Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau watched the team’s two-year, $1.8 million investment head for the training room with his hand over his mouth just 10 minutes into the team’s annual development camp on Monday afternoon at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“I’m going, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Boudreau said afterward.
Center Mattias Sjogren returned to practice brushing his tongue against the front of a bloody mouthpiece, creating one more adjustment he’s had to make since coming from Sweden to the United States: playing hockey with a missing front tooth.
The 23-year-old free agent signee, who will compete for an NHL roster spot this season, lost the tooth when he was struck accidentally in the mouth by a goalie’s stick on his way around the net. He skipped Tuesday’s morning session to visit the dentist but returned in the afternoon, and according to Boudreau, should be able practice for the remainder of development camp.
“It’s his first North American tooth out,” Boudreau said Tuesday. “So welcome to our world of hockey.”
The Capitals invited Sjogren to camp, which runs through Saturday, as an orientation to help him get acclimated with the coaching staff and learn his way around the area before training camp begins in September. So far, he has stood out as one of the biggest forwards in attendance at 6 feet 2, 214 pounds. And although the competition level in a group full of younger, less experienced college and junior hockey players may not match Sjogren’s skills on the ice, Boudreau said the Swede will face more of a challenge in a couple months.
“His real evaluation, other than us getting to know him out here, will be in September,” Boudreau said. “I’ve never seen him play. I’ve seen one video of him so I’m sort of like, eyes wide open. And looking at the little nuances of how hard he works and how he’s paying attention, those are the little things I’m picking up. . . . You’ll see the smarter players will be able to find ways to get noticed and I assume he’s gonna be one of them.”
Added Sjogren: “I think it’s good for me to come over here and show my stuff. The coaches haven’t seen me play live yet, so it’s a way to show them how I play and to get adjusted and learn the system.”
This season may offer a learning curve for Sjogren, who said he wasn’t sure how his game would translate to the NHL’s smaller ice surface and faster pace. As a center on Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, Sjogren recorded a career-high 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) last season. He played wing during Sweden’s silver medal run at the 2011 world championship in Slovakia, where he tallied a goal and three assists in nine games.
A year ago, Sjogren’s best friend and fellow center Marcus Johansson made a similar transition to North American hockey. He participated in development camp and impressed the coaching staff, earning a roster spot out of training camp before scoring 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) during his rookie season. In 2007, Nicklas Backstrom, also from Sweden, debuted for the Capitals, scoring 69 points (14 goals, 55 assists) after making a strong case during camp.
“It’s fun to see Marcus, how he started off with the team, how he adjusted so quick and had a great season last year,” Sjogren said. “So yeah, maybe it’s good confidence that those two guys could make it so quick.”
Sjogren, in addition to forwards Cody Eakin and Mathieu Perreault, is one of a few names Boudreau mentioned as candidates to make the 2011-12 roster. If he lands a spot, Sjogren’s role on the team could be geared toward the defensive side as opposed to his two Swedish counterparts, who are known for their offensive playmaking abilities.
If there’s one thing that may make the NHL transition smoother for Sjogren, it’s his physicality, which logged him 44 penalty minutes in 51 games for Farjestad.
“He knocked out a tooth, loosened another one, but he wanted to get back out there,” Boudreau said. “Full marks for that.”