D.J. King said he has no idea where he fits into the Caps’ future plans, but that didn't stop the seldom-used enforcer from reporting to Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday – more than two weeks before the start of training camp – to join a handful of his teammates for daily informal practice sessions.
The Caps acquired King from St. Louis last summer in exchange for prospect Stefan Della Rovere in the hopes that they could develop the 6-foot-3, 233-pound tough guy into a serviceable fourth liner who wouldn't be a defensive liability.
King's first season in Washington, however, didn't exactly unfold that way, in large part because of the unexpected emergence of Matt Hendricks, who parlayed an invitation to training camp into a full-time job on the fourth line. Hendricks, also a left wing, can fight, too, and possesses an offensive dimension that King doesn't.
King received a sweater only 16 times in 2010-11, and when he did get into the lineup, he didn't always help his argument for more playing time. He registered two assists, a plus/minus rating of minus-3 and skated on average 5:41. The Saskatchewan native also dropped the gloves six times.
After clearing waivers at the trade deadline, King only suited up two more times.
“It's just the way they played the game,” he said. “My role is a little different. Some coaches don't feel the need for it [in] some games.
“It wasn't quite the fit. Who knows what's going to happen this year? All I can do is what I did last year: come to the rink and work hard. If I get the call, I get the call.”
King has one year remaining on the contract he signed as a member of the Blues and is due to earn $650,000 in 2011-12.
He arrived Sunday night and on Monday morning was on the ice with Michal Neuvirth, Hendricks and Jeff Halpern as well as prospects Stanislav Galiev and Dmitri Orlov.
After the hour-long skate, King told me last season ranked among the most difficult times he's endured as a hockey player.
“It's tough,” he said. “Every athlete is competitive and wants to compete. It's not the same when you're sitting there watching. You want to feel a part of the team, but, at the same time, you're not putting in all the sweat and the blood like your teammates. It's a business. All you can do is work hard, keep a positive attitude and, when you get that opportunity, make the most of it.”
King, by all accounts, was a consummate pro and was popular in the dressing room. I'm told he rarely, if ever, complained about his situation, which further endeared him to teammates and the coaching staff.
Although much remains to be decided in training camp, it's not hard to envision a scenario where King makes the opening-night roster and, once again, is used as an injury replacement or when a true heavyweight is needed.
“There's nothing really I can do about it,” King added. “All I can do is come prepared to play hockey. If it's not here, it might be somewhere else. But it all comes down to me being prepared to play.”