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Mike Ribeiro’s Arrival Provides Capitals With Elusive Second-Line Center, Structure

The Washington Capitals making draft day trades has become an annual occurrence. Entering Friday’s first round, the Caps had been involved in NHL Draft transactions for four consecutive years, bringing them players like John Carlson (2008), Philipp Grubauer (2010) and Troy Brouwer (2011).

Friday, the Caps continued that trend, acquiring forward Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward prospect Cody Eakin and a 2012 second-round draft pick (No. 54), which also continued General Manager George McPhee’s trend of being incredibly thrifty. Yet, what separates Ribeiro’s arrival from those that preceded him in recent years is that his will make arguably the biggest impact in Washington by shoring up the team’s weakest link: second-line center.

At 32 years old, Ribeiro is a seasoned and cagey veteran who is an elite playmaker and proven scorer; he has amassed eight consecutive seasons of at least 51 points, including 63 points last season, which is more than any of Washington’s hopeful second-line solutions from last season – Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson – have ever earned throughout their respective careers. He has exceptional vision, soft hands and even adds an agitating presence to a team that has sorely lacked all three at different points throughout the last several seasons.

“We wanted to add a little bit of skill to our lineup,” McPhee said Friday. “I just didn’t like the way we played in the playoffs. We’ve got some big gritty forwards and we just wanted to put another skilled guy in the middle of it to see if it helps. I think it makes our team immediately better.”

Ribeiro’s arrival will allow the Caps to better structure their entire lineup. Laich will be able to focus on being a shutdown center or winger on one of Washington’s checking lines, while Johansson could return to the wing, where he saw plenty of time during the end of the season. Ribeiro will also help establish a more potent second power play unit as well as add another shootout specialist to join Matt Hendricks.

“He’s got skill, makes plays and he’s a pretty good shootout guy, too,” McPhee said, adding that he pursued Ribeiro during the trade deadline last season to no avail. “We think he’s a one or two center in this league.”

“I like being able to have a coach craft different lineups for different teams,” McPhee said. “I loved the way Brooks played in the playoffs [at second-line center]. It’s nice to know he can do it again, but to find that kind of skill, I’m looking forward to watching [Ribeiro].”

With Washington’s likely long-term solution at second-line center – Evgeny Kuznetsov – staying in Russia for at least two more years, perhaps Ribeiro is just another proverbial band-aid; Ribeiro is under contract for one more season with a salary cap hit of $5 million. Yet, unlike other similar experiments such as Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger and Tomas Fleischmann, Ribeiro is a player that can make an immediate impact as a purely offensive player.

The NHL Draft is the one weekend every year where NHL teams can prepare themselves for the future. With the arrival of Ribeiro, however, the Caps have proven once again that that same weekend can be as much about the present.

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

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Capitals Acquire Mike Ribeiro From Stars

The Washington Capitals have acquired forward Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Cody Eakin and a 2012 second-round pick (No. 54).

Ribeiro, 32, earned 63 points (18 goals, 45 assists) in 74 games last season for the Stars, his eighth-consecutive season of 50-plus points. He has been a member of the Dallas organization for six seasons – having earned an All-Star selection in 2008 – and is under contract for one more season with an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Eakin, one of Washington’s top forward prospects, appeared in 30 games for Washington last season, scoring four goals and adding four assists.

With this trade, the Caps have finally solidified the second-line center position that has gone unfilled since Sergei Fedorov left at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Decision To Remain In KHL Further Brings To Light Capitals’ Lack Of Forward Depth Among Prospects

It was widely known that Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov was planning to stay in Russia and the Kontinental Hockey League, but with Monday’s news that he had signed a two-year contract with Traktor, it became concrete.

While Kuznetsov’s decision hardly came as a surprise, it highlighted the fact that Washington’s organizational depth among its forward prospects is incredibly thin.

As of now, arguably the Caps’ most NHL-ready forward prospect is Cody Eakin, who saw 30 regular season games with Washington last season. Yet, Eakin’s time in the NHL had the opposite effect of what the Caps probably hoped would become of their highly touted prospect as his mystique wore off as the season progressed and his deficiencies (offensive consistency on the NHL level, size) were brought to the surface.

After Eakin, the Hershey Bears currently possess little to no semblance of impact players. Mattias Sjogren, who was thought to be one of the aforementioned players when he signed last summer, did not impress, even leaving North America altogether during the season before returning during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last month, Washington traded Chris Bourque, who had plenty of scoring upside, but could never translate it to the NHL level, to the Boston Bruins for Zach Hamill, who fits the same exact mold. Michael Carman will likely remain in the AHL throughout his career, while Garrett Mitchell and Christian Hanson might see some NHL time as fringe players in an energy role.

