Some talent scouts think Dean Evason's shortcomings in size, strength and speed will prevent him from becoming a solid National Hockey League player.
Bryan Murray, coach of the Capitals, and Larry Pleau, general manager and coach of the Binghamton Whalers, disagree, so Evason, 20, will be in the Washington Capitals' lineup tonight when the Vancouver Canucks visit Capital Centre at 7:30. The Capitals lead the Patrick Division by two points over Philadelphia.
Evason, a center, and defenseman Peter Andersson were recalled from the Whalers yesterday. Although they had played three weekend games, including Sunday night at New Haven, they caught the first flight and were in uniform for the Capitals' morning practice at Mount Vernon.
The workout was reminiscent of training camp in September, as 25 of the 26 players on the roster participated. The missing player was winger Alan Haworth, plagued by a pulled groin muscle, who confined his activity to walking his German shepherd following a session in the whirlpool.
Haworth, winger Bengt Gustafsson (pulled hamstring) and winger Gary Sampson (strained knee) will not play tonight, which gives several borderline players one last chance to impress Murray and General Manager David Poile before tickets to Binghamton are passed out Wednesday.
One man certain to join the Whalers is goalie Bob Mason, since injury-plagued Al Jensen is ready at least to back up Pat Riggin, who has started nine straight games.
Evason, 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds, was in Washington earlier this season for eight games, of which the Capitals won seven. Although he performed capably, he was sent back, presumably for the rest of the season. His sentence was commuted because Pleau said he belonged in the NHL.
That was high praise, because Binghamton was reduced to 14 players even before yesterday's callup and Pleau had no desire to see one of his best players leave.
"Larry said Dean played really well down there and was deserving of a chance," Murray said. "He also said he's doing things quicker and his defense has become a strong point.
"We were hesitant about sending him back before, but he was the obvious young guy to go down. We thought he needed experience, and size and strength were a factor.
"We're going to play him the next seven games before the trading deadline and then evaluate the situation. I admit this much -- I like him."
Evason, who had 21 goals and 40 assists in 56 games at Binghamton, said the promotion was unexpected.
"I'm quite surprised," he said, "because I figured if it was going to happen, it would have happened earlier, and we're going down the stretch now.
"I was disappointed when they sent me down in December, but I expected it. I knew I was just here for two weeks and Glen (Currie) would be back up. I just wanted to play the best I could and open some eyes in Washington's management.
"I felt I held my own. I didn't set anything on fire, but I stepped in during a good situation. The Caps were just starting to turn things around and I was part of it."
He did not hesitate when asked the major differences between the NHL and the American League.
"The big things are quickness and intensity," he said. "I noticed it in practice today. Down there, the guys don't have the drive that everyone has here. Maybe it's just the Washington Capitals hockey club, but the practice here was really intense. It's a lot quicker and the passing is incredible. Everything is on the go and there's a constant flow.
"I can't do anything about how tall I am, but I'm trying to improve on my strength," he said. "They told me to work on my upper body. I'm not as strong as I'd like to be, but I can do something about it. There's no skill involved in strengthening yourself."
This has been a long, unhappy season for Andersson following his success in the Canada Cup, but he thinks he can see a light ahead, and Murray agrees.
"Peter looks much stronger in some areas," Murray said. "He was more involved and more intense in the drills today."
"Coming up is like starting a new season, from zero," Andersson said. "I'm going to try to play good again."
Murray is wary of the Canucks, who welcomed the Capitals home from a two-week road trip last year with a 3-2 upset.