Joey Crabb looks to forge role with Caps

Joey Crabb skates with the puck at Capitals practice Sunday. (Toni Sandys/Washington Post)

Joey Crabb skates with the puck at Capitals practice Sunday. (Toni Sandys/Washington Post)

Joey Crabb got his first taste of what it’s like to play alongside Alex Ovechkin Tuesday, except that it happened after the Capitals faced the ECHL’s Reading Royals in a scrimmage.

That’s when Crabb, whose locker at Kettler Capitals Iceplex is adjacent to Ovechkin’s, looked over and realized he had to make room for the throng of reporters questioning Washington’s captain. Not that he minded much.

In terms of travel, there might not be a Capitals player who moved around more than Crabb during the 118-day NHL lockout. The Anchorage, Alaska native decided to go home and play for the ECHL’s Alaska Aces to stay sharp, which made for plenty of long road trips.

“We go for a few weeks on the road at a time and not only was it a long flight, you’d go down to Seattle and then a layover in Seattle and then you fly down to somewhere in California and then once you got off the plane in California then you’re busing to one of those small towns like Stockton or whatever,” said Crabb. “It’s different, but it’s another leg in the travel book.”

Crabb’s hockey itinerary looked to be one of a career minor leaguer for a while. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2002 NHL draft by the New York Rangers, he spent his first five professional seasons playing mostly in the AHL.

But Crabb, 29, finally broke through and grabbed a regular roster spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. He ended up recording 11 goals and 26 points in 69 games.

His reward was a one-year contract with Washington on the first day of free agency last summer, the first one-way NHL deal he has ever signed.

“I had a good year last year and I felt good last year,” Crabb said. “It’s just getting the breaks and the chances and the opportunities, but this is real exciting. There’s a lot of skill and a lot of speed and obviously quite a bit of talent here.”

Crabb’s role with the Capitals will be similar to the one he played last season in Toronto, although he’s hopeful the end result will be better than finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference, as the Maple Leafs did a year ago. Washington believes Crabb can provide some versatility to its bottom two lines with his ability to generate offense and kill penalties.

“I’ll be an energy guy,” Crabb said. “I don’t think [Coach Adam Oates] is real big on checking lines. I think if you look up and down our lineup, it’s not like anybody can’t do that, play against top lines. I’ll just bring what I’ve always done. I’ll bring energy and a good two-way game.”

He may also have a leg up on the competition after his stint in the ECHL playing with some friends he grew up with in Alaska. Crabb said this week that he feels more prepared for this year’s condensed schedule after playing 35 games with the Aces. He ended up with 17 goals and 38 points.

And not once did he regret going on any of those long road trips.

“I knew what I was doing there,” Crabb said. “I took stock in that before I committed, I was totally invested. Maybe in a different situation, I’d be asking those questions, but I knew it was gonna be good for me coming into this season to get in shape and get some games underneath me. I’m definitely happy I did it.”

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