There is a reason why Hockey’s Future recently ranked the Caps 27th out of 30 teams in regards to overall prospect talent: they have a “surplus of role players,” but a “shallow pool in terms of overall NHL potential,” none of which have “proven game-breaking ability outside of Kuznetsov.”

Fortunately for Washington, it looks like help might be on the way. Stanislav Galiev will begin his first professional season in 2012 after another productive season with Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. A season with the Bears is likely in store, but that will allow Galiev to build strength and develop his game, which the Caps hope will be similar to that of Alexander Semin (minus the temperamental issues). Also, the Caps possess two first-round picks in this month’s NHL Draft at 11th and 16th. Both picks could bring in much-needed forward reinforcements.

The Caps have enough high-end forward talent on the main roster to keep them competitive for now, but they must restock the pond with quality forward prospects sooner rather than later. The last thing Washington – or any team for that matter – can afford is for the prospect pipeline to run dry.

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Winnipeg Not Uncharted Territory For Some Capitals

By Adam Vingan

It’s been nearly 16 years since the Washington Capitals have played a game in Winnipeg. On December 10, 1995, the Caps defeated the Jets 6-1 thanks to a Steve Konowalchuk hat trick. Before Washington could head back to Manitoba again, the Jets relocated to Phoenix (not that memories weren’t made there). Only one member of the current Caps roster – Roman Hamrlik – has ever played a NHL game against a team from Winnipeg, but the team is familiar with the MTS Centre and the enthusiastic crowd that fills it, which they will see Thursday against the Jets.

Mathieu Perreault, Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Michal Neuvirth were part of the 2009 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears who defeated the Manitoba Moose in six games to capture the franchise’s 10th Calder Cup. Game Six – a 4-1 Hershey win called by current Caps radio play-by-play announcer John Walton – came at MTS Centre. Neuvirth was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player.

“It was a special time,” Carlson said of winning the Calder Cup after Monday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “It’ll be nice going back there.”

There was a sellout crowd of 15,003 at that game and the Jets are continuing to sell out as well. Through six home games, the Jets are averaging 15.004 fans per game, all sellouts. The MTS Centre is the smallest building in the NHL, but a small building can create an intimate, yet intense atmosphere.

“The fans there are excited,” Dennis Wideman said. “I’m really excited to go there and see what kind of reaction it is there. I hear it’s unbelievable.”

Meanwhile, Winnipeg native Cody Eakin wasn’t watching the last Caps/Jets game; he was just four years old at the time. In fact, he admitted Monday that he doesn’t really remember having the Jets around, but he’s looking forward to a homecoming.

“Looks like I’ll be making the trip, so I’m pretty happy,” Eakin said. “Everyone’s from Winnipeg, mostly all my family.”

Other than a new city and uniform, the Jets are still the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that defeated Washington in four of six meetings last season, including the last four. The Caps are tied atop the Southeast Division with the Florida Panthers as of Wednesday, so while there will be plenty of warm memories in chilly Winnipeg, they will have to be put aside come puck drop.

“I think the thing we’re all excited about is that we haven’t had a chance to play there yet,” Alzner said. “Fans haven’t really had a chance to see guys like [Alex Ovechkin] and [Nicklas Backstrom] really, so they’re going to be pretty fired up for it. In turn, it’s going to spill onto the ice and it’s going to pretty exciting.”

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A Night Of Firsts In Capitals’ 5-1 Win Over Hurricanes

By Adam Vingan

The Washington Capitals entered Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes on the heels of controversy. Rumors had been swirling since head coach Bruce Boudreau benched Alex Ovechkin at the end of regulation in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks. Yet, in Hurricanes Country, the winds of change hardly blew as the Caps continued their recent domination of the Hurricanes (7-0-1 in their last eight against Carolina overall, 6-2-2 in Raleigh since 2008-09) in a 5-1 win. The Hurricanes’ name Friday was only fitting because they really looked like natural disasters.

Yes, there were three hurricane-related puns within the first paragraph.

