Category Archives: Player Profile

Thomas Wilson Ready To Make Impact In Capitals Organization With Size, Tenacity

Already standing 6’4″ and weighing 203 pounds, Washington Capitals first-round draft pick Thomas Wilson was asked if he felt like he had any more growing to do.

“I still think I’ve got a lot of filling out to do,” Wilson said shortly after being selected by the Caps with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft Friday. “I think I might be done growing, but definitely some big muscle to put on and fill out.”

The towering and raw 18-year-old right winger (for what it is worth, he said that 215 pounds or “maybe a little bit heavier” would be an ideal playing weight) might be a few years from competing for a roster spot in Washington, but if he makes it to that point, Wilson would give the Caps something they have been missing in recent years: a shift-disturber who is the type of player that teams love to have, but hate to play against.

Wilson, who missed time last season with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League with a broken knuckle he suffered in a fight, earned the distinction of being the “Best Body Checker” in the 2012 OHL Western Conference Coaches Poll and came in second in the “Hardest Worker” category. He throws his weight around in the dirty areas, especially in the corners and in the crease. Meanwhile, his 141 penalty minutes were ninth-most in the OHL.

Yet, Wilson’s game is not solely confined to agitating. Coincidentally, his style of play is similar to that of his favorite NHL player: Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic. Lucic compliments his rough-and-tumble attitude with an underrated, yet unpolished offensive skillset and Wilson does much of the same; Wilson scored nine goals and earned 27 points in 49 regular season games to go with seven goals and 13 points in 13 playoff games last season.

“I think most noticeably for me, it’s my big, physical game,” Wilson said when asked what his biggest strengths are. “I’m a big power forward and create space for my linemates. I like the physical play and don’t shy away from it, but I think I’ve got some offensive potential to come in the next few years.”

Wilson said Friday that he met with the Caps brass at the scouting combine earlier this month and again this week in Pittsburgh. General Manager George McPhee also received the blessing of former head coach Dale Hunter, who coached against Wilson’s Whalers as coach of the London Knights.

“Dale liked him a lot,” McPhee said. “Dale was over this morning, we talked a lot about him. What we liked about him is he scored before he got to junior. He’s played a couple years of junior now, he’s been on Team Canada’s clubs overseas. In the playoffs this year, a couple guys got hurt, they moved him up the lineup and he responded with seven goals. There’s a chance he can be a pretty effective player.”

“We get a guy that can play and he’s tough, too,” McPhee continued, adding that Wilson is a project that will need a lot of work to get him where they need him. “It’s a harder and harder thing to find in our league now, but this guy might be able to do it.”

Wilson will likely return to Plymouth next season as he continues to develop into a NHL-ready two-way power forward, but the possibility of having his own Caps jersey instead of his Alex Ovechkin jersey is a thought that excites him.

“I had his jersey when I was younger,” Wilson said with a laugh. “He’s really fun to watch. It’s gonna be cool to meet him when I do and if I do. It’s pretty exciting to be playing with guys like that.”

“I’m thrilled,” he continued. “Never been to Washington. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard it’s a great city. They got a great pick in [11th overall pick Filip] Forsberg, so I’m really looking forward to going to [development] camp and getting to know the organization.”

Thanks to SB Nation D.C.’s Ted Starkey for providing the audio.

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Capitals Select Filip Forsberg With 11th Overall Pick, Take Tom Wilson With 16th Pick

With the 11th and 16th picks in the 2012 NHL Draft, the Washington Capitals selected Swedish forward Filip Forsberg and Canadian forward Tom Wilson.

Forsberg being available at No. 11 definitely came as a surprise as he was one of the highest-rated forward prospects in this year’s draft class; NHL Central Scouting had him ranked No. 1 on its list of European Skaters, while The Hockey News had him listed at No. 2 overall and TSN at No. 3.

At 6’2″ and 181 pounds, Forsberg is a power forward that is strong on his skates and possesses a deceptive shot release. TSN scout Craig Button sums up Forsberg’s ability in one sentence: “With a playmaking center, he could be a prolific scorer in the NHL.”

Forsberg, however, is just 17 years old and confirmed Friday that he will stay in Sweden for at least one more year to further develop (he has one year remaining on his current contract with Leksands IF of  Swedish league Allsvenskan). When Forsberg does arrive in Washington, however, he could make a huge impact as a top-six forward.

Meanwhile, the Caps added some toughness in Wilson, who is an imposing force at 6’4″ and 203 pounds. Ranked No. 15 among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting, the right winger scored nine goals and added 18 assists in 49 games with Plymouth of the OHL. Wilson is a tough, two-way forward “who makes opponents very uncomfortable when he’s on the ice,” according to Button. He makes his presence felt in the dirty areas: in the corners, along the boards and in front of the net.

If you need any more convincing on what kind of player Wilson is, he listed his favorite player in the NHL as Boston Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic.

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Keith Aucoin In Contact With Capitals Regarding Extension, According To Agent

The Washington Capitals ended the season with seven unrestricted free agents and that number has been whittled down to three as Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman and Keith Aucoin remain unsigned.

