Middling Play Prods Caps' Fehr

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 1 -- Five years after the Washington Capitals drafted Eric Fehr with the 18th overall selection, the team still is wondering what exactly it has in the big right wing.

Fehr has the size -- 6 feet 4, 212 pounds -- the shot and the skating stride of a prototypical power forward. But he also missed significant portions of the previous two seasons with a back injury, and since returning in February, he has mustered one goal in 23 regular season games and another in five playoff appearances.

After spending the summer bulking up and improving his skating, Fehr reported to training camp healthy for the first time in years, wearing a new jersey number and with the renewed hope that this will be the season he finally realizes his potential.

"It would have been easier a few years ago to break into the league, get confidence and start playing," Fehr said before Wednesday's preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers. "But that's just the way things worked out. I just need to put the injury behind me"

In order to break out, however, Fehr first must carve out a place in Coach Bruce Boudreau's lineup. Two weeks into training camp, it's all but certain that Fehr will be one of the 14 forwards on the Capitals' opening night roster (he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues). What isn't so certain, though, is how often he'll be in the lineup and how much ice time he'll receive.

That, Boudreau said, will be determined by Fehr, who now wears No. 16, the jersey number he had when he posted back-to-back 50-goal seasons as a junior. (Tomas Fleischmann wears Fehr's old No. 14.)

"He's a good player and he can play in the NHL," Boudreau said of Fehr. "He's working real hard, but he's not scoring. He's going to get a chance, but it's up to him."

Fehr had one shot on goal and no points in Wednesday's 2-1 loss at Wachovia Center, giving him no points on nine shots in four preseason games. Something else working against Fehr is the fact that he's a natural right wing, putting him fifth on the depth chart behind Viktor Kozlov, Alexander Semin, Chris Clark and Matt Bradley.

"So far, I feel like I have my legs under me," Fehr said. "But I haven't had the success I've wanted yet."

Finally healthy and knowing how critical this season would be for him, Fehr, who is on a one-year contract, worked hard in the weight room this summer, focusing on building his upper-body strength. He also hired a skating specialist and took part in spirited scrimmages three times a week with fellow NHL players Jonathan Toews, Nigel Dawes, Travis Zajac and Nolan Baumgartner, among others, in July and August.

Fehr believes that if he can overcome a career-threatening back injury he also can bounce back from a sluggish start.

"I know it's going to be tough," he said. "There are a lot of really skilled players here right now, and they're all performing well. I just haven't quite had the confidence that I had at the other levels. At other levels, pucks went in for me, and here, I haven't been quite so fortunate. But I'm just going to keep playing hard, keep going to the net and hope things will happen."

Capitals Notes: Nicklas Backstrom had the Capitals' lone goal in their first preseason loss. . . . Forwards Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle and Alexandre Giroux were summoned from the minor league Hershey Bears and were in the lineup against the Flyers. . . . With enforcer Donald Brashear not on the trip, rugged defenseman Grant McNeill suited up as a forward.

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