Right wing Eric Fehr is hoping to take the next step for the Washington Capitals

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 12:34 AM

Coming off a career-best season, right wing Eric Fehr knew he wanted to make adjustments to his playing style and see even more ice time in his third full year as a Washington Capital.

He wanted to increase his physical presence, so he added weight and strength. He wanted to create more offensive opportunities, so he focused on using his size to crash the net and protect the puck.

And as Fehr continues to establish his role as a secondary scorer amid a Capitals roster brimming with all-stars, he has looked to fashion his game after that of a teammate sitting on the opposite side of the dressing room.

"I want to emulate my game a little more after [Mike] Knuble," said Fehr, who has two goals and three points entering the Capitals' game against the New York Islanders on Wednesday at Verizon Center. "Just seeing the way he works every day, how he's a big guy and gets lots of goals around the net and just finds a way to contribute. . . . I've really been trying to see how he does it."

This season looms large for Fehr, 25, who signed a two-year contract extension worth $4.4 million during the offseason. A former first-round draft pick by the Capitals, Fehr recorded career highs in goals (21), assists (18) and points (39), all while averaging just 12 minutes of ice time per game in 2009-10. It was his first truly healthy season after shoulder surgery and a back injury set him back in previous years.

Now, after he's had an entire summer to devote to working out and elevating his game rather than rehabilitate injuries, the question remains: Can he take the next step?

"I definitely feel a lot more confident than I have in the past," Fehr said. "I want to contribute in different ways. I want to try to get into the situation where I can play more 4-on-4 and on the power play. Hopefully, if I continue to use my size and make good plays, I'll get that chance."

The bulk of Fehr's ice time last year came at even strength, and he was one of the most efficient players in the league based on his goals per 60 minutes (1.50). His ability to earn more responsibility, though, is largely contingent on whether he can continue to use his 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame to keep opponents at bay and progress as a power-forward player like Knuble.

"He'll be the first one to tell you that he never really learned how to body check, and it's a process that he's going through," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Being stronger on the puck in the corners is a paramount thing and he's gotten so much better at it now than he was three years ago, but at the same time, there's still room to grow in that area. When he becomes a real good corner man and you add that to the rest of his game, it's going to be a big difference."

In the seven seasons since Washington selected him 18th overall in 2003, Fehr watched other members of his draft class, including Marc-André Fleury, Eric Staal, Dion Phaneuf and Jeff Carter find rapid success while he bounced between the NHL and the American Hockey League. After several years spent identifying his place within the Capitals' framework, though, Fehr now has a clear path of his own.

"As a young player you start to figure out how you fit into a group, how you complement all of the skill around you," Knuble said. "I hope he can find that comfort level. It's all about knowing what you do, and what's your area, and getting there."

Capitals notes: Center Marcus Johansson is out at least through the weekend, Boudreau said, after he blocked a shot with his foot Monday against Ottawa. . . . Defenseman Tom Poti and right wing Matt Bradley (lower-body injuries) aren't expected to face the Islanders. . . . Michal Neuvirth will get his fourth straight start.

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