The Capitals are off to western Canada, beginning a four-game road trip...
Familiar Faces on the Bench (Rookie Camp)
A few weeks ago, I talked about the Development Camp invitees – players who have demonstrated some degree of promise, but slipped through the net of the NHL Draft (or were drafted and then released or not renewed). With Rookie Camp starting yesterday, several of them are once again gracing the ice of Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and it seemed like a good idea to revisit the subject from a slightly different perspective.
Now, let’s be honest. For the majority of hockey fans – and I’m going to spread the blame on this one, it’s not just those of us in the DC Metro area – our mental image of any given prospect looks this:
If you’re lucky, you’ll know a handful of the big names that have been tossed around by the major media types. Eakin, Sjogren, Galiev and Orlov. You probably still couldn’t pick them out of a lineup if a season ticket was on the line, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, at most we’ll see two of the players at Rookie Camp earn themselves a regular roster slot, and it’s just as likely that number will be zero. There’s heavy competition on the horizon come next week’s Training Camp, and a lot of veteran players are going to be joining the “rookie” hopefuls (we’ll call them rookies, even if several of them have done the rookie dance at least once before).
But here’s the thing – the Going-To-Be’s and the Big Shots are boring, mainstream, and will have been quoted half to death by the time this article is even live. Instead, I’m going to briefly point you at the little-knowns and the has-beens, because every once in a while you get an Alexandre Burrows in the mix (yes, I’m well aware that all anyone remembers about Burrows right now is his propensity for biting. He’s also known, back in Vancouver, for having taken the long way ’round and not even breaking an AHL lineup until the age of 22, never mind the NHL). The players who – if you recognized the name at all – are probably only faces in your memory thanks to a surreptitious usage of Google.
We’ve got 23 total attendees at camp this year (possibly twenty-two, since Jimmy Oligny hasn’t actually been seen on the ice yet),
eleven ten of whom are from the ranks of the undrafted and unsigned. They’re a mixed bunch, from 18 year old Mitch Elliot (who attended Development Camp in July) to 26 year old Tyler Ludwig (who played last year with Hershey & South Carolina). Eight of the invitees were here in July learning the ropes at D-Camp. The D-Campers are primarily members of the Canadian Juniors system (WHL/OHL/QMJHL), with the odd few having just finished their NCAA careers or, in the case of Reid Edmondson, have been playing in the other CHL down in Laredo. The remaining two rookies are ECHLers, Ludwig is out of Idaho and David De Kastrozza from the Caps system (Carolina, with the occasional stop in Hershey).
Do we expect good things out of these guys? Most certainly. ‘Tis the season for wild optimism and dreams of glory, with a Mr. Big bar in every hand and a rally towel displayed proudly in the window. So perhaps the more important question is: should we? Should we care about faces and names that are a half-step from the gaping abyss?
Surprisingly, that answer is also yes. This year’s camp may not be the source of immediate roster slots, but it most certainly will be the launching point for many a promising call-up. Injuries are inevitable in the league, and guys who can land a slot in Hershey or Carolina have a chance at skating for the Caps come December or January. A prime example of this is Nick Tabisz, who is gliding into this fall having already signed a contract with the ECHL Stingrays, scored two ECHL goals following an NCAA Division 3 Title win, and is able to say with a straight face that he attended a college that shares its name with a (semi)domesticated dragon in Harry Potter.
The players from the Junior system are at least as promising, although a bit younger due to the nature of the beast. Thomas Frazee is the eldest, having just completed his overage season at the ripe old age of 21. If he doesn’t pick up a contract of some kind this year, he’s beer-league bound, and he’s been playing like a man well aware of this fact. On the other end of the spectrum, Mitch Elliot is still in his “eligible” stage, with two more years for an NHL team to take interest and snag his rights.
So it this is where the rising stars come to make it big, then where are the rest?
The eligible big names amongst the claimed prospects are all in attendance, of course. For most of those at D-Camp, they’re off doing the college thing. NCAA regulations allow players to participate in D-Camp, but not sign the tryout contracts required to attend Rookie & Training Camp. And, of course, a few have dropped off the radar. The prime example ofthat status being goalie Jacob Gervais-Chouinard, who fell victim to George McPhee’s pre-existing stable of net minders. With three in the wings and another three lurking around the Capitals existing line-up, G-C never had a chance.
As always, Rookie Camp promises to be a low key lead-in to the official Training Camp that starts next Saturday. At the busiest, there were a dozen fans scattered around the Capitals Rink down at Kettler for the hour and a half practice. Rookie Camp isn’t flashy – it doesn’t even have the bells and whistles that accompany D-Camp, and there’s just one scrimmage before the game against the baby Flyers. But you know what it is? The start of hockey season.
So if you get the chance, take an early (and long) lunch and poke your head in at Kettler somewhere in the next few day. Or make your way up to the Wachovia Center for the free game on Thursday. You might just be surprised at what you see. Or, really, you’ll be far less surprised when they announce a new player in two years and he looks just that little bit familiar. Small world, eh?