By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 3, 2008
Jay Beagle's rise through the ranks was as swift as it was unlikely.
In the past two years, Beagle's career has made stops in Alaska, Idaho and Hershey, Pa. Now he's on the verge of getting a shot in the NHL with the Washington Capitals.
Last night, Beagle skated in his third game of the preseason in a 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center. Though he almost certainly won't start the season in Washington, the 22-year-old checking-line center has played his way onto Coach Bruce Boudreau's shortlist of potential injury call-ups.
"I guess you could say I'm a late bloomer," he said with a smile. "I was always a smaller guy because I grew late."
As a teenager playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Beagle was barely 5 feet 7, he said, and because of his small stature, he didn't attract much attention from scouts. But then he had a growth spurt, and before he turned 20 he was almost 6-3.
"I'm still kind of growing," said Beagle, who added 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason and weighs 208 pounds. "I put on a little more height in the past year. It's taken me some time to put on the weight."
But Beagle's body isn't all that has blossomed over the past year. So has his game.
Beagle left the University of Alaska Anchorage after posting 10 goals and 10 assists in 36 games as a sophomore. He said he likely would have been ruled academically ineligible for his junior season. So he signed with Idaho of the ECHL, North America's third-best professional league. He appeared in eight regular season games and 18 in the playoffs, helping the Steelheads capture the Kelly Cup.
Beagle's postseason play in Idaho (he had 1 goal, 2 assists and 22 penalty minutes) caught the attention of Capitals scout Steve Richmond and earned him an invitation to the Capitals' development camp in June 2007. Beagle immediately impressed the coaching staff -- Boudreau in particular -- and wound up signing an American Hockey League contract with Boudreau's Bears.
Last season in Hershey, Beagle's improbable ascension continued, and in March the Capitals signed him to a two-year entry-level contract. He finished the season with 19 goals and 18 assists in 64 games for the Bears. But, more importantly, he solidified his status as a prospect in an organization that is flush with young talent.
"I'm here if they ever need me," Beagle said.
Although Beagle has only three shots on goal in three preseason games, his stock surged Wednesday in Philadelphia, where he accepted an invitation from Flyers agitator Steve Downie to drop the gloves. After exchanging a series of punches, Beagle dropped Downie, who suffered a sprained knee during the scrap.
"I'm not a fighter, but I'll fight," Beagle said. "I was just finishing my checks on him. I knew it was coming and I was fine with that."
Beagle's willingness to drop the gloves against a rugged player who had nine fights last season in the NHL and minor leagues not only earned the respect of his teammates, it also led to his second promotion from Hershey this week.
Barring an injury or trade, the Capitals will enter the season with 14 forwards, including two extras, who were on the team last season. But if the team is hit hard by injuries, Beagle will be among the first called up from Hershey.
"I like that guy," Boudreau said after last night's game. "He plays with a lot of energy. He's already becoming a little bit of a fan favorite. It's great when you have those options. For a few years, I don't know if we had those options here. The depth of the organization at forward is really good right now."
Capitals Note: Alex Ovechkin, Chris Clark, Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr scored for Washington, which improved to 5-1-0 in the preseason. José Théodore made 17 saves.