BLOOMINGTON, MINN., JAN. 17 -- Al Iafrate brought his old equipment with him when the Toronto Maple Leafs shipped him here to meet his new team, the Washington Capitals, but today that equipment felt Christmas Day new.

"This is the best," Iafrate said after the Capitals' morning skate before tonight's game against the Minnesota North Stars at The Met Center. "All my equipment feels lighter. My skates feel lighter. Everything feels lighter. And I've only been here for a day."

Iafrate was thrilled to get out of Toronto, which on Wednesday traded him to the Capitals for center Peter Zezel and defenseman Bob Rouse. Two months shy of his 25th birthday, he had joined the Maple Leafs when he was just 18, having spent most of the previous winter with the U.S. Olympic team.

He spent 6 1/2 seasons with Toronto. Some of those were great, some were adequate and the last few were filled with personal problems that Iafrate felt were amplified by the pressure of playing hockey in Canada's largest city.

"The attention is good when you're young, but after seven years I was getting sick of being in a fish bowl," Iafrate said. "Everything that happened is read into and my whole life was speculated on."

When you are considered an immensely talented athlete, speculation about your life can be an unfortunate side effect. And when soap-opera situations combine with the turmoil of a losing team and troubled organization, it's tough to think about passing the puck.

Iafrate is 6 feet 3, 215 pounds and skates like the wind. He finished second to former Capital Mike Gartner in the fastest-skater competition at last year's all-star game (his second appearance) and won the contest for hardest shot.

"I think the best part of my game is skating and the finesse part of the game, while the part I have to work on is the discipline part of the game," Iafrate said.

"We tried to pick him up early and stop him before he gets started," Minnesota goalie Jon Casey said. "Once he gets up to speed, he's hard to stop."

Last season was the best for Iafrate in terms of personal statistics. He had 21 goals and 42 assists for a career-high 63 points.

"Last year with {former Maple Leafs Coach} Doug Carpenter and the two seasons I was on the all-star team, they let me play," Iafrate said. "They told me to go out and do what I did best. They weren't waiting for me to make a mistake. Because of the way I played, for every goal I cost a team, I would set up five or six plays."

The Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs by St. Louis in the first round, but Iafrate never got that far. With just a few games left in the regular season, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Still, Toronto signed him to a new three-year contract (two plus an option) that reportedly will pay him about $425,000 (U.S. dollars).

But the knee problem resulted in two arthroscopic examinations, major surgery and a third arthroscopy to clear up a postsurgical infection.

He was back practicing when training camp began -- faster than anyone else with a similar operation, he thinks -- but the knee is not yet normal. Some in Toronto say the organization thought he wasn't pushing it hard enough.

"They {the organization} questioned my integrity and that was wrong after what I had gone through for the team," Iafrate said.

And Iafrate's personal life became public. He was divorced a couple of years ago. Teammate Gary Leeman began a relationship with his ex-wife. This fall, during a practice in St. Louis, Iafrate was served with a paternity suit by a St. Louis woman, a situation that has not yet been resolved.

"It had nothing to do with why the team wasn't doing well," Iafrate said of the Leeman situation. Asked if he had a problem with Leeman, Iafrate didn't answer directly: "I'm the kind of person who comes in and does his job and tries as hard as he can. I'm kind of quiet. I guess you could say I'm misunderstood."

Iafrate declined to explain why. And, frankly, the Capitals are hoping a change of scenery will purge all that and help him return to all-star caliber.

Iafrate has three goals and 15 assists in 42 games this season. New Maple Leafs Coach Tom Watt stressed defense. While that doesn't play to Iafrate's strengths, he thinks he's learned enough to move into the Capitals' system.

"You can't teach offense, but you can teach defense and I feel I've been taught defense," said Iafrate, whose 113 penalty minutes are already the second-highest total of his career. "Now I'm on a team that isn't totally defense or totally offense. They are more middle of the road."

Coach Terry Murray says there can be common ground.

"I don't want to pull the reins in on any player and he is a skilled player," Murray said. "But there are parameters and a system that we have on our team."