Tom Wilson eager to make an impact for Caps
Highly-touted prospect Tom Wilson made his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it remains to be determined whether the young winger will be on the Capitals' opening-night roster next fall.
As encouraged as the Capitals were by Wilson's performance in three games against the New York Rangers, they don't want to rush the 19-year-old.
"I explained to him, 'We're going to do what's best for your development'. Right now I'm not sure what that is," General Manager George McPhee said Wednesday. "Is it go back to junior, be on the power play and kill penalties and score 40 goals? Or come and play with us for 8 to 10 minutes a game and survive? I don't want him to be a career survivor, though. I want him to develop."
Wilson found himself in the lineup after veteran winger Martin Erat dislocated his elbow in Game 4. The Toronto native played the final three games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series skating no more than 9:02 in a limited, fourth-line role in those appearances.
While Wilson wasn't counted on to make a game-changing impact and didn't record a point, he displayed his strong skating ability, willingness to finish a hard check and rile up any opponent.
"I got a little bit of experience in the postseason this year, which was amazing, and really was privileged to have had that opportunity," Wilson said. "I'm just going to work hard this offseason and hopefully come in in September and make an impact."
Wilson was extremely complementary of the way Capitals players, especially Matt Hendricks, helped him prepare for his high-pressure debut.
"I learned a lot. Every time you're up here, you learn a ton from the guys. It's a professional environment and a great group of guys," Wilson said. "I'm always learning, I mean Hendricks and guys are teaching me. Every time I was out on the ice I definitely felt a little bit more comfortable every shift and just got some experience."
There's no question Wilson, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, is physically prepared to hold his own in the NHL but he's still developing the all-around skill set that the Capitals hope can lay the foundation for him to become a consistent top-six power forward.
"He's a big kid that works his tail off, he's got good speed and he's going to get even bigger now he's only 19," McPhee said. "So we'll see what it looks like in training camp but at the end of the day we want him to be a really good player for a long time so we'll make that decision based on what it looks like in training camp."
Depending on the other offseason moves Washington makes whether the team re-signs Hendricks or opts for a compliance buyout of any players on the roster a spot could open up for Wilson. If not, he might spend another year with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.
While his brief appearance in the postseason made a strong first impression, McPhee acknowledged that deciding when Wilson is ready to make the jump to the NHL full time is a difficult, multi-faceted decision.
"It's always a tough call because a lot of times these kids come in and they look great in camp and then they look good in October but by December they're not playing much and they start to fade," McPhee said. "They don't really want to go back to junior so if you send them back there they're not having fun there, so over the years I've tried to cut them early and send them back so there's no temptation there to keep them around. But this kid's a first-round pick and he played a year of junior after we drafted him, not unlike Ovi, Nicky and Johansson. They played one year and then we started with them."
In other news: The Hershey Bears announced that Mark French will not return as coach in 2013-14 after four years with the Capitals' AHL affiliate. French led the team to the 2010 Calder Cup Championship and the Bears went 180-100-33 in his four seasons at the helm.
Tom Poti will not return to Capitals
Veteran defenseman Tom Poti hopes to continue his playing career but will not return to the Capitals next season.
After showing he could still hold his own in the NHL after missing more than two years with injury, Poti is confident in his ability to stay healthy and contribute to a team, but knows he didn't fit in Washington's future plans.
"I definitely won't be back in Washington. I was never really in Oatesy's plan," said Poti, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 5. "I'm just going to continue to train and work out this summer, my agents will be working the phones so I can get a new contract for next year and find a place for me to play."
Poti, 36, made an improbable return to the Capitals this season after being sidelined for over two years with a fractured pelvis and lingering groin injuries. It was far from a fairy-tale comeback, though.
While he didn't experience any new problems with his groin, Poti missed time with both neck and back injuries this season. He played just five games before Toronto's Leo Komarov sent him into the boards on Feb. 5 and caused him to miss the next four contests with whiplash. Poti appeared in 11 of the next 14 games before Buffalo's Steve Ott cross checked him in the back, tearing cartilage in his ribs on March 17.
"It was frustrating. I worked so hard to get back from the groin injury and I was able to make it back from that no problem, then early on I was in and out of the lineup," Poti said. "Probably the last six or seven weeks of the season I was perfectly healthy enough to play .I was hoping that they would give me a chance. Obviously the boys were playing well toward the end but as a veteran defenseman, I felt I could have helped out a little bit, who knows how much."
Poti didn't play again after suffering the back injury and finished having played just 16 games in his first year back in the NHL. Rather than focus on what might have been, Poti is taking a positive approach and focusing on the fact that the injury that kept him away from hockey for two years wasn't a factor.
"It's time to move forward toward the future. The biggest thing for me was I didn't know how my groin was going to hold up skating day in and day out and playing games," Poti said. "It was a good sign I was able to do that and I had no problems with my groin at all this year. That was the big thing this year and it held up; it's encouraging to know that, and I'm excited to further my career somewhere."
