Capitals Defenseman Green Grows Up Fast

Mike Green has made himself the center of attention, leading the Capitals in preseason scoring despite relative inexperience and last year's midseason minor league stint.
Mike Green has made himself the center of attention, leading the Capitals in preseason scoring despite relative inexperience and last year's midseason minor league stint. (Greg Fiume - Getty Images)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007

PHILDALPHIA, Sept. 26 -- A year ago, Mike Green was a fresh-faced rookie forced to grow up fast in the NHL. He showed flashes of his potential on some nights and appeared overwhelmed on others.

Green's confidence suffered because of the uneven performances. On top of that, the rebuilding Capitals weren't winning much, making Washington a less-than-ideal place for a developing player.

"Last year was a tough go-around for me," Green said before the Capitals' 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in a preseason game Wednesday at Wachovia Center. "I made it tough for myself. I came into the best league in the world and I wasn't ready. But it was a learning process."

Green, a smooth-skating, slick stick-handling defenseman, appeared in 70 games and was selected for the NHL's YoungStars Game. But the 29th overall pick in 2004 also was sent to the minor leagues for two weeks around midseason. After the Capitals' season, he rejoined the Hershey Bears for the American Hockey League playoffs and amassed seven goals and 16 points in 19 games, helping them return to the Calder Cup finals.

The experience gave Green exactly what he needed: a wake up call and a confidence boost.

"When I was sent down," he said, "it helped me realize that I want to play in the NHL and I want to be a part of this organization for a long time. I also found out what I needed to do in order to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said: "It was a situation where he was still learning how to play the game, as he is now. Playing in Hershey for terrific coaches and in the playoffs in the American Hockey League is as good as the education he was going to get playing here, in an environment where we weren't winning."

Green went into the summer determined to start -- and finish -- this season in Washington. He returned to his home town of Calgary, Alberta, following the Bears' playoff run, enjoyed an entire week off, then spent the rest of the offseason honing his on-ice skills and working with a trainer.

The result of Green's sweat has been noticeable, in the corners and on the score sheet.

Entering Wednesday night, Green led all Capitals in scoring with two goals and four assists in four exhibition games. His teammates have also taken notice of his increased strength.

"He's skating so much stronger, he's laying into guys harder and he's stronger on the puck than he was last year," veteran defenseman Brian Pothier said. "It definitely noticeable. Whatever he did in the summer, it's definitely working."

Goaltender Olie Kolzig added: "If you look at all the young players from last year, he's definitely made the biggest improvement in terms of physical conditioning. His best defensive attribute could be being able to skate with the puck, get it out of the zone and make plays with it."

Green said he feels he's done enough to earn a spot on the roster. But whether Hanlon agrees won't be known until 3 p.m. Oct. 2, the deadline to set the 23-man roster.

With Tom Poti, Pothier, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn already guaranteed spots, that leaves Green battling Steve Eminger, John Erskine, Jeff Schultz, Jame Pollock and Josef Boumedienne for either three or four jobs.

But if Green continues to play the way he has, he's going to receive significant minutes.

"For myself, I'm at a point now where I'm confident with my game and with my abilities," he said. "I've a learned lot and I think I'm ready now."

Capitals Notes: Brian Sutherby scored for Washington, which also got 18 saves from Brent Johnson. Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear squared off with Riley Cote, and Erskine fought Jesse Boulerice.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company