Day 2 of the Washington Capitals’ 2018 Training Camp kicked off on Saturday morning, as seasoned veterans and unseasoned rookies in need of salt alike hopped back over the boards and onto the ice to try and secure a spot on this NHL team.
Of course, it’s no great secret that there aren’t exactly a lot of spots up for grabs on this defending Stanley Cup champion roster. But Evgeny Kuznetsov, for his part, wasn’t having any of that “the roster is set in stone” talk.
“I don’t trust that, when people say ‘There’s not a lot of spots.’ If you’re gonna be better than some of those older guys, the coaches will give you a chance. And if you’re gonna take that chance right away, you’re gonna be in that spot. The more young guys we have, the better for the team. I’ve always said that,” Kuznetsov explained.
Kuznetsov, a $62.4 million man, has been to a few of these training camp rodeos by now. I asked him his favorite part about them.
“The first couple days, you know, you’re back in the hockey mode, you get back on the ice. That skate test, you know you’re gonna get passed for sure,” he laughed. “You’re still nervous, you don’t want to look bad in front of those old teammates.”
“That’s your favorite part?” I asked him.
“Oh, no! I like to be more quiet!” he corrected me.
Sure you do, Kuzy. Sure you do.
Expected and Unexpected Faces Impress
On Day 2 of training camp, with first-day nerves mostly gone by the wayside, fans at MedStar Capitals Iceplex began to get a clearer picture of which veterans are already in mid-season form, which rookies have a legitimate shot to crack the roster and shock the world, and which youngsters will most likely be leaving with little more than one hell of a great NHL experience.
Savvy Veterans Back In Action
Ah, the yoke of being a Stanley Cup champion. How glad and light a burden, indeed.
Linemates and dual wingers Brett “The Threat” Connolly and Andre Burakovsky were paired up during drills on Saturday, and it appeared that the chemistry they had developed over the past season picked up right where it left off. Bura and The Con Man (coming to CBS this fall!) absolutely flew, dizzying the young defensemen tasked with defending them on the rush.
Also back and ready to rock was Stanley Cup Final Game 5 hero Devante Smith-Pelly, back in camp on a newly-signed 1-year, $1 million contract. A teddy bear off the ice but a frothing grizzly on it, DSP brought his toughness to MedStar, and invited some of the rookies to break themselves off a taste of the Pain Lo Mein©.
New Rookies Step Up
In addition to the Capitals’ old guard, a few unexpected rookies stood out and drew notice from both the coaching staff and the assembled fans.
In goal, 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov, playing in North America this season for the first time in his career, looked more than up to the task of stopping full-time NHLers like Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie during drills. Compared with Vitek Vanecek, who performed capably but not remarkably, Samsonov looked extremely promising, and worthy (if not now, then down the road) of one day being the heir apparent in Washington to Braden Holtby.
And in those photos above of Devante Smith-Pelly, that defenseman he’s battling with, sticking with him every step of the way and giving him a rugged, unyielding dose of “the business”? That’s rookie Tyler Lewington, 23-year-old Hershey Bears defenseman. Lewington impressed me more than any other player on Saturday, bringing a heaping dose of piss ‘n’ vinegar and an NHL-style meanness to every single drill. Cross-checking, battling, and initiating more contact than Jodie Foster with a set of alien blueprints, Lewington showed a Brooks Orpik-style big league toughness that earned him extra attention from the coaching staff.
But perhaps no one match-up was more exciting - or held greater long-term future implications - than that of rookie winger Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and rookie defenseman Lucas Johansen. Jonsson-Fjallby, Man of Epic Flow Eternal, has shown he has NHL-level wheels and hands while playing for Sweden, and many prognosticators believe he’s a shoo-in to crack the Capitals roster eventually.
On defense, 2016 1st-round draft pick Lucas Johansen (younger brother of Nashville’s Ryan Johansen) was tasked with shutting down Jonsson-Fjallby during drills, and watching the two of them streak down the wing and dogfight in the corners was a thrilling glimpse of a Capitals Future Yet-To-Come.
More To Come!
Japers’ Rink will be reporting LIVE from Capitals training camp all week, so check back in regularly for updates, fun stories, and more, all coming to you direct from MedStar Capitals Iceplex!