Capitals trim roster to 36, send Andre Burakovsky to Erie

September 21, 2013

With Hershey Bears’ camp opening Monday and the AHL team rather understaffed given much of its future roster is still in Capitals camp, Washington released forwards Ryan Stoa, Jeff Taffe, Nathan Walker, and Casey Wellman to Hershey on Saturday.

ARLINGTON VA - SEPTEMBER 5: the Washington Captials Andre Burakovsky trains during a rookie camp at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington VA , September 5, 2013. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Capitals Coach Adam Oates said of first-round pick Andre Burakovsky, above: “We’re very happy with him.” (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Andre Burakovsky, the Capitals’ 2013 first-roound draft pick, also departed Caps camp for Erie in the OHL after making a big impression in his first training camp.

“I thought Burakovsky played great,” Coach Adam Oates said. “He’s going to be a very, very good hockey player. We sent him back to juniors so he can have a good year and keep learning, learning the language, and all the little things of growing up. We’re very happy with him.”

Veteran forward Eric Fehr, who played in Burakovsky’s training camp group and spent a lot of time on the ice with the 18-year-old, was also impressed.

“I thought he was a really good player,” Fehr said. “Real shifty, he protects the puck really well. he reminds me a lot of Nicky [Backstrom] the way he protects the puck and uses his body. I thought he had a good camp.”

If he continues to develop and impress in Erie, it’s feasible Burakovsky could make the jump to Hershey as soon as next spring, as the AHL’s schedule outlasts the juniors’ schedule by about six weeks.

>> General Manager George McPhee said Walker, who is draft eligible and cannot be signed by an NHL team, signed a one-year AHL deal with Hershey during his panel discussion at the Capitals convention.

Caps’ camp still crowded

Despite Saturday’s cuts, the Capitals’ training camp roster still sits at 36 players, a far cry from the 23 they’ll be able to carry come opening night.

The remaining roster features a handful of players that will likely be making the trip to Hershey soon, but with the day-to-day unpredictability of Brooks Laich’s health, Mikhail Grabovski’s adjustment period, and the still-settling third and fourth lines, players such as forwards Dane Byers and Joel Rechlicz and young defensemen like Cameron Schilling, Nate Schmidt and Patrick Wey provide insurance if anything unexpected should shake up the Capitals’ roster between now and the team’s Oct. 1 opener.

“Grabovski came in late, [Laich] was hurt, so we’re just keeping a couple extra guys just in case,” Oates said. “We still have a lot of games. Our thought process was until Hershey opens up, we should keep a few extra guys.”

The Bears open camp Monday, begin preseason games Friday and open the regular season Oct. 5. Between the players sent down Saturday and those still in camp soon to make the trip, Oates said the coaches will be watching intently when things get going.

“It’s my first change to see a lot of the guys. They’re going to play the same system down there, and we’ll be watching,” he said. “In the league, 80 games is a long season. You’re going to get your chance.”

Grabovski line to debut Monday

Adam Oates plans to have the newly acquired Grabovski center the second line in Monday night’s preseason game at Boston, as long as no health issues arise for him and his linemates between now and then.

Given the trouble Laich has had staying on the ice of late, a change in his status is a constant concern, but as of midday Saturday Oates said he and his linemates were healthy.

If the line debuts Monday, it will mark Grabovski’s first in-game action as a Capital, a highly anticipated debut delayed by the visa issues that kept him from joining the team immediately after signing.

Grabovski began practicing with the team this week, and Oates says he’s held off on evaluating the 29-year-old until he’s gotten his bearings in D.C.

“I haven’t really been watching because I want to let him get a few practices and get going,” Oates said. “It’s another trade, it’s a different team, it’s different surroundings, just let him get going, and we’ll talk about that in a week.”

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