After wrapping up practice, Jonas Siegenthaler heads into the Washington Capitals dressing room, taking a seat in his own stall, marked proudly by his new nameplate, that he’s worked years to earn. As his teammates hit the showers and head out, he’s in no rush while he takes the time to reflect and recharge before taking on the rest of the day.
Siegenthaler is no stranger to patience. You can see it, as well as determination, in his eyes as he modestly discusses his success and road to the NHL. While he’s soft-spoken, excitement comes through his smile as he reflects on reaching his lifelong goal.
“I played some preseason games before, but I mean, you can’t really compare it to the regular season,” he explained.
Once the 21-year-old stepped foot on the ice in September for training camp, it was evident that, at some point this season, he’d see NHL ice time. He made it to the final round of cuts before returning to Hershey, but in wake of injuries to the blue line, his hard work earned him the opportunity to step up for Washington.
Through 15 games so far this season, Siegenthaler’s been making a statement, racking up three assists, 23 blocks and a plus-6 plus-minus rating. His size, as well as his skating and physical game, has made him an asset for the Capitals, who have been impressed with his development.
“He doesn’t look like a guy who just started playing [a couple] weeks ago in the NHL,” Lars Eller said. “He’s been great.”
So far for Siegenthaler, he’s been able to take on the role of the first call-up with aplomb, proving he can maintain stability on the Capitals’ backend and match the speed of today’s game. And though the transition has seemed fast, it hasn’t been an easy journey.
In 2016, Siegenthaler came to camp out of shape, and his conditioning was not up-to-par, which held him out of the lineup and led to concern over whether or not he would be able to meet expectations. Since what Todd Reirden called “a very hard lesson,” Siegenthaler has dropped weight and has been in “amazing shape” as he’s been improving his play to get his game up to NHL standards.
“It’s just like a little faster and more structured like everybody knows where you should pass it to. I think that’s the biggest difference and obviously there’s more big bodies than the AHL and I think that’s the biggest difference and I think I’ve done pretty well adjusting… played some preseason games before but you can’t really compare it to the regular season.”
In addition, he’s had to adapt to the pros more quickly, having only joined the AHL ranks last season. And although Siegenthaler’s noted a lot of differences from hockey back home, he admitted that he’s come to enjoy the North American game more, due to the freedom and space to grow his game. He’s also come to enjoy the pace of the game and playing on smaller ice.
“In Zurich, everybody’s running around. Here, it’s fast, it’s fast game, a lot more physical, but it’s kind of like smart and physical,” Siegenthaler said. “You’ve got to be ready every situation... you try to win every battle.”
Since joining the NHL ranks, Siegenthaler noted that he’s worked on his skating and speed to keep up. His 6-foot-3, 206-pound frame has also helped him with the more physical aspect of the game, as well as sizing ups against bigger opponents.
“It’s a little faster and more structured, like everybody knows where you should pass it to,” Siegenthaler said. “I think that’s the biggest difference and obviously, there’s more big bodies than the AHL and I think that’s the biggest difference. I think I’ve done pretty well adjusting.”
With Christian Djoos out for long-term, Siegenthaler has been given the chance to not only stay up with the Capitals, but to get a spot in the lineup night in and night out. So far, his teammates think that he’s been able to not only fill in well, but to maintain the strength Washington has on the backend.
“He’s playing really well. Obviously he’s a big guy and he moves really well. I think when he’s defending fast and moving the puck up quick just like everyone of us deep defensemen, I think that puts us all in a great spot,” Madison Bowey said. “I’m definitely looking forward to playing with him in the future and it’s definitely a good and bright sign for us.”
As Siegenthaler continues to prove his NHL worth, he said the excitement never fades, but ultimately, the most important thing he’s carried with him is confidence.
“I try to be a lot better every game, trying to get better every day,” Siegenthaler said. “If you do something good in a game, you feel confident and bring it to the next game. I’m just trying to keep it and build off that.”