Something Big Is Already Built

In a very real sense, the Ballston Massacre yesterday represented the culmination of the Capitals’ rebuild. Last September, Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis decreed that the rebuild was over, asserting that his young team was primed for playoff contention. But being rebuilt as both Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee targeted 5 years ago, I believe, means more than that; I believe it is represented by what we’re seeing out at Kettler this September: the parent club enjoying the chic designation¬†as Cup contender, and certainly an across-the-board classification as elite in the East. But also, concurrently, below them, resides a dozen-plus dazzling talents in juniors and the minor pros.¬†With the team’s scouts consistently identifying gems in each year’s draft, the organization’s¬†talent pipeline is annually replenished.
Yesterday’s 7-0 shellacking of Philly — a game that wasn’t anywhere near as close as the score indicated — means nothing. And everything. Nearly every single member of what will constitute the Capitals’ opening night lineup next month was standing hard by the glass in one corner, following the action intently. They were drawn there, presumably, by the novelty of yesterday’s matinee: the first-ever NHL exhibition in the facility. But they’re all also computer literate and not oblivious to the buzz that’s been circulating on line this week about the likes of John Carlson, Oskar Osala, Simeon Varlamov, Mathieu Perreault, and scores more recently acquired kids.¬†A well rebuilt organization, I’d submit, is one in which the present is a consensus contender as well as one within which the vets are checking the rear view mirror for skilled and fast-skating youth, hard charging on their heels.
It is true that the Flyers yesterday were without two prime young talents, Claude Giroux and JVR. Neither, however, plays defense or tends goal, and suited up they might have succeeded in making the score 7-3. The Caps, it should be noted, were also without a pair of first-round talents (Joe Finley and Anton Gustafsson). Interestingly, the heavy duty damage inflicted yesterday came from the very late rounds and even free agency: Travis Morin, Mathieu Perreault, Steve Pinizzotto, Viktor Dovgan, Jay Beagle. Oskar Osala was conspicuous throwing his fourth-round weight around.
A veteran puckhead follower of the Caps needed about one hour of the opening day of autumn skating out at Kettler to see the difference that 5 years has made in the organization’s acquisition and development of prospects. That was the emerging theme for me during an upwards of 5 hours spent there on Sunday, and listening to voices far more expert than mine ruminate on the breadth and quality of this organization’s personnel.
Once upon a time, veteran members of the beat pack told me, the Washington Capitals made a habit of¬†hurtling¬†highly drafted kids more or less straight into the big-league lineup, with hardly any apprenticeship in the minors, and shortsightedly shortchanging their development. Jacub Cutta’s presence at 2008’s training camp is an instructive case in point. Back in 2000, Cutta arrived in Washington as an 18-year-old rookie out of Swift Current of the WHL. He had an outstanding camp that autumn, without question. He certainly was one of the best six or seven rearguard performers then. But really, shouldn’t he have been patted on the back, commended for his competitiveness, and immediately returned to the W for at least another year, rather than thrust into the opening night lineup? Then head coach Ron Wilson, himself a former NHL rearguard, must have assumed that he could manage Cutta’s rookie year just fine.
In reality, though, how many 18-year-old defensemen are ready for an 82-game NHL season?
The Capitals did¬†return Cutta to Swift Current, where he played fewer than 50 games in 2000-01. But it’s possible he did so with some¬†sense of failure, his development cycle oddly¬†meandering at its outset.
Others classified as¬†very¬†youthful could be identified¬†as having been microwaved into the big leagues¬†during the first half of this decade –¬†Brian Sutherby, Kris Beech, Steve Eminger. Today, however, there’s a whole new mindset in place when it comes to developing prospects, and this, joined by now consistently adept drafting and superb pro scouting, has the Capitals in 2008 right where management dreamed of five years ago.
Of the 67 players who will skate at Kettler Capitals in Rookie and Training camps this month, fully 23 were drafted in either the first or second rounds of the NHL draft. All are accorded an appropriate apprenticeship. Just as encouraging is the emrgence of contribtor and star quality potential from later rounds (Osala, Perreault, Lepisto, Dovgan). Those of you who paid a visit to Kettler this week before the vets (save Ovechkin!) reported, found a compelling reason to go out so early: there were really good hockey players all over the ice.
I cannot make mention of these changed fortunes without acknowledging the wholesale change in media acknowledgment of the role that a robust development pipeline now plays in the organization’s overall health. Once upon a time, we who cared greatly about the weekly progress of draft picks had a lone web address (hockeysfuture) to peruse. In season the beat reporters of both big papers will chronicle the feats of the kids in juniors and down on the farm. As will the blogs. The Caps’ web site is metastasizing into a multi-media warehouse of feats present and years-off promising.
Part of becoming a hockey town is having a fanbase¬†fluent with more than¬†the big-league scoreboard and standings and savoring the novel journey that tomorrow’s heroes must make. In Washington, this September, it’s a blockbuster tale.