Anyways, it was truly a night of firsts at RBC Center Friday. Three players scored their respective first goals of the season. Jeff Halpern, fresh off his first scratch of the season, scored his first goal of the season and his first goal as a Cap since April 7, 2006, which happened to also come against the Hurricanes. John Carlson became the fifth different defenseman to score this season when his first goal of the season, a third period power play goal, gave the Caps a 3-1 lead. Most importantly, Cody Eakin had his first NHL point on the secondary assist of Troy Brouwer’s goal, his first NHL goal in the third period, giving him his first multi-point performance. Eakin also earned the first star of the game and his first shaving cream pie after the game.

Now that Halpern and Carlson have scored, only Matt Hendricks, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jay Beagle and D.J. King have yet to score for Washington this season. The all-around production has been discussed and dissected all season long, but the proof keeps getting strong with every performance.

Meanwhile, Michal Neuvirth’s first start since October 8 went smoothly. He stopped 24 of 25 stops for his second win of the season, both of which have come against the Hurricanes.

The Caps will now play the back end of the season’s first back-to-back against the New York Islanders Saturday. Perhaps tomorrow will be a night of seconds.

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Cody Eakin Soaks In NHL Debut

By Adam Vingan

After Tuesday’s morning skate, Cody Eakin expressed his surprise in regards to the Washington Capitals recalling him from AHL Hershey as well as having him in the lineup against the Anaheim Ducks. After Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime win, Eakin’s attitude hadn’t changed.

“I didn’t expect it,” Eakin said. “I didn’t see anybody get injured, but that’s how the game is and I was excited to get the call.”

In his NHL debut, Eakin skated on the left wing on the second line with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin. He saw 13:19 of ice time – all even strength – and had three shots on goal, including a great chance at the beginning of the game on a wraparound. Jonas Hiller made the save, but Eakin felt like he could have had a goal there and at other points.

“I had a couple good chances tonight, but it didn’t bounce that extra little bit,” Eakin said. “But it’s a good game and a good comeback by the team.”

Eakin wasn’t the only person who thought he had several scoring chances.

“I thought he was going to score on his first shift,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Eakin said Tuesday morning that it was up to him to play well enough to stay in Washington. When asked about his performance after Tuesday’s game, Eakin was humble, yet confident.

“I probably played pretty well,” Eakin said. “I tried to keep it simple. A few turnovers, but I tried to limit them and just keep a steady work ethic the rest of the night.”

Meanwhile, Boudreau wasn’t bashful in his assessment of Eakin’s play.

“He handled himself quite admirably,” he said. “You can see he can skate with these guys.”

While he may not have factored onto the scoresheet, Eakin definitely had a game to remember: a comeback overtime victory in front of a hometown crowd. It was a personal milestone for Eakin, but he admitted after the game that he didn’t fully take it in right away. He was focused on winning.

“It was pretty special,” Eakin said. “A lot of the time, you’re thinking about the game out there and not so much about the excitement for yourself. As the game wore on, I got a little bit more comfortable and I enjoyed it.”

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Cody Eakin ‘Didn’t Really Expect’ Call-Up, But Ready To Make NHL Debut

By Adam Vingan

Monday, Hershey Bears forward Cody Eakin was seeing the movie “In Time” when he received a phone call – the call to the NHL.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting movie title for the occasion.

The Washington Capitals officially recalled Eakin from the AHL Tuesday and he was on the ice for morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. At the end of Tuesday’s skate, he was in the locker room while forward Jeff Halpern stayed on the ice participating in extra drills. That all but solidified that Eakin would make his NHL debut Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

“I’m pretty happy,” Eakin said. “It’s exciting. I get an opportunity to play my first game.”

After participating in July’s Development Camp and early September’s Rookie Camp, Eakin received an invitation to participate in the Caps’ official training camp. Eakin made it to the bitter end before being one of Washington’s final cuts October 4.

In 10 games with the Bears, Eakin has three goals and five assists. Despite his solid production, Eakin “didn’t really expect” to get recalled this early, but head coach Bruce Boudreau saw it coming.

“Every report we’ve gotten is he’s played really, really well down in Hershey,” Boudreau said. “He’s a guy that we’ve really wanted to take a look at. We thought Hershey only had one game this week and this was a good opportunity to take a good look at him.”

Before Eakin left Washington for Hershey in early October, he had a meeting with management, who told him that it was up to him to prove if and when he would be back. Now that he is, it’s time for Eakin to continue improving.

“The next however long kind of depends on me,” Eakin said. “I could be in Hershey for a while or I could be there for a short time. I’ve obviously just been trying to work hard and get the systems right and get comfortable with the game. I’m lucky to have the opportunity. This early, especially.”

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