It's rare for players to leap directly from junior hockey to the NHL, and even more so for defensemen.
But Washington Capitals prospect Mike Green has proven himself to be an uncommon talent. And if the 19-year-old continues to impress over the next six days, he could find himself on the club's roster when the season opens Wednesday night.
"The possibility has crossed my mind," said Green, a smooth-skating offensive minded defenseman. "I'm just happy to be here right now. If the coaches feel [I'm ready], I'm more than happy. I think I'm ready to step up and fill a spot."
So does veteran defenseman Brendan Witt, who has been paired with the 2004 first-round draft pick occasionally during training camp. Green was also assigned a dressing room stall next to Witt, the team's most experienced player on the blue line.
"He's so calm, sometimes I wonder if he even has a pulse," Witt said. "We'll see if he makes it, if he keeps playing the way he is and doing the right things out there. He doesn't panic with the puck. He's got a lot of composure for a young guy. Against Carolina [Green's first NHL game], he never really panicked. That was impressive."
Green has survived two rounds of training camp cuts, and enters the preseason's final weekend as one of 10 defensemen competing for seven jobs. He'll get another chance to prove he deserves one of them tonight at MCI Center where the Capitals host Pittsburgh.
As well as Green has played, even he was somewhat stunned to see his jersey still hanging in his locker Tuesday, the day six other prospects, including Eric Fehr, Chris Bourque and Jared Aulin, were assigned to the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears.
Green has been among the Capitals' leaders in ice time and has one assist. His most remarkable statistic, however, is the number of obstruction penalties he's taken -- zero. Green, unlike veterans, doesn't have to unlearn old habits in order to comply with the NHL's crackdown on hooking, holding and interference -- a point of emphasis that has, at times, tripped up the Capitals.
"The old game was big, rough, throw them around, cross check," said Green, who is 6 feet 1, 198 pounds. "Now it's all about speed and positioning. So [being a rookie] helps."
Green, whose speed and deft stick-handling helped him lead all WHL defensemen in scoring last year with 14 goals and 52 assists, says the biggest adjustment hasn't been to the NHL's faster pace, it's the greater mental demands.
"It's the smarts," he said. "You have to be aware every second you are on the ice. In junior, you can get away with a lot of stuff. Here, everything happens so quick, you have to be on top of your game every second. It's a little faster, but it's being more aware, that's the biggest adjustment."
That's where Witt's tutelage has been invaluable.
"He's been a big help," Green said. "I've only been here two, three weeks and he's taught me more than ever. I want to thank him. The whole thing is overwhelming, this being my first NHL camp and still hanging in there. Hopefully things work out for me."
Capitals Notes: Jeff Friesen, the newly-acquired left wing, will make his debut tonight wearing No. 12 -- the number that had been worn in Washington by Peter Bondra for nearly 14 seasons. Friesen, a five-time 20-goal scorer, was acquired Monday from New Jersey in exchange for a draft pick. Center Dainius Zubrus will also make his preseason debut, playing between Alexander Ovechkin and Jeff Halpern, who will move to right wing. Zubrus had been out while recovering from minor knee surgery. Tonight's game will be broadcast beginning at 7 on Comcast SportsNet, marking the first time a Capitals' preseason contest has been televised locally. . . . Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' No. 1 overall draft pick in June, is not on the team's roster for tonight's game and is not expected to play. Pittsburgh enforcer Andre Roy, meantime, has been suspended for the first two games of the regular season for twice directing throat slashing gestures at Capitals prospect Robin Gomez during the teams' game in Hershey, Pa., on Sunday. Roy and Gomez fought twice during the second period. Roy forfeits $10,204.08 in salary.