When he was asked about Jay Beagle on Monday, Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau tried to keep a straight face as he said he thought the forward needed to work harder.

Problem is, most everyone who spends time around the Capitals knows Beagle’s dedication to training and that his work ethic is well respected in the room.

“I’m just kidding,” Boudreau said with a smile when his joke drew puzzled looks from reporters. “He works so hard... I’d like to see him have some success because he works so hard. He’s such a good teammate. I think he’s just got to be a physical force.... He’s a younger Matt Bradley and hopefully he can grow into that role.”

The upcoming 2011-12 season is an important one for Beagle, who is one of several forwards fighting for a roster spot. It’s the final year of his current contract, which has a one-way salary of $512,500 this season, and Beagle, who will turn 26 in mid-October, is eager to prove he belongs in an NHL lineup on a regular basis.

He’s played in 41 NHL games, all but 10 of those last season, but the stints were mostly spot duty when injuries mounted.

“This year’s huge for me, there’s no hiding it,” Beagle said. “I obviously trained hard enough to come into camp to make a statement and show that I’m ready to play here full time.”

Beagle’s training helped him lead his group in timed tests on the first day of camp. More important than simply doing well on a test, though, is that Beagle hopes his work ethic, combined with his versatility — he can play wing and center — along with an ability to kill penalties will help him earn ice time.

Beagle would fit into the lineup as a fourth-line winger and could see occasional starts at center when needed. He still needs to stand out in training camp, though, in order to stake his claim as a consistent part of the Capitals’ lineup.

Boudreau’s characterization of Beagle as a “younger Matt Bradley” was likely part of the reason why the team decided to not re-sign the veteran winger. It was when Bradley suffered a broken finger in late December that prompted the start of Beagle’s longest stretch of consecutive games (19) in the Capitals’ lineup.

After that, Beagle returned to Hershey, though he eventually was recalled to Washington and played in nine more games. He stayed with the team in the playoffs, working dilligently in practices and with the scratches, but never got in a game. No player wants to watch, but Beagle took the situation as a learning experience in trying to reach his eventual goal.

“It’s easy to come to a place that you love, to work so hard,” Beagle said. “It’s easy to get up every morning in the summer and train your butt off. That’s what you have to do for an opportunity, to come to a team like this that’s so talented and so good that you know is going to be a top team and a contender.”