By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Washington Capitals prospect Francois Bouchard doesn't know where he'll spend next season. But the 19-year-old showed club officials last week where he wants to play.
Drafted in the second round (35th overall) last year, Bouchard consistently was the most impressive player during summer development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where the left-shooting right wing moved up the organizational chart -- and perhaps shortened his path to the NHL -- with an array of slick stick-handling moves, smooth skating stride and penchant for scoring.
"We saw some flashes of what he could do last year, but he's even better now," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said. "He looks like a hockey player. I'm impressed with what he's done here and I'm looking forward to see what he can do in September. Like anybody who comes to our [training] camp, if he's good enough to make our team and make us better, he'll be on the team."
That said, it won't be easy. Last season's Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scoring champion with 125 points, Bouchard -- the younger brother of Minnesota Wild center Pierre-Marc Bouchard -- must displace a veteran forward to secure a spot on the Capitals' roster. He also must prove that he's mentally and physically mature enough to compete against grown men, and sign a contract with the Capitals.
During the four-day camp, which wrapped up yesterday, many of the highlights belonged to Bouchard. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound Quebec native brought fans to their feet when he scored a scintillating breakaway goal during Wednesday's scrimmage, then did it again on Friday after setting up Nicklas Backstrom's game-winner in double overtime with a backhanded pass.
"That's my goal, for sure," Bouchard said. "I want to be part of the Capitals next year. I'm going to go home and train hard and we'll see what will happen in September."
He grabbed the attention of NHL scouts during the 2005-06 season, when he amassed 102 points for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. That summer, he began working out with his brother and a personal trainer, focusing on his leg strength and skating agility.
That hard work paid off last season for Bouchard, who posted 45 goals and 80 assists in 68 games to win the Jean Beliveau Trophy, a prestigious award that has gone to Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards, Daniel Briere, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, 23, won it in 2001-02.
"I thought it was something I could do," Bouchard said. "I had 100 points the year before, so I wanted to do better."
Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said Bouchard's intangibles have impressed him the most. But he was cautious about heaping too much praise on a player who hasn't proven anything against seasoned professionals.
"What I really like is the way he's competed," he said. "He's using this camp as a steppingstone to show us that he's ready to play. There's a business approach to the way he's carrying himself. It looks like he has a purpose. . . . That's important, because sometimes young players don't realize they are being evaluated on everything, from what you do on the ice to how you behave in the [locker] room."