Listen to the Capitals’ front office, and one name keeps coming up. Martin Fehervary was drafted just a year ago, a second-round pick and the second blue-liner the organization picked that year, but he already has vaulted to the top of the depth chart. Though training camp is just one day old, Washington appears to have its seven defensemen for the season set, but Fehervary could have the best chance to play spoiler.
“Yeah, I mean we’ll see how he does in camp,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “We’re impressed with what he’s done so far.”
“We’re all big fans of his,” director of player development Steve Richmond said in July. “I think he’s got a chance to play in the NHL this year. He does everything well. He’s a great skater; he competes. He works hard off the ice and on the ice; he’s smart. I think he’s really close."
The Capitals experienced a significant shake-up on the blue line this summer with Brooks Orpik’s retirement and the trade that exchanged Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas. Jonas Siegenthaler has the inside track to make the roster after he played in 26 games last season as a rookie, even taking Christian Djoos’s place in the lineup during the playoffs. But with Michal Kempny still recovering from a hamstring injury he suffered in March — the team is hopeful hewill be ready for the regular season opener, but it’s questionable — there could be an opportunity available for one of the Capitals’ young defensemen.
Fehervary and Alex Alexeyev, Washington’s first-round pick in 2018, are considered the furthest along, but Alexeyev is at a slight disadvantage because a concussion is keeping him off the ice to start training camp. Neither has played in the American Hockey League, but Fehervary competed against more mature players in Sweden’s professional league for the past two seasons. Perhaps even more important than making the big-league roster right out of training camp is leaving a good impression to earn the first call-up when injuries inevitably hit during the year.
“He’s a guy who we’ve liked since we got him,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said Friday. “With his ability to skate, he’s really today’s style of defenseman and a defenseman we’ve had success with if you’re looking at Michal Kempny. ... The success that these type of guys can have just by being able to close time and space with their mobility but also add to the attack, those are things you can expect to see from Martin. He’s in outstanding shape, and he definitely looked the part today in terms of how we challenged him with our testing. I liked him in rookie camp as well, so we’ll continue to keep a close eye on his development.”
Fittingly, Fehervary has long admired Kempny. The Slovak is roughly nine years younger, but they came up through the same youth team, Hodonin, in the Czech Republic. Their skating stands out, and that’s something Fehervary wants to show off every time he’s on the ice. He worked on making his strides even more explosive this offseason.
“He’s a sharp kid and understands how he can have success in the league,” Reirden said. Kempny “certainly is a good blueprint to have for his own personal development.”
The Slovak and Czech contingent of players recently went to dinner together — the Czechs picked up the tab this time — giving Fehervary an opportunity to get to know his idol better. Then for the first on-ice day of training camp Friday, Fehervary was beside one of his dining companions, Gudas, who’s expected to play on the right side of the third pairing this season. Given what some senior members of the organization have said about Fehervary this summer, the assignment appeared to be a chance to show he belongs on a duo with a bona fide NHL player.
“Every practice I’m trying to do my best and fight for the team and send the coaches the message that I want to be here,” Fehervary said. “It sounds good always if someone says something like that. But all my focus is on doing my best every day and trying to get better and compete with those guys.”
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