With Capitals development camp wrapped up Saturday, before everything shuts down for the upcoming vacation months, here are some leftover tidbits from the past week:
Barry Trotz met Caps first-rounder Jakub Vrana in the NHL draft bathroom
At the 2014 NHL draft in Philadelphia, the Capitals selected Czech winger Jakub Vrana with the 13th overall pick. He strode to the stage from his seat, shook hands with the Washington brass assembled there, donned a red Capitals sweater and left for a procession of interviews.
Then he met Barry Trotz in the bathroom.
“Yeah, it’s funny,” Trotz said. “We just drafted him. I said hi to him. They have a whole plethora of things they have to do. I looked and we didn’t have a pick, so I went to the bathroom. You sit at the end of the table and drink a lot of water during the day, so I popped in there and that’s where we really met. I actually had a first long conversation, which is okay. Little awkward.”
Vrana took a train from Philadelphia to Ballston, where he lived and trained until development camp began. He will return to Sweden to resume playing for his SHL club, Linkoping, but Trotz saw a bright future for the teenager who led the under-18 world junior championships with eight goals in seven games.
“He’s very mature beyond his years, but he’s got a personality that I think it would be very hard, if you’re a teammate or a fan or a coach, not to like his personality,” Trotz said. “He brings a spark to the group. He’s got this great smile and he’s not scared, his social skills are very good. And he’s a good hockey player. You put all those things together and I think he’s headed in the right direction quickly. And he’s been here a little bit, so he’s gotten comfortable with the area and the facilities. I think he’s going to be terrific.”
Meanwhile, here’s Vrana talking about life in America:
“Difference? I don’t know. Everybody speak English here. This is the NHL, you know? That’s new, so I’m happy.”
Toothless winger happy with his new look
The night before the United States’ under-20 men’s hockey team left for Sweden and the world junior championships, Thomas DiPauli took a high stick to the face during a scrimmage vs. Mankato, knocking two front teeth clean away. He spent that night in the hospital getting root canals so he could fly the following day.
“I was on a few medications after the layover,” he said. “So that definitely helped. I slept most of the way over there, but it didn’t feel great, that’s for sure, with the [air] pressure.”
Over at the tournament, the 20-year-old forward, a fourth-round pick by the Capitals in 2012, registered three assists in five games, all while the empty space in his mouth continued to throb. Now, at his second developmental camp with Washington, the University of Notre Dame and U.S. Developmental Team product sports his gap with pride.
“I have the fake teeth, but I don’t wear them much around school,” he said. “I guess this is my new look. And it’s a great conversation starter, too.”
In this respect, DiPauli bears a passable resemblance to his organization’s most famous player.
“I have the screws in the implants so they don’t grow together,” he said. “I guess Ovi doesn’t have that and his are starting to grow together a little bit. I want mine to stay apart.”
Goaltending prospect familiar with Mitch Korn
Goalie Pheonix Copley – spelled as such because his parents felt it more phonetic – has worked under Steve Shields, one of the many disciples of new Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn. One recent morning, Copley woke up to a text message from Shields. “You hit the jackpot,” it read. Washington had just hired Korn.
Born in North Pole, Alaska, far from the actual North Pole, and a resident there for just the first year of his life, Copley signed this March to a two-year, entry-level deal with the Capitals, cutting short his college career after two seasons.
“Obviously it’s tough to leave school and everything, but I thought it was the right move for development, hockey-wise,” he said. “At the end of the season, they offered me. I thought it was the best move for me to make. Yeah, I had one other offer.”
He spent most of 2013-14 at Michigan Tech, but after signing he appeared in three games with the South Carolina Stingrays, which just renewed its affiliation with Washington. Given that the top four goaltending spots for Washington and Hershey seem concrete – Braden Holtby and Justin Peters for the Capitals, Philipp Grubauer and Edward Pasquale for the Bears – Copley might find himself in the ECHL again this season.
For Stephenson, contract ‘weight off my shoulders’
One of six current rookie camp players to participate in Washington’s training camp last season, Stephenson just completed his fourth season with the WHL’s Regina Pats, Trotz’s old juniors team. In April, Stephenson signed a reported three-year entry level deal with the Capitals, then appeared in two games for Hershey.
“Obviously a huge honor and a little bit of weight off my shoulders just to sign that contract,” he said. “Just nice to get. Right now I’m focusing on trying to get better every day, working out in the summer to try to get all the little piece of my detail going.”
In Regina, the left-handed center had 89 points over 69 games and led the Pats to their first Eastern Conference regular season title since 1997-98.
>> Blake Heinrich (fifth round, 2013) finished up his USHL tenure with the Sioux City Musketeers before leaping to the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for a brief stint during the playoffs. The 19-year-old defenseman plans to play there next year too.
“Definitely learned a lot there, different style of play,” he said. “Little adjustment. Got the nerves out of the way a little bit. I think the biggest thing was the skill level of the guys, the big difference between the USHL and the WHL.
“They wanted me to go up there, just experience everything. It was definitely a great experience up there. Excited to get going next year.”
>> Andre Burakovsky excelled last season for the Erie Otters and might make a run at a Capitals roster spot this season. His coach in Erie, Kris Knoblauch, said they aren’t expecting Burakovsky back.
“We certainly anticipate Andre making the next jump,” he said by phone. “You can tell he’s an elite hockey player. He’s certainly got the skills and the hockey intelligence.”
>> Though he’s been based in Minneapolis for many years, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan developed a strong relationship with Hershey General Manager Doug Yingst while MacLellan worked as Washington’s director of pro scouting.
“Now he’s the boss, I don’t think much will change there in terms of those guys being on the same page,” Bears Coach Troy Mann said. “I would believe that based on what’s transpired, especially for Hershey over the last seven, eight days with signings, that they’re on the same page and they’re seeing the same things in terms of what needs to be done, not only to get Hershey back in the playoffs but to challenge for a Calder Cup again.”
>> Forward Travis Boyd, a sixth-round pick by the Capitals in 2011, impressed with his skilled puck-handling. He’s spent the past three seasons at Minnesota, including 32 points in 41 games last season.
“Well, he’s all over the puck,” said assistant coach Lane Lambert, who works with Washington’s forwards. “The puck kind of follows him around. He’s got great sense, great vision. He has been very noticeable. There’s a certain knack to having the puck follow you around, which just doesn’t happen by accident. That’s what I’m pleased about him. It’s nice to see.”
>> Winger Shane Gersich, a fifth-round pick this season, celebrated his 18th birthday on Thursday. “I don’t think I would’ve wanted to spend it anywhere else,” he said.
Here’s everything we’ve written from developmental camp this week: