Tomas Fleischmann leads five-way scramble for backup center berths for Washington Capitals

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 12:15 AM

There are several positional battles taking place at the Washington Capitals' training camp, as players vie for ice time. But there is one bona fide competition, too: the team is trying to determine which center can be relied upon for the second- and third-line pivot position.

Aside from franchise cornerstone Nicklas Backstrom playing on the first line, little is decided among the Capitals' other options, which include Tomas Fleischmann, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon. This is not a new debate for the Capitals. For much of last season, Coach Bruce Boudreau experimented with numerous combinations, trying out different candidates, particularly on the second line, in order to find the perfect mix.

On Saturday, the first day of training camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, however, one player already appeared to have the upper hand. Fleischmann skated between last year's usual second-line wings Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin in the practice session and Boudreau added that he was giving the 26-year-old the "inside corner" on the competition.

"It's a great opportunity to try to play second-line center between Sasha and Brooksie," Fleischmann said. "It's the first practice and tough to say anything about it, but we used to play together last year so it's nothing new for me. It's something we're thinking we're going to do."

Fleischmann served that role during the Capitals' 14-game winning streak last season and tallied 51 points in 69 regular season games, primarily playing wing on the third line. The challenge for Fleischmann, who has said he prefers center and relishes the opportunity to dictate much of what occurs on the ice, is to remain consistent. In the Capitals' first-round playoff series against Montreal last year, Fleischmann failed to score a goal and was a healthy scratch for Game 7.

If Fleischmann can prove he's the best choice for that second-line position, the focus shifts to Johansson and Perreault, two prospects who are likely battling for one spot on the third line.

Johansson, a 2009 draft pick, has impressed and continued to evolve throughout rookie camp according to Capitals and Hershey coaches, but it's hard to see how ready the smooth-skating Swede truly is until camp scrimmages and preseason games begin.

Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Perreault, a regular with the Hershey Bears who is in the final year of his entry-level contract, is determined to make his move in pursuit of an NHL roster spot.

"This is a big year for me and there's no doubt in my mind that that spot in the middle is mine and I'll do everything to stay up here," Perreault said. "I've changed how I worked out. . . . I've put on around 10-15 pounds. This is what they've asked me to do, to put on some weight at the end of the season and this is what I've focused on this summer."

Perreault tallied 16 goals and 50 points in 56 regular season games for Hershey last year and added seven more goals and 19 points in the AHL playoffs, usually as the Bears' second-line center. Perreault had wavering levels of success in 21 games with the Capitals last season as he adjusted to the NHL, and understands his future may depend on demonstrating his reliability.

Steckel and Gordon create even more possibilities, should neither Johansson nor Perreault prove capable of making the jump to the NHL. They could also be part of a rotating platoon of players on the fourth line along with Matt Bradley and D.J. King.

"There's a lot of competition and I think we've got good centermen and good depth," Boudreau said.

"We just don't know who's going to be there."

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