, and he was easily the most skilled forward on the ice this week." - Tarik El-Bashir, 7/18/09

Miss: Stefan Della Rovere

A "miss" isn't always a player that turns out to be a complete bust; sometimes it's just someone who never quite finds his place in the organization. That was the case of Della Rovere, the final pick by the Caps in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. A pest who wasn't afraid to drop the mitts with guys who towered over him (and at 5'10", most guys do), he quickly worked his way out of late-round obscurity to be an effective member of Team Canada at the WJC and a fan favorite at Caps' Development Camp. He eventually fell out of favor with the organization and was shipped off to St. Louis last summer for D.J. King, but for a while there he had us daydreaming of his name on a Caps' sweater:

We’re rooting for Stefan Della Rovere to make this team some time down the road. He was quite the bundle of energy and grit out there. Even in an environment where one might not see quite the level or intensity of hitting one would see in real games, he was out there plugging away making his presence felt." - Peerless Prognosticator, 7/12/08

Hit: Nicklas Backstrom

Despite his talent and his eventual place among the core group of young stars, it wasn't the smoothest of starts for Backstrom at his first (and only) development camp. Adjusting to a new country, a new language and a new ice surface, initial reports on his first few days of camp were mixed - a quiet start, inauspicious at best, perhaps not as NHL-ready as expected. By the end of the week, however, he had provided vindication for some and was starting to show glimpses of the player he would blossom into very shortly:

"The story of the session was Nicklas Backstrom. After a quiet start to camp, the 19-year-old center seemed to get better with each scrimmage. He clearly was at his best this afternoon, weaving his way through the other team, making drop passes between his skates and setting up Francois Bouchard with a deft pass from the corner." - Tarik El-Bashir, 7/14/07

Miss: Francois Bouchard

Taken late in the same draft that brought Backstrom, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth into the fray, Bouchard had the bloodlines (his brother, Pierre-Marc, is in his eighth season with the Minnesota Wild) and the talent (he was one of the QMJHL's top scorers in 2006-07) to make him "one to watch". He even found himself on the radar and alongside some good company as a potential training camp dark horse back in 2007. Since then? A steady decline that's seen him become a reliable member of the Hershey Bears but not much else - and five years after being drafted he has yet to play his first NHL game. A slightly different story from just a few years ago:

"What I really like is the way he's competed. He's using this camp as a steppingstone to show us that he's ready to play. There's a business approach to the way he's carrying himself. It looks like he has a purpose...that's important, because sometimes young players don't realize they are being evaluated on everything, from what you do on the ice to how you behave in the [locker] room." - Glen Hanlon, 7/15/07
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