A Capital's European Career Is Put on Ice

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

Josef Boumedienne enjoyed playing hockey in Europe the past three seasons. He helped Karpat of the Finnish Elite League to a pair of championships, earned decent money and lived in a part of the world where he felt comfortable.

But it wasn't the NHL. Like all elite athletes, Boumedienne wanted to prove himself against the best competition.

So when the Washington Capitals offered him another crack at the world's premier hockey league, he jumped at the opportunity.

"This is a great chance to prove to myself and to other people around here that I can play in the NHL and be a player that can help an NHL team win games," said Boumedienne, who played 37 games in Washington in 2003-04 and six the previous season. "I know what I can do."

Team officials hope the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Swede can give the Capitals a boost in two areas where they were deficient a year ago: getting the puck out of the defensive zone and scoring on the power play. Coach Glen Hanlon said the rule changes implemented two seasons ago should benefit Boumedienne, who owns a smooth stride and a powerful point shot but isn't considered a physical presence. He can also play both sides on defense.

"He likely came back for the league, lifestyle and money," Hanlon said. "Maybe not in that order. It's the best league in the world, and he can make more money playing here than in Europe. Not many people don't enjoy living over here."

By signing the 29-year-old to a one-year, one-way contract worth $500,000 -- $25,000 more than the minimum -- the Capitals assumed very little risk if the veteran of just 47 NHL games doesn't work out.

Boumedienne is not a lock to make the Capitals, but he's made a strong argument during the first week of training camp. With Tom Poti, Milan Jurcina, Brian Pothier and Shaone Morrisonn guaranteed positions among the top two defensive pairings, that leaves Boumedienne, Steve Eminger, John Erskine, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz battling for the remaining spots.

"He's got great vision out there; he's a great skater and he reads the ice well," said Morrisonn, who was paired with Boumedienne during yesterday's scrimmage. "He's also a great guy in the room. Everyone gets along with him. He's really going to help our team this year."

Boumedienne, who is of Finnish and Algerian heritage and was raised in Stockholm, showed plenty of potential during his first stint in Washington. But after the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season, he refused to accept a deal that would have allowed the Capitals to send him to the minor leagues in 2005-06 and instead opted to play in Europe. He suffered a serious groin injury that season, but didn't have surgery to repair the torn tendons until July 2006, which forced him to miss half of last season.

But he's healthy now and said he's excited about getting a second shot.

"Staying in Europe wasn't my goal or my intention; it just ended up that way," he said. "This was the right time to come back."

Capitals Notes: Forward Ben Clymer and Morrisonn engaged in the first fisticuffs of training camp yesterday when a scrimmage turned physical. . . . The Capitals are expected to play a mostly veteran lineup tonight in Ottawa for the second preseason game.

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