This entry was posted in American Hockey League, College Hockey, DraftGeek, Entry Draft, Hershey Bears, Hockey Towns, Joe Finley, Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Mathieu Perreault, Media, Morning cup-a-joe, Philadelphia Flyers, Prospects, Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Something Big Is Already Built

  1. Dez says:

    Nice piece…

  2. Langway says:

    Good stuff. The thing that gives me optimism isn’t just the talent level and competitiveness of these younger players but the quality coaching that they’re getting. Boudreau and Woods are really on the same page as to what constitutes Caps hockey and that cohesion is fundamental when it comes to organizational development.
    Btw, you meant Claude Giroux…not Alexandre (the Hershey forward).

  3. Yes and yes on the totality of your observations, Langway.

  4. SovSport says:

    ?????? ??????, “????? ? ?????.” ? ??? ???????? ??????

  5. Chris Poisal says:

    Very well stated.The people here in Hershey are extremely excited about the upcoming season and the prospects destined for the BEARS dressing room. I would also imagine the fans in SC are getting excited. Seeing the talent that should be in Hershey(vets included),SC could very well see 5-8 top quality prospects.

  6. Gustafsson says:

    It appears SovSport has a question. 😉

  7. Wcapfan says:

    While it was wonderful to sit here at work yesterday and catch a lot of the action via streaming video from the Caps site (nice one Caps), it felt better still ‘seeing’ a true hockey game in mid-September. All hockey fans become impatient through the summer months, and this exhibition of rookie talent yesterday was like a breath of fresh air. Rather than repeat most of the congratulatory comments posted to the players for their outstanding performance, may I simply add that those guys must feel really good about the opportunities presented to them right now, along with the fantastic support that the Caps organization has provided them. For these guys, even the sky is no limit. Best wishes to all these prospects, no matter which team or league they end up representing this year. As a season ticket holder to both the Caps and the Bears, I really cannot wait for the 2008-09 season to commence.

  8. SovSport says:

    It appears that cyrilic is not supported here 🙂

  9. Carmine says:

    The Flyers rookies were also without Matsumoto, Parent and Downie.

  10. pig pile says:

    ummm…Matsumoto did play…quite a bit actually

  11. norske says:

    Downie has played 32 games in the NHL, and Parent has played 22. I don’t see why either one of them should be at a rookie camp or playing in a rookie game. The Caps didn’t have a single player in rookie camp who has played even one game in the NHL. The absence of JVR is an acceptable excuse. The absence of Downie and Parent is a desperate one.

  12. norske,
    I completely agree. In the case of Downie, when you factor in the length of his NHL suspensions, he’s actually a six-year vet.

  13. Carmine says:

    Matsumoto played… my bad.

  14. tess says:

    “..the Flyers yesterday were without two prime young talents, Alexander Giroux and JVR..”
    Alexandre Giroux belongs to Hershey. Please don’t give him to the Flyers! I believe you meant Claude Giroux.

  15. pepper says:

    Good point about Finley and Anton (the former less obvious).
    And the connection between future and present –
    there is now belief in the crest at all levels. That has never been the case before. Marketing aside, the Capitals wordmark is beginning to really mean something now. (And not just solid reg season teams and first round playoff exits.)
    The vision of HockeyWashington is expanding indeed. To its next wave, and to its current legitimacy – a franchise ready, after 33 seasons, to claim elite-class status.

  16. “belief in the crest” — I like that a lot, pepper.

  17. Hunter says:

    Man I thought Godfrey rocked!Nice to see that the future looks great for the Caps

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