While it seems that both Semin and Wideman are unlikely to return to Washington, Aucoin is currently in talks with the Caps in regards to negotiating a new contract, according to his agent, Jerry Buckley.

“We’re still in contact with the Capitals with regards to Keith potentially re-signing with them,” Buckley said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re continuing conversations. We’re working on potentially doing an extension.”

Aucoin, who has spent the majority of his professional career in the American Hockey League, earned consistent playing time down the stretch for the Caps, appearing in 22 of the last 23 regular season games and all 14 postseason games and finishing with 13 total points (three goals, 10 assists) in a bottom-six role. His 41 total NHL games this season were nearly double the amount he had played in the NHL since joining Washington in 2008 (22).

Through most of his four-year stint in the Washington organization, however, Aucoin has been a linchpin of the Hershey Bears. In four seasons, Aucoin has won a scoring title and a MVP award while leading the Bears to two Calder Cup championships.

Buckley did not comment on what Aucoin is looking for in a new contract with Washington, such as a more prominent role with the Caps or a one-way contract. Yet, considering that the team chose to notify both Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern – also unrestricted free agents – early on that they would not be returning next season, the odds that Aucoin will continue to be a member of the Washington organization next season seem to be high.

“If we can strike a deal that makes sense, that’s great,” Buckley said.

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Jay Beagle’s Season Unexpected In So Many Ways

My latest feature for NBC Washington

If you were to judge the story of Washington Capitals forward Jay Beagle’s season based on how it began and ended, then it would be considered a tragedy.

Picture this: a 25-year-old role player who had a taste of the NHL the season before, but had yet to earn a full-time roster spot, finally earns his chance after training camp. In his second game of the season, he ends up on the wrong end of a fight and suffers a concussion that keeps him out of action for almost three months.

Flash forward to the postseason, where the player in question, now 26, sacrifices himself – literally and figuratively – to block a shot. He catches the shot on the inside of his foot, breaking it. As hard as he tries to return to the lineup for the next game, even squeezing his ailing foot into his skate and dressing in full uniform, he is held back by his coaches and his own common sense and forced to watch helplessly as his team ultimately loses a playoff series a few days later.

Yet, there is a reason why a book cannot be judged by its front and back covers. While Beagle’s story did not start or end well, it was everything that happened in between that tells the true story, a coming-of-age story about a young hockey player who transformed from a fringe player into one that was integral to his team’s overall success.

Finish the story at NBC Washington

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Mike Knuble Rejuvenated, Ready To Continue His Career

A man’s face is his autobiography. Judging by Mike Knuble’s face throughout the regular season, his was not pleasurable to write.

There were noticeable bags under Knuble’s eyes and the gray strands in his beard seemed to multiply by the day. And for good reason. Never had a man lost so much in so little time. Gone was his almost decade-long streak of at least 20 goals, his regular spot on the first line and his ability to contribute – let alone play – regularly. His six goals were the fewest of his career when considering full seasons and his time on ice average plummeted by just under four minutes.  For the first time in Knuble’s 15-year career, he actually felt his age.

Knuble, however, had a career resurgence in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After resuming his now-normal position as a healthy scratch, Knuble finally earned an opportunity to play in the postseason, though he backed into it; head coach Dale Hunter inserted Knuble into the lineup in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins to replace Nicklas Backstrom, who was suspended for a match penalty in the waning moments of Game 3.

Yet, once Knuble was in, he made enough of an impact to stay in. Washington’s fourth line of Knuble, Keith Aucoin and Joel Ward was arguably the most consistent throughout the postseason. Knuble scored twice, but it was his assist on Ward’s series-clinching goal in Game 7 against the Bruins April 25 that provided the perfect flashback. There was Knuble, crashing the net and wreaking havoc in the crease, making it almost impossible for Tim Thomas to recover before Ward slipped the puck past him. Doing the dirty work had rejuvenated him.

“I feel good,” the 39-year-old Knuble said Monday. “My body feels good and I’ve got nothing nagging me, no nagging injuries or anything like that and that can be the case when you get into your upper 30s that you’ve got some chronic things going on.”

As Knuble, an unrestricted free agent, addressed the media for the final time Monday, he stepped to the podium clean-shaven and fresh-faced as if he had taken a shower in the Fountain of Youth. If a man’s face is an autobiography, then Knuble’s is not finished yet.

“I still enjoy playing the game and I still enjoy coming out to the rink every day and I enjoy being around the other players,” Knuble said, adding that he wants to continue playing, though a return to Washington is uncertain. “I think that that’s half the battle- wanting to be there- as you get older.”

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From ‘Robot’ To Reboot: Mike Green On Road To Recovery

If Hasbro is looking to modernize its popular “Operation” board game, then look no further than Mike Green.

Wrenched ankle? Check. Bread basket? You know it. Brain freeze? Well, he did refer to himself as a “robot” earlier this season while lamenting the state of the mental aspect of his game.

All that is missing is the fauxhawk and full sleeve tattoos.

Analogies aside, Green suffered through his second-consecutive injury-plagued season in 2011-12, missing 50 regular season just one year after missing 33. Last season, it was a concussion that kept Green out of action, but this season, it was a litany of injuries ranging from a twisted right ankle (which he suffered after taking a puck to the face October 22) to a strained right groin muscle that ultimately led to abdominal surgery.

