Over the past four days, much of the rookie camp spotlight has centered on two players whose evaluation has just begun in Mattias Sjogren and Cody Eakin. Both are vying to take the open spot on the Capitals’ roster and start the year in the NHL.
To be certain, there are plenty of other players who could snag a spot on the roster once main camp runs its course and time in preseason games will give us the best look, but it’s still technically rookie camp.
Sjogren and Eakin each have their own share of strengths, weaknesses and reasons why they could benefit from a stint in the AHL, but tonight they’ll both have their first chance to impress the Capitals’ top brass. They’ll face an unfriendly opponent in a game against the Flyers’ rookies at 5 p.m. today at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Eakin, 20, is the faster, more fluid skater of the two and is able to shift from center to wing if necessary – versatility that gives Coach Bruce Boudreau more options. At 5’11 he’s slightly undersized, and though that hasn’t prevented him from succeeding in juniors or previous camps, it can leave him vulnerable to be overpowered by larger opponents in the NHL.
“I obviously know that everyone’s talented once you get to this point,” Eakin said. “Everyone can toe drag and dangle the puck, but a lot of guys don’t have as strong of a competitiveness as I do. I think that carries me a long way. I want to do better, I want to be the first on the forecheck and create energy, I want to stop or block a shot, I want to do everything I can.”
It’s no secret that the Capitals don’t mind sending prospects to the AHL for extra seasoning, and Eakin could benefit from time to adjust to the speed of the professional game at that level as well as add some more size to his frame. Eakin’s accomplishments at the junior level are not to be understated, but making the jump straight to the NHL isn’t one that many players can make without adjustment.
Meanwhile, Sjogren, 23, has spent the past three seasons playing in the Swedish Elite League against grown men. He’s listed at 6’2, 209 pounds, and while his size has helped him stand out against the other prospects, it will also help ease his transition in playing against the NHL regulars he will face when main camp opens on Saturday.
Like fellow Swedes Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, Sjogren is two-way forward with strong defensive instincts, but his skating could use some refinement. He’s also most comfortable at center and may not be able to move around the lineup as easily as other players who are expected to compete for that spot.
Sjogren will have his own adjustments to make this season in transitioning to the North American style of game. It’s possible that process could be easier with some time spent in Hershey, rather than learning on the fly in the NHL.
So who’ve you got for the Capitals’ last spot? Eakin, Sjogren or someone else?