The Capitals entered training camp with one open roster spot to be won, based on the number of one-way contracts on the team’s books and the assumption that they will opt to carry 14 forwards on their 23-man roster.
Ten days and three preseason games later, the Capitals are still waiting for a front-runner to emerge in the battle to stick on the NHL roster.
On Sunday, Washington sent two of the dark-horse candidates, Ryan Potulny and Christian Hanson, to Hershey whittling the group of likely contenders for the spot down to four: Chris Bourque, Cody Eakin, Mathieu Perreault and Mattias Sjogren.
Boudreau has stressed that there isn’t one particular character trait or aspect of a playing style that they’re looking for in filling this role, making it even more difficult to pick when no one has distanced themselves from the pack yet.
“It’s the intangibles of size, strength, hockey sense, winning battles versus losing battles,” Boudreau said. “That encompasses it, it’s not one thing; it’s everything…if there was one thing only then automatically you’d have one guy that would take it.”
With only four preseason games remaining and the competition between them poised to grow more intense, let’s take a look at Bourque, Eakin, Perreault and Sjogren once more.
(For those attending or listening to tonight’s preseason game against the Blue Jackets, don’t forget that Eakin, Perreault and Bourque will start the contest on a line together.)
Chris Bourque (5-8, 174)
An undersized forward, Bourque made the Capitals’ roster in 2009 and knows what is required for him to push his way into the dressing room once again. Bourque is a consistent offensive threat and a top-line player at the AHL level, but in Washington he would be asked to help spark scoring on the third or fourth line when he gets into the lineup.
“You want to reinforce what they know and show them that you’ve acquired some other skills,” Bourque, 25, said of trying to impress a front office that already knows him. “I think I’m a lot better than when I was 19 years old, 20 years old, so I think maturing is hopefully going to be showing in my game. I want to show that I can bring a little extra to the table.”
Cody Eakin (6-0, 190)
One of the most versatile options, Eakin can play all three forward positions as well as see time on the penalty kill, and the Capitals continue to move the Winnipeg native around to see where he might fit best. But as might be expected when a player attempts to make the jump from the CHL to NHL, there are moments when Eakin, 20, blends in with NHL regulars and then there are times when the quicker pace makes him look his age. Keep in mind that Eakin and Sjogren do not need to clear waivers in order to be assigned to Hershey, while Bourque and Perreault do.
“You can get away with doing some stuff against 17-year-old young men rather than doing stuff against 28-year-old established players,” Boudreau explained. “We’ve seen him get caught defensively a couple of times in the wrong position, but at the same time, when we’ve showed him, he’s picked it up and he’s been able to correct it.”
Mathieu Perreault (5-10, 185)
In order to crack the Capitals’ lineup on a more permanent basis, consistency must become a more integral trait for Perreault. He knows it, Boudreau knows it and now the question remains: Can he become a more consistent player?
“I just want to try to play my game,” Perreault said. “They know what I’m capable of doing, it’s just a matter of doing it every night.”
Perreault is the only one of the four contenders to play in just one of the first three exhibition contests. Expect to see the speedy center get a few more chances in the coming days.
Mattias Sjogren (6-3, 220)
The Swedish center easily has the most size and pro type of build of the players vying for the spot, but Sjogren is still adapting to the North American style of game. His skating is not the best, but he’s also shown an ability to learn quickly when it comes to faceoffs against NHL players and hopefuls. In his first two preseason appearances, Sjogren won 16 of 25 draws.
“I think things have been going OK; I’d like to do better,” Sjogren said. “I was pretty satisfied with [the Columbus] game as it went on I was a bit more relaxed. I want to be relaxed when I play here.”