Missing all of that time plus adjusting to head coach Dale Hunter’s defensive system took some getting used to for the freewheeling Green, who did not play a game under Hunter until January 3. It was not a banner year for Green, who only scored twice after doing so in the Washington Capitals’ 7-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings October 22, but as the season wore on, he did make great strides in getting his game back to normal.

“Well, I didn’t play for the majority of it because of injuries, but I felt comfortable and I felt that I played strong when the time was right, as far as playoffs,” Green said Monday when asked how he would describe his season. “I was just starting to get my feel back again and unfortunately it’s come to an end at this point. I felt good, but I wish that I didn’t have to go through what I went through this year. I was really excited about this season, but I’m focused now mentally on next season.”

Unlike last season, where Green did not return from his injury layoff until the postseason, he had time to reacclimate himself with the game and adjust to Hunter’s style before the Caps entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Green may not have produced at the same level offensively that he and others had grown accustomed to several years ago, but he and Roman Hamrlik were solid defensively throughout Washington’s 14 playoff games, finishing at a combined plus-13.

His one goal, however, provided a glimpse of the past. With time running out in Game 4 against the Rangers May 5, Green wound up while on the power play and rifled a shot past Henrik Lundqvist to give the Caps a 3-2 lead, a score that held up as the final score, tying the series at 2-2.

“Before he was injured a lot, we used to see that all the time,” Nicklas Backstrom said after the game. “It’s great for him and it’s great to see him score a goal. It gives him confidence.”

That confidence is exactly what Green, a restricted free agent this summer, needs to return to his Norris Trophy form of years past and according to him, he is on his way to doing just that.

“I feel mentally as far as the game, the best I’ve ever felt, and physically the same,” he said. “I mean, you get your bumps and bruises, but I feel great. I feel like I did four or five years ago on the ice and that’s comforting.”

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Michal Neuvirth: A Victim Of Circumstance

This season, Michal Neuvirth was a victim of circumstance.

On July 1, it seemed as if though Neuvirth was all but guaranteed the Washington Capitals’ starting goaltender position after the team traded Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche. Twenty-four hours later, however, the Caps signed Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth was relegated to backup duty.

Yet, due to a strong preseason, Neuvirth still earned the start in Washington’s season opener, but a heel injury suffered in practice after his first win of the season kept him out of action for three weeks.

An inconsistent season followed upon Neuvirth’s return; head coach Dale Hunter undermined his confidence and he was never able to get comfortable knowing that Vokoun and even Braden Holtby were lurking behind him, winning consecutive games only three times in 38 total appearances.

Yet, despite all of the aforementioned events, Neuvirth was still in line to lead the Caps into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Vokoun’s season ultimately over with a severe groin injury, Neuvirth was prepared to be Washington’s starting goaltender down the stretch, but once again, an injury against the Florida Panthers April 5 – revealed as a hip flexor – undercut his progress. Neuvirth never saw the ice again as Holtby took the starting goaltender position and ran with it to record-setting heights.

Neuvirth may have been a victim of circumstance, but he does not want anybody to feel sorry for him.

“[I had] a little bad luck, but these things happen,” Neuvirth said Monday as the team held their final meetings at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I can’t control these things. Now I just gotta have a good summer and be ready for training camp like I was last year.”

Neuvirth said Monday that while he was fighting through pain at the end of the regular season and the beginning of the postseason, he was healthy enough to compete before Washington’s season ended Saturday in a 2-1 Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Yet, Neuvirth understood that with Holtby playing so well, “there was no need to change anything.”

Neuvirth can relate to the position that Holtby was in during the postseason and will be in during training camp this fall. Last season, Neuvirth wrangled the starting job away from Varlamov, making all nine playoff starts for Washington. Neuvirth’s performance ultimately made Varlamov expendable and had Neuvirth on the fast track to the starting job this season until Vokoun arrived.

Neuvirth, however, does not plan to go quietly and is focused on competing for the Caps’ starting position next season, a challenge that Holtby welcomes.

“Neuvy had an unfortunate injury that caused this,” Holtby said. “It was nothing he could control. We as a young goaltending tandem, if we’re asked to play for the Capitals next year, our goal is do everything we can to win games as a group. Just because we play the same position doesn’t mean we’re any less teammates. We cheer each other on, whoever is playing. Whoever is doing the best job to win games, that’s who’s gonna play.”

Even though he and Holtby are working together, Neuvirth will not be satisfied playing second fiddle, let alone second-string. He knows what it takes to be a starting goalie in the NHL and is ready to earn another opportunity to reclaim that spot.

“The season’s pretty long,” he said, adding that being “ready for anything” is the biggest lesson he has learned during the early stages of his career. “You got 82 games and anything can happen. Look at [Holtby]. He was in Hershey the whole time and now he was starting goalie for us, so you never know. Like I said, gonna go home, work hard and be ready for training camp.”

“I can be the No. 1 in this league,” he continued. “It’s my goal. I’ll do whatever it takes to be the man.”

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