When the Capitals travel to Columbus, Chris Bourque will be in the lineup for the second straight night as team officials give the 25-year-old forward a long, close look.
Bourque returned to the Capitals’ organization this summer, signing a one-year deal as a restricted free agent after splitting last season between the KHL and Swiss EliteLeague. Now the 5-foot-8, 170-pound center/left wing finds himself among the crowd of forwards facing considerable odds in their struggle to secure a spot on the opening-night roster.
“I want to play in the NHL,” Bourque said when asked why he came back. “It’s tough to play in the NHL when you’re over in Europe. I always caught myself looking at box scores over there, seeing how the Caps were doing. It’s been my dream to play in the NHL, and I still feel like I can play in the NHL. I’m not ready to give up on that dream.”
If Bourque manages to squeeze his way onto the team, it would actually be the second time he’s accomplished that feat. He made the Capitals in 2009 but was waived the next day over salary cap concerns after the team failed to trade Michael Nylander.
Bourque was claimed by Pittsburgh 24 hours later and played 20 games for the Penguins before being waived again. The Caps reclaimed their former 2004 second-round draft pick in December of 2009 and sent him to Hershey.
Fed up and looking for a fresh start, Bourque signed with the KHL’s Atlant Mytishchi last season. But his tenure in Russia didn’t last long.
“It was definitely culture shock,” Bourque said. “Jeff Hamilton got [cut] three weeks in. I didn’t have any other North Americans on the team, so the language barrier really got to me.”
By mid-October, Bourque was playing for Lugano in Switzerland. In 39 games, he notched 14 goals and 19 assists.
Bourque said he enjoyed his season with Lugano. But when it came time to decide where he would play this season, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had some unfinished business in Washington.
“I feel very comfortable in this organization,” said Bourque, who got married to his high school sweetheart, Kim, in July. “I know all the coaches. I know all the players. …I’ve definitely looked at the roster and there definitely aren’t too many openings. But you can always open some eyes. [If] you play well in camp, maybe you can be the first call-up. There’s always going to be injuries.”
He added: “But I’m definitely here to make this team. I’m not thinking about Hershey. I want to be a Washington Capital.”