Alex Ovechkin played with fractured left foot in Games 6, 7 against Rangers
Update 3:27 p.m.: The Capitals have confirmed Ovechkin's injury.
Original post: Alex Ovechkin played the final two games of the Capitals' first-round series against New York with a hairline fracture in his left foot, according to a league source with direct knowledge of the winger's injury.
In the first period of Game 6, Ovechkin blocked two shots by Rangers' defenseman Ryan McDonagh. The first shot, at 14:29 of the first, struck his left foot. Replay of the game shows Ovechkin hesitant to get up after that block.
Skating could not make the injury worse, the source said, so Ovechkin played with it through the rest of Game 6 and Game 7 against the Rangers. The fracture will only require rest to heal, the source said.
Ovechkin, who recorded one goal and one assist in the first-round series, took a combined six shots on goal and was credited with 16 hits in those two games combined. He skated 19:03 and 19:08 in Games 6 and 7, respectively, his lowest ice times of the series.
Under intense pressure from his home country to participate in the World Championship, Ovechkin played with the injury in Russia's 8-3 quarterfinal loss to the United States Thursday as well. Ovechkin is an ambassador for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
On Tuesday before he left for the World Championship, Ovechkin was asked if he played through any injuries during the postseason and downplayed concern.
"Couple bruises," Ovechkin said, "But nothing major."
General Manager George McPhee acknowledged that a few Capitals were playing through injuries in the postseason when asked on Wednesday, but declined to name the players or their ailments.
"Everybody does. You really admire these players because they play through some things all the players around the league do and they don't need a medal to do it," McPhee said. "They play through it and they don't need any recognition or anything. They just do it."
Below is video of the shift where Ovechkin blocked the two shots and fractured his foot.
Capitals head into offseason with coaching stability
For the first time in three years, the Washington Capitals have some sense of stability as they head into the offseason.
There won't be any questions about who the coach will be, like there were last offseason after Dale Hunter's departure. No speculation about what type of system they'll use or how long a leash the bench boss might have, either, like there was 2011 with Bruce Boudreau.
It's a luxury that the players say makes their offseason preparation that much easier.
"I think it's important to all of us that the stability is there," said Mike Green, who has played for four different coaches in his eight-year NHL career. "I think each year we kind of didn't know what to expect, and with Adam it's so consistent. I know exactly what I need to do to prepare myself for next season and that's key. I think that everybody does and if we can all be on the same page from that aspect then we'll be back."
Simply the knowledge that Coach Adam Oates will be back for his second season and they can build off the work they put in during this lockout-shortened, 48-game season is encouraging to players.
They know their roles within his system and can tailor their offseason training programs to better improve individual skills that he's asked them to focus on.
For someone like Jay Beagle, who is known for his tireless summer workouts, that means emphasizing the nuances of his game and getting used to a new stick curve a midseason change Oates recommended -- in addition to the traditional conditioning aspects.
"I think I'll work on a lot of individual skill stuff, which I haven't really done in the past. I have with skating and stuff," Beagle said. "I already talked to [Oates] a little bit about this during the season doing some different bag skating with the puck and instead of just skating lines, getting ready for training camp, doing a lot of stuff where I'm handling the puck a lot more and the puck's on my stick and I'm working on just individual skills through pylons, stuff like that."
It's not only the players who benefit from having Oates and the rest of the coaching staff established but General Manager George McPhee as well. When it comes to offseason signings or trades, he should be able to better identify players who suit Oates's system and can fill the Capitals' specific needs.
"It makes it a lot easier," McPhee said. "I know what Adam likes now and we like the same sorts of things, so that's nice. It makes that process a lot easier. I know the way that he wants to coach, so we'll try to do things that fall within his system, certainly."
Alex Ovechkin, Russia eliminated from World Championship
Three days after the Washington Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Alex Ovechkin and Russia were knocked out of the IIHF World Championship.
Russia fell, 8-3, to the United States in the quarterfinals Thursday in Helsinki, marking its worst loss ever in the World Championship. Ovechkin recorded a goal and an assist in the defeat and was named Russia's best player of the game.
Ovechkin left Washington Tuesday night, a day before the Capitals' breakdown day, so he could play for Russia.
While some believe Ovechkin should have been present for the team's final gathering in Arlington, Coach Adam Oates said he understands how important it is for the 27-year-old winger to be able to play for his country.
"I met with him [Tuesday]. We talked. It's important that people understand that where he comes from, it's a very important thing in his country. We totally respect that. No problem at all," Oates said Wednesday. "If I said no, he would have stayed. We talked about it. I talked about it with George. The Olympics are there next year, that country. It's a very, very important thing for them.
"He gets a tremendous amount of pressure. It did not affect his play here at all. He texted me after the game, 20 times til 2 in the morning. He was very upset," Oates continued. "I think he's come tremendously far as a person and player this year. That's just a very unique thing in our business. They have that World Cup and I never played in it and I hated it. It's the stupidest thing in the world. You lose here and tomorrow they want you to go play in some tournament. For the Canadian and American guys, it doesn't make sense. But for the European guys, I understand it."