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Della Rovere: "You have to play on the edge, but you can't go over it"

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Selected by the Washington Capitals at the tail end of the 2008 draft in Ottawa (204th overall to be exact), and developing into a real agitator with leadership qualities, and a bit of a scoring touch, winger Stefan Della Rovere may have been the last of the unplucked gems that summer, plucked by GM George McPhee and staff.

We've been following the prospect since just after he was drafted, and last season "Captain Colt" scored 27 goals and 51 points in 57 OHL contests with the Barrie Colts, tallied 146 PIM and scrapped a bunch along the way and, in between all of that, helped win a gold medal for Team Canada at the World Juniors in 2009.

This season, he's continued to develop the modern grinder's game with Barrie, and scored three goals and added three assists for Team Canada in the 2010 WJC tournament, as an alternate captain.  And most importantly, he's brought more discipline to his game.

Getting back into professional action seems almost certain for Delly, signed to a three-year entry level deal with the Caps back in April of 2009.  Here's hoping that he becomes a fixture and a fan favorite in D.C. in the foreseeable future. 

But there's a ways to go yet.

We chatted with the feisty winger by phone yesterday, from somewhere near the shores of Lake Simcoe.  SDR talks about the WJCs, his season thus far, his increased leadership role, playing on the edge (but not over it), L'affaire Patrice Cormier, the recent Alex Ovechkin-Steve Downie-Matt Bradley altercation, and what he needs to do to stick at the next level.

Japers' Rink:  Let me get the painful stuff out of the way first -- does it lessen the blow at all to know that the guy that beat you in Saskatchewan might be your teammate in the not-too-distant future, John Carlson?
Stefan Della Rovere:  [Laughs]  Ah yeah, you know, we had some heated battles throughout the game.  Both games, actually.  He played a great tournament.  For him to score that goal, and obviously it was a great goal for the U.S. and, it sucks for Canada -- but especially him scoring that goal -- its kind of . . . it's not the greatest thing for me, now he has a lot of bragging rights, even when he scored that goal [laughs].
JR:  For sure.  Did you guys do any talking during the [World Junior Championship] tournament, or was it all business?
SDR:  It was all business.  We were mostly isolated from one other.  Team Canada was in and out of the rink, and there was not much talking to the other team.  I really didn't have a chance to see him, other than on the ice.
JR:  Now, just getting back to the beginning of this season for you:  what were your goals, and where do you think you are as far as meeting them?
SDR:  I just want to have a better season than last year.  I started off real slow.  I came into the season recovering from a concussion, so I started off the season real slow. 

But, it was a lot different than last year, because last year I was always the go-to guy and this year we brought in a lot of offense and we have a deep, deep team.  So, I have more of a defensive role and more of just a grinding role rather than always trying to put the puck in the net.  I still try to do that, but at the same time I have a little different role, because we have so many different goal scorers on our team now.
JR:  On the other hand, you have a pretty large leadership role.  You're the captain of the team [Barrie] and were an alternate on Canada's WJC team.  How have those leadership roles changed your play?
SDR:  You know, it hasn't really changed.  I was the captain [of Barrie] last year as well.  This year, it's a lot easier.  We have a mature group of guys in the room, so it makes my life a lot easier.  We're all on the same page, and no one's off doing their own thing.  It's a lot easier this year than last year, I'd say.
JR:  Now I know that you have a reputation for being an agitator, a grinder, but someone with a lot a discipline -- or at least you've been developing that recently -- what's been the secret of your success of walking that fine line between being feisty but not going overboard?
SDR:  I learned a lot from last year playing at the World Juniors for Team Canada.  How playing a little too much over the edge can cost the team sometimes. 

Pat Quinn [Canadian U-20 head coach in 2009] talked to me about that, how you have to play on the edge, but you can't go over it.  And I took that into consideration.  And I knew that, if I wanted to play at the next level, I can't be running around like that.  I have to have a better head on my shoulders.  I think that's the biggest thing.  You can't hurt the team.  
JR:  As far as the Caps' organization,  have they been giving you any particular advice as to what to work on in your game to get to the next level?
SDR:  My quickness.  At the next level, everything's a little quicker.  You know, once I start moving, I have good speed.  But it's those first three steps that I really have to improve on. 

This summer, I had to really focus on my legs, and strengthening them up.  That's one of my big concerns for next year.
JR:  Are you doing any particular work in skating?  How's that going on the ice?
SDR:  Oh yeah, I have a power skating coach in the summer.  And I usually go there once a week to correct my stride.  I'm not really on the ice that much in the summer time.  I usually just focus more on strength off the ice.  Maybe this year I'll get on the ice a little more.
JR:  When you were at the last couple of Caps' camps, development camps and training camp, was there any one that'd you'd say was a mentor to you, who took you under his wing and showed you the ropes and helped you develop?
SDR:  It's hard to say.  You gotta be with most of the guys, right?  At main camp, you gotta meet all of the guys.  Brooks Laich, he took me out during development camp.  He came down and took a couple of us out for lunch.  So, it was a nice gesture of him.  He's one of the guys that I've actually got to talk to.
JR:  That's great.  What current NHL players are you trying to model your game after, and what do you like about them?
SDR:  There's so many different guys.  I've been saying Sean Avery a lot but I don't want to be that big of a crazy nut off the ice and, like, not that much of the on ice.  I just want to really work on my physical game and be able to put the puck in the net as well as a defensive game, as an all-around player.

I'm not sure who I really resemble my game around.
JR:  I guess I gotta ask you, and I know you've been asked before -- your reaction to Patrice Cormier's hit.  He was one of your teammates.  What did you think about it when you saw it, and what do you think about it a few days removed?
SDR:  I was shocked.  I was actually able to speak to him after the hit.  The next day, I called him.  He was obviously really upset.  He didn't intend to injure [Quebec Remparts D Mikael Tam] like he did.  I know him from Team Canada, and he's a humble guy off the ice and a great individual. 

I knew what he was going through.  Incidents like that could occur to anyone and, unfortunately, he got the elbow up, and it was just a bad bounce overall.

[Ed. note:  The Q will release its "disciplinary measures" for Cormier early next week.]
JR:  Here at the NHL level -- I don't know if you'd followed it -- last week, the Caps were in Tampa, and Alex Ovechkin and Steve Downie were about to square off, and Matt Bradley jumped in and took the fight with Steve Downie.  Did you see that?
SDR:  [Laughts]  Yeah I saw that!
JR:  What were your thoughts about that?  Was that something that you could see yourself doing?
SDR:  Yeah, you know, I'm not scared to drop the gloves at all.  I'm willing to fight for a teammate or something like that.  

I thought that was pretty neat.  Him coming to fight for Ovechkin.  But, no, I saw Ovechkin -- he drops his gloves and he's ready to go, right?  I actually don't know what I'd do in that situation.  But Bradley coming in to step in for one of the star players on the team is a great thing.
JR:  Yeah, there's sort of a back-and-forth debate, right?  Because on the one hand you have some people thinking that Ovechkin should have fought his own battle, and then on the other, you think that Bradley is the hero for sticking up for his captain.  Do you fall one way or the other?
SDR:  I could go both ways.  Bradley's sticking up for his captain.  But, Ovechkin drops his gloves, right, and was ready to go and, so, I'm not too sure how I would follow that, really.  Bradley's role on that team is to play that agitator role as well, so for him coming in to fight -- I think he's just doing his job.