Tyler Graovac was playing slow-pitch baseball this summer when he got a call from Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher after the fourth inning. Fletcher told him he had been traded to Washington and, as Graovac processed the “bittersweet” implications, it wasn’t hard to see why the Capitals made the move. With the expansion draft just days away, Graovac gave the team an additional forward eligible to be exposed, meaning center Lars Eller could be protected from selection by Vegas.
But a little more than a week into training camp, it also is not hard to see why Graovac was the player the Capitals targeted. Coach Barry Trotz was largely disappointed by Washington’s 4-0 preseason loss to the St. Louis Blues on Friday night, but he mentioned Graovac as one of the bright spots after he was arguably the team’s best forward. He’s already looking well worth the fifth-round draft pick the Capitals gave up to acquire him.
“He’s had two pretty good games,” Trotz said. “We’re getting to know him as a player and a person. He’s competing. He’s a big man, he’s skating well, he’s creating some things. There’s a lot of good things that he’s done. His faceoffs have been good. We said there are opportunities, and he’s trying to grab one.”
“That’s the vision,” Graovac said. “I try to tell myself that every morning. You put a picture on your wall and you go for it. I try not to look into too many things. Washington wanted me for a reason and I’m really trying to show, ‘Wow, we got this kid and he can do a couple of things here for us and actually make us better.’ ”
The Capitals have three depth forward spots available, and the competition seems to be among the 6-foot-5 Graovac, Nathan Walker, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Riley Barber and Alex Chiasson, who’s on a professional tryout. Stephenson is waiver-eligible, and he’s the only Washington player to appear in all three preseason games so far, perhaps a message from the team that this is his opportunity to show he deserves to stay. But after tallying five scoring chances, putting four shots on goal and winning 75 percent of his faceoffs Friday night, Graovac might have moved himself to the front of the forward competition.
Graovac showed some offensive upside last season in Minnesota with seven goals in 52 games. He’s also a strong penalty killer, which is important for a Capitals team trying to replace Daniel Winnik on that unit. He played center Friday night, but with Washington returning all four of its centers from last season, it’s possible Trotz will move Graovac to the wing in his next preseason audition.
“I talked to Coach the first day of camp,” Graovac said. “Last year in Minnesota, I played right wing, left wing. I really see myself as a forward. I’m just trying to show all aspects of my game really. PK, if I can, I do the best that I can. My defensive side. Tonight, I tried to show a little more offense. My speed, they want speed. I’m really trying to fill the roles here and do the best that I can.”
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