Young Players Find Little Room on Caps' Roster as Training Camp Opens

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Washington Capitals have emerged from recent offseasons with questions at multiple positions. That, however, was not the case as Bruce Boudreau presided over his first training camp as head coach yesterday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Based on the returning forwards and their contract statuses, it appears the 14 spots (including two scratches) are filled. On defense, there are six incumbents and one vacancy.

And that's it.

So that means if forwards Quintin Laing, Chris Bourque and Keith Aucoin want to start the season in Washington, rather than in Hershey, Pa., they'll have to unseat someone. While that doesn't seem likely, they're also not going to let it deter them.

"You have all those one-way [contracts] up front, so I know I'm going to have to outplay someone to earn a spot," said Laing, the 29-year-old left wing who was recalled from Hershey as a midseason injury replacement, then became a fan favorite for his selfless shot-blocking. "I got a taste of the NHL last year, and I had the time of my life. There were some nights I wanted to go back out there again."

Bourque, knowing the odds he faced, added long rides on a road bike to an already strenuous workout routine this summer to strengthen his legs and slim down. As a result, the left wing, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 181 pounds, reported to camp in his best condition since being drafted in the second round in 2004. He is coming off his best year as a pro, notching 28 goals and 35 assists for Hershey.

"All I want to do is make it a hard decision for them to send me down to Hershey," Bourque, 22, said. "Washington is where I want to be. I know there are not a lot of openings. But you have to make those openings for yourself."

If none of them succeeds in cracking the lineup, it's almost certain one of them will be the first forward recalled from Hershey as an injury replacement. Graham Mink and Alexandre Giroux also could factor into that mix, Boudreau said.

"If someone plays great, and doesn't make it at first, then we know who we've got to pull up," Boudreau said. "And if things don't go the way we expect them to go in camp, then we know we have options. This year we have great options -- we're really deep up front.

"There are going to be guys, if they are not up to snuff, guys are going to take their jobs. So everybody better be on top of their game."

There is a spot available on defense, however. Mike Green, Shaone Morrisonn, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine and Milan Jurcina are locks. That leaves prospects Karl Alzner, 19 and Sami Lepisto, 23, and training camp invitee Jakub Cutta to battle for the last spot.

After being drafted fifth overall in 2007 and a strong showing in rookie camp last week, that final job appears to be Alzner's to lose. But Cutta, 26, has strong ties to Boudreau dating from Hershey's Calder Cup run in 2005-06 and Lepisto is also held in high esteem within the organization. Cutta said he'll return to Europe if he does not make the NHL roster.

"I came here to make the team," said Cutta, a former Washington prospect who skated last season for Chelyabinsk Traktor in Russia's Continental Hockey League. "Washington has an unbelievable practice facility here. It would be nice to see it more."

Capitals Notes: Nicklas Backstrom (sprained right ankle) skated for the first 30 minutes of his group's practice session before coming off the ice. The ankle has continued to improve though it was unclear late yesterday whether he would practice this morning. Chris Clark, who missed most of last season with a groin tendon injury, completed his first full practice with his teammates since suffering the injury. "I passed one test, but the bigger test will be tomorrow, when there's more puck battles and a scrimmage," Clark said yesterday.

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