When formal training commences for the Washington Capitals in Hershey, Pa., Monday afternoon, a privileged 25 players will be gathering at Capital Centre, preparing for the first leg of a journey that will carry them to Sweden.
The Capitals will be defending their Dagens Nyheter Tournament title against the New York Rangers and three Swedish teams over the next 10 days. Most of the 20-man roster for the season opener Oct. 7 will come from among the 25 travelers, but selection does not carry the definitive seal of approval that it did a year ago.
"We want to take a good look at young guys who performed up and beyond what we expected in Hershey last year," said General Manager Max McNab. "Guys like Lou Franceschetti, Greg Theberge and Jay Johnston deserve a good chance to show us what they can do.
"A number of players have been selected for specific reasons. We want to see the imagination and ability of young (Timo) Blomquist. (Bobby) Carpenter can use the opportunity to get to know all the guys and he needs all the exhibitions to get acclimatized.
"Some of the veterans whose careers have been very level over the past five-six-seven years, chances are we know that's what we'll see when the season starts. We'd rather satisfy ourselves on the young players. We want to win over there, but not the way we have to win our normal 80th game of the season."
So winger Jean Pronovost, for specific example, is likely to be skating in Buffalo Oct. 7, even though he is among the stay-at-homes. Defensemen Pat Ribble and Pierre Bouchard have not been written off, but they cannot be comfortable knowing their destiny is out of their hands, should the young defensemen impress in Sweden.
Forwards Guy Charron, Dennis Ververgaert, Wes Jarvis and Bob Sirois hardly will pop champagne corks in celebration of assignment to Hershey. Charron and Ververgaert are playing out their options because they were not offered new contracts, Jarvis seems headed the option route by choice and Sirois is on a tryout arrangement following back surgery.
A year ago, there were few openings on the Capitals' roster. However, the rash of injuries forced callups of youngsters like Howard Walker, Jim McTaggart and Tim Tookey, all of whom showed to advantage while gaining valuable experience. This year there is competition at every position except goaltender, with center the most crowded even before the acquisition of Orest Kindrachuk.
"It's interesting to see the players go by my office, look at the board, pause and see that a numbers game is now in effect," said Coach Gary Green. "We've got eight or nine good competitors for six defensive positions and at each of the other positions we've got good competition . . .
"We need a better balanced scoring attack up front. We can't rely on Garts (48-goal Mike Gartner) and PeeWee (50-goal Dennis Maruk) being involved in 75 percent of our goals. We have to have all our forwards capable of scoring 20 goals if given the opportunity.
"One thing we noted after last season ended was that our defense produced fewer points than any other team. But we're not sure if it was the fault of our defense or not enough guys up front who can put it away.