By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 7, 2009
When Washington Capitals prospect Joe Finley hits the ice this week, the 6-foot-7, 245-pounder will line up at a position he hasn't played full-time since, well, he can't remember when.
Finley was drafted as a defenseman 27th overall in 2005, but he'll be a left wing when he joins 22 of the organization's other prospects at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the team's annual rookie camp, which begins Monday. Coach Bruce Boudreau hopes the rare-but-not-unheard-of move jumpstarts Finley's career.
"We're like to think of our organization as pretty deep," Boudreau said. "And we look at him as a big, strong guy that can skate and has pretty good hand skills. It's an experiment, trying him at forward. It's not a lean year for this organization on defense. But if it doesn't work out, in three weeks we'll move him back.
"But right now," he added. "We want to see if it works out."
Also attending the weeklong camp are defenseman John Carlson and touted goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. All three are expected to battle for a spot on Washington's opening-night roster. Forward Anton Gustafsson, the son of former Capitals great Bengt Gustafsson and a 2008 first-round pick, will also be there as he prepares to make the leap from Sweden to North America.
The daily on-ice sessions begin at 10:30 a.m. and are free and open to the public. Boudreau, his assistants, and the minor league Hershey Bears' staff, Mark French and Troy Mann, will run the camp, which culminates Friday with a scrimmage against the Philadelphia Flyers' rookies in Voorhees, N.J.
Many of the rookie camp participants will be invited to stay in Arlington and join Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals' veterans for the main training camp, which is set to begin Sept. 13.
While Boudreau's focus figures to be on the progress of Carlson, Varlamov and Neuvirth, the most intriguing story line of rookie camp could be Finley's transition from the position he has played most of his life to the position the Capitals hope will help him reach the NHL.
Boudreau first broached the idea with Finley during a one-on-one meeting in July. The coach asked the 22-year-old North Dakota graduate to spend the offseason preparing as if he would make the switch this fall.
"It's just going through situations in my head and knowing what I'm responsible for in the defensive zone and getting accustomed to playing that way," said Finley, one of only six players drafted in the first round in 2005 yet to make their NHL debut. "It's been a long time. I can't really recall the last time, maybe in a summer league or something. Hey, it's still summer and I'm playing forward, so I'll just continue working at it and doing whatever is asked of me."
Doing whatever is asked of him, whether it's articulated or not, might involve Finley honing his skills as a fighter. He got into his first scrap as a pro on the second shift of his debut in Hershey last spring and racked up 181 penalty minutes one season as a junior, so he certainly has shown a willingness to drop the gloves.
"I'm never going to go and ask a player to fight, but [bigger players] are targets," Boudreau said. "Because other tough guys go looking for them. And this guy is bigger than big. Initially what's going to happen is he's going to be tested."
Capitals Note: Many of the organization's veterans will participate in an informal practice each afternoon following the rookie camp session.