When the management decided to rebuild the Caps organization in early 2004, it was made known that drafting and developing young talent was one of the main avenues that the team would use to improve. The Caps have made due on that promise, featuring several youngsters on their roster this year at different times, with varying degrees of success.
2003 first-round pick Eric Fehr, a rangy winger, was called up to Washington twice, getting a brief two-game look in November, followed by a longer stint in February. His play in November was as expected: tentative and overwhelmed. His time in February, however, showed definite improvement, with a pair of goals, and several near-misses. While not overly physical (and not likely to be), he did try to do all the little things, finishing his checks, making himself available for the first pass out of the defensive zone, and getting back on defense.
The main concern with Fehr is his wonky back, which sidelined the big sniper February 22nd, and he hasn’t played since. Back injuries are always temperamental, and even more worrisome with a tall guy. It looks like Fehr won’t be playing with Hershey for the playoffs due to the ailment, and it’s definitely a concern for Caps fans.
Tomas Fleischmann started slowly, then began to look comfortable with playing in the big time, highlighted by a four-point game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately, after his big performance, he then didn’t register a point for the rest of the season (nine games). I think we can safely assume that indicates some consistency issues; at times, Fleischmann showed flashes of his excellent skill, but would then disappear.
There’s little doubt that Boyd Gordon is the big rookie success story from the 06-07 season, displaying veteran savvy on defense and in the faceoff dot, and chipping in some occasional offense. An excellent penalty killer, Gordon has won the checking line center job, and it would be a surprise if he relinquishes it anytime soon.
Young defenseman Mike Green started the season off pretty well, but his play tailed off towards the end of the season, including a benching against the Carolina Hurricanes in March. What mitigates concern over his play is that Green’s mistakes seem to come from his confidence in his abilities, which can be a sore spot for a young player, especially a defenseman.
Jakub Klepis may have had the most frustrating season of all the rookies, displaying some top-notch hands in one moment, and committing some mind-boggling turnovers the next. Playing half of the Caps’ games, Klepis also struggled with the defensive aspect of the game, and often would take a hooking penalty after getting beat.
Defense is something the Sarge, Jeff Schultz knows about. The 20 year old played well defensively from the get-go, making the simple, safe play and minimizing risk. The towering blueliner earned Coach Glen Hanlon’s trust, receiving 20 plus minutes of ice time 10 times in his 38 games as a Cap. Schultz only took 8 minors in that span, a pleasant surprise for a rookie playing in the NHL in his first full season of professional hockey.
It’s not a shock that inconsistency was a problem for most of the youngsters, and as they learn and get more experience under their belts, a good gauge of how they are developing will be how soon they can be delivering a similar effort each night. Not all will pan out, and others will be playing for different organizations, but there will be more success stories like Gordon’s.
Nice write up, Marshall. Both Fehr’s and Pokulok’s injuries are of a dangerous kind. In Fehr’s case I guess it could be a good sign that there hasn’t been any talk of surgery though if it was needed I would hope they would make that move soon so he could get a summer of rehab in.
Gordon had a great year…he’ll only get stronger physically which will help.
Fleischmann needs to have another off season in the weight room. He did look better at the NHL level this past season than the one before. Semin played well at RW towards the end of the season so there might be room for a LW’er.
Klepis really has all the tools needed for a top 6 forward. Not sure if he quite has a head for the NHL game yet. I know both Klepis/Flash get bashed but they are still young and have potential.
Schultz…what a surprise he turned out to be. NHL dman right there in his future. He won’t be flashy and one won’t hear his name much but a solid player. If he can continue to get more muscle/weight and become a little more physical I would think he’ll have a strong next season.
Green was pretty fearless early on this past season. But when the caps hit their mid-season slump and the D was under tremendous pressure I believe that took him out of his game which shouldn’t be surprising considering he is very young.
I think we will at least one of the above mentioned players to outperform the expectations. I’m hearing great things from this young goalie in Russia as well as the young Russian D man in SC. Fehr looked good but his back worries me; Flash will probably get traded.