Capitals' Eric Fehr is reaching his NHL potential

Capitals right wing Eric Fehr has 14 goals in his past 36 games in the NHL after scoring 15 in his first 113.
Capitals right wing Eric Fehr has 14 goals in his past 36 games in the NHL after scoring 15 in his first 113. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
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By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

There's a clear presumption of excellence, immediate or otherwise, attached to being a first-round pick, and that has been Eric Fehr's burden since the Washington Capitals selected him 18th overall in the 2003 draft.

From virtually the first time the right wing began skating with the club, Fehr has fielded questions about when he would fulfill that promise and when Washington would be able to look to him as confidently as it does some of its more established players.

That's not to suggest Fehr is in line to become another Alex Ovechkin, but after collecting 111 points during his final season of junior hockey in 2004-05, he's well aware patience isn't always in abundance when it comes to waiting for a prospect to flourish in the NHL.

"I just wanted to finally be able to contribute consistently on the offensive score sheet. I mean, that's what I did growing up in juniors and the American [Hockey] League," said Fehr, who debuted with the Capitals in December 2005 and split time between the NHL and AHL until last season. "I've missed it at this step a little bit, and hopefully I can regain that from now until the end of the year."

Fehr's performance in Saturday night's 4-2 victory over Phoenix at Verizon Center indicates his development is moving along just fine. After assisting on Brooks Laich's first-period goal, Fehr scored at 13 minutes 22 seconds of the second period for a 2-1 lead, dislodging the Coyotes from their comfort zone and putting them in catch-up mode.

Less than four minutes later, Alexander Semin scored the decisive goal, and the Capitals went on to win their sixth straight game. Washington went 4-0 for the week, including a 5-3 victory over visiting Philadelphia on Jan. 17 and beating Pittsburgh, 6-3, on the road Thursday.

"We knew it was going to be a tough week, and we really wanted to come out and play our best games against some of the best teams in the league," said Fehr, who at 6 feet 4 and 212 pounds gives Washington another rugged presence to complement its nucleus of gifted skill players.

Fehr, 24, certainly has done his part in helping the Capitals accumulate the most points in the Eastern Conference -- and the third most overall -- in their push to secure the No. 1 seed. His 26 points in 40 games are a career high, surpassing his total of 25 in 61 games in 2008-09, and he has a career-high 14 goals, all over his past 36 games. In his first 113 NHL games, Fehr had just 15 goals.

His goals this season have come on 77 shots, making him second on the team in shooting percentage behind Tomas Fleischmann. That efficiency comes amid limited ice time in a lineup that features 10 players with double-digit goals. Fehr ranks 10th among the team's forwards in ice time (12 minutes 12 seconds per game) and is ninth in power-play time (1:23 per game).

Lately though, Fehr has been getting more opportunities on the power play. His goal against Phoenix came with the man advantage.

"He's a guy I knew pretty well from Hershey," said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, who held the same position with Washington's AHL affiliate when Fehr played there, "and I knew the growing pains that he went through, and he's becoming more of a really well-rounded player, and as soon as I thought that [on Saturday], then [the Coyotes] scored a goal on him, and he made a mistake, but in the most part, I really like what he's doing."

Fehr has been thriving in large part because he has remained fit after missing six games from late October through the first week of November with a rib injury. He also missed all of training camp and the first four games of the regular season recovering from surgery on both shoulders.

Fehr missed the final five games of the playoffs last season after his shoulder popped out of joint for the third time since he joined the Capitals, and he weathered a back ailment several seasons ago.

"Definitely the strongest I've felt, the healthiest I've been," Fehr said of this season. "I'm feeling pretty confident compared to the last couple years. I'm able to make a few more plays offensively, and I'm hoping that can continue going forward."

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