Although Petr Sykora has been in the United States for only four days and still is jet-lagged, he could be the Washington Capitals' second-line right wing when the regular season begins tomorrow.
Sykora, a swift-skating goal scorer with a big shot, arrived from the Czech Republic on Friday evening and debuted in the Capitals' preseason finale Sunday in Pittsburgh, a 7-1 defeat.
"I want to try this league," said Sykora, who speaks limited English. "I feel good."
Sykora, who shares the same name as Anaheim's star player, skated alongside Jeff Friesen and Andrew Cassels. The line has the potential to be a potent one.
Friesen is a five-time 20-goal scorer, Cassels is among the league's top setup men and Sykora, although unproven in the NHL, possesses a hard slap shot and was at times dominant in the Czech Republic Extraleague, where he had 25 goals last season for Pardubice. Sykora also figures to see plenty of time on the power play.
"We know what he can do," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "We expect him to score."
Against the Penguins, Sykora ranked second among forwards in ice time, but managed just one shot in 16 minutes 23 seconds.
Hanlon said it's too early to assess Sykora's game, considering the 26-year-old is new to the Capitals' style of play and also must catch up to the six-hour time difference.
"This isn't an evaluation for him right now," Hanlon said. "For anyone who has traveled across the ocean and the time change . . . it's just a chance for him to get used to our systems. It wouldn't be fair to evaluate him."
Friesen, for one, said he saw plenty to like from Sykora, who will wear No. 20 and earn $525,000 on a one-year contract.
"Sykora's a very smart hockey player and was very poised for it being his first game," Friesen said. "He's got calmness and confidence about him. The biggest thing I noticed about him was his shot. He's got a bomb. We just have to get him the puck."
The Capitals acquired the rights to Sykora in 2002 from Nashville, where he made his only two NHL regular season appearances during the 1998-99 season. His arrival was delayed by nearly three years by a series of contract complications, the latest being his Czech team's refusal to release him to the Capitals, a transaction that still hasn't been completed to Pardubice's satisfaction. Sykora may have to repay the Czech team a portion of the salary he had already collected, he said.
Yonkman Could Stick
Anxiety was running high in the dressing room at Piney Orchard following yesterday's practice as several training camp hopefuls pondered their fate. The Capitals' roster must be trimmed to a maximum of 23 players by today's 3 p.m. deadline.
It's believed oft-injured prospect Nolan Yonkman will be one of the seven Capitals defensemen on the opening night roster, although there won't be an official announcement until this afternoon.
Yonkman (6 feet 6, 236 pounds) has overcome two reconstructive knee surgeries.
Odds and Ends
Chris Clark, who missed the last five preseason games with a nagging rib injury, said he hopes to be ready for tomorrow's opener against Columbus at MCI Center. The right wing has been practicing with the team; he is officially listed as day-to-day. . . .
Goaltender Maxime Ouellet, who is expected to back up Olaf Kolzig and start about 20 games, yielded 18 goals in less than four full preseason contests. Ouellet went 1-3-0 with a 4.93 goals against average and 0.835 save percentage. . . .
The Capitals will celebrate the game's return from the yearlong lockout tomorrow with a fan festival on F Street. It will begin at 4:30 p.m. and will feature interactive games and giveaways. Several Capitals alumni will also be on hand to sign autographs. Admission is free.