Tag Archives: Washington Capitals

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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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 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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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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George McPhee, Capitals Must Trade For Second Line Center This Summer

The second-line center position has been the proverbial white whale for the Washington Capitals since Sergei Fedorov left at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season. Since then, the Caps have seen Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger, Tomas Fleischmann, Jason Arnott, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson try and ultimately fail to provide a long-term solution behind Nicklas Backstrom.

With the Caps holding two picks in the first round of the NHL Draft Friday, free agency looming July 1 and the hopeful long-term fix – Evgeny Kuznetsov – not available for at least two years, the aforementioned white whale has transformed into the elephant in the room: Washington will go another season without a second-line center if they do not trade for one.

Despite having the 11th and 16th overall selections in this weekend’s draft, it is unlikely that either of them will make an impact in Washington for at least two seasons. Meanwhile, the depth of unrestricted free agent centers this summer is incredibly shallow. Phoenix Coyotes center Daymond Langkow ($4.5 million salary cap hit last season) saw time at second-line center last season, but he was pushed down to the fourth line after the team acquired Antoine Vermette from the Columbus Blue Jackets; Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll ($3.6 million) is a solid third-line center that can adequately fill in at 2C, but quite frankly, after winning the Stanley Cup this season, re-signing is the likeliest option.

Calgary Flames center Olli Jokinen ($3 million) is inconsistent at best and is certainly not the scorer that he used to be, while Buffalo Sabres center Jochen Hecht ($3.525 million) is recovering from a concussion. Coincidentally, it looks like Arnott may actually be the best available free agent option at center, which, after a injury-plagued season with the St. Louis Blues, is saying something.

Making a trade is necessary and it should be one that removes General Manager George McPhee from his comfort zone. There might not be a more thrifty general manager in the NHL than McPhee, who has the uncanny ability to turn nothing into something (after all, he acquired Fedorov for Theo Ruth). Yet, if McPhee wants to dramatically improve his club by finally filling a huge hole, he must make a big splash.

The most valuable pieces to do just that are both first-round draft picks and Mike Green’s negotiating rights. Trading away Green, a restricted free agent, might be a risky move because of what looks to be the inevitable departure of Dennis Wideman, but the Caps have puck-moving defensemen in John Carlson, already on the top pairing with Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov, who could step into a larger role (not to mention that there is a shortage of quality unrestricted free agent offensive defensemen). Any combination of the draft picks and Green’s right could fetch the elusive second line center that has disconfigured Washington’s depth chart for three years.

When asked June 14 what he felt were the Caps’ biggest needs, McPhee did not budge, saying that “if I tell you that, then that’s all we’re gonna hear about for the next two months.” Perhaps McPhee had a point, but if he does not make an effort to rip the band-aid off the second-line center position and continues to look for the short-term fix, he is going to be hearing about it for a lot longer than that.

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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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George McPhee, Capitals Taking Time Hiring New Head Coach

It has been exactly one month since Dale Hunter stepped down as Washington Capitals head coach and the team – just one of two with a head coaching vacancy – is still looking for the right person to fill that position.

Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, General Manager George McPhee provided an update on the search.

“It’s going great,” McPhee said. “It really is. It’s been a real enjoyable process. It’s a fun process doing it in the summer. Obviously, if you have to do something midseason, it’s much more difficult. There are fewer people available to talk to, so there’s some real limitations and some time constraints. When you do it in the summer, it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive. You can talk to a lot of people and come up with a plan on how you’re going to do it. We’ve enjoyed it. There’s some terrific people out there.”

“There’s some real good candidates and we like where we are in the process,” McPhee continued. “We like how it’s gone so far. We’ll just keep working away until we’re comfortable making that final decision.”

That decision, according to McPhee, will likely not be made before the NHL Draft, which begins June 22, but the list has been “narrowed down a little bit.”

McPhee added that the Caps are “not necessarily” looking for a coach with previous NHL experience either as a head coach, associate head coach or assistant coach (all four of McPhee’s coaching hires – Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau and Hunter – did not have NHL head coaching experience upon their respective arrivals in Washington).

“We’re wide open,” McPhee said. “There are really some terrific people. Without getting into names, there are veteran people that have been terrific, there have been young people that have been terrific. We’ll let you know when we get there.”

Reported candidates included Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, while New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens and Norfolk Admirals head coach Jon Cooper have also gained steam as potential replacements,

Two other possible candidates are already members of the Washington organization: assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jim Johnson. Yet, McPhee said Thursday that he does not believe that either of them will return next season.

While McPhee was characteristically tight-lipped Thursday, he did reveal what kind of style that he would like the Caps to play next season. McPhee was impressed with the compete level that Hunter instilled and wants that to continue along with the defensively-responsible style of play, but wants to speed things up as well.

“I think the whole league is obviously trending towards an uptempo style of play,” McPhee said. “Everyone wants to do that. It’s not necessarily the style of play that’s most important. If you’re the coach, you’ve gotta sell this to the players and have them buy in. That’s what works, if you can get everybody to buy in.”

“We really liked the way that the team competed,” McPhee continued. “That was something that we were trying to get to – to have them compete like that – and they were terrific. They played their guts out. We want to maintain that kind of commitment and play a little more uptempo. It’s the compete we want.”

McPhee has hired four coaches since becoming General Manager, but it has been 10 years since he hired one during the summer (Hanlon, Boudreau and Hunter were all hired midseason). Now that he has that luxury, he plans on taking his time.

“There’s no need to set an artificial deadline to have it done before the draft or have it done by [development] camp,” McPhee said. “The Devils hired a guy in [mid-July] last year and they end up in the finals. I think in terms of housekeeping, some people like to get it done before the draft, but I just don’t think it’s that important. What’s important is hiring the right person and really being able to come to your team with a terrific coach and knowing that you’ve really done a real comprehensive job in the summer talking to these people.”

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