Thursday, August 09, 2007

Caps on the Cusp

The other day I talked about the Caps' overflow of what is known as the role-player, the guys who do a lot of little things well but may not get the glory of say, an Ovechkin. In my little fantasy world we would keep all of these guys, and any that are scratched could come and sit with me during games.

Alas, it probably is not to be. Returning to the real world its obvious that somethings gotta give, whether it means shipping someone off to Hershey or shipping them off to another club. OnFrozenBlog recently did a great rundown of the forwards and defensemen in the system as we head into next season, but here's a look at just the guys on the cusp:

Brian Sutherby - His scouting report says that he "will be limited in terms of offensive production at the NHL level", aka checking line forward. Limited is one thing, 7 goals is another. Still, I've always defended Sutherby on the grounds that the organization and his teammates love him and there is more to a player than offensive production. Brian is one of those players the Caps love to develop, the gritty players with loads of heart; having said that, the recent one year deal given to Sutsy and his declining numbers seem to signal that he has one more shot at proving himself.
Verdict: He'll crack the opening night lineup; whether he's here come the trade deadline remains to be seen.

Steve Eminger - Like Sutherby, Eminger is one of those players who has been "developing" for a long time but has yet to really break through. In drafting him 12th overall the Caps put their hopes into Eminger one day becoming a top two defenseman. But injuries and mistakes cost Emmy a lot of playing time last year and there were many nights when he was watching the action from the press box while a youngster took his roster spot. Signs of improvement towards the end of last year and a desire to prove himself could make him a dangerous contender in September. He'll still have to fight it out in training camp and his one-year deal, like Sutherby's, is a sign that he's using the last of his nine lives.
Verdict: Look for him to hold on to his spot come October, but he could be potentially packaged with other prospects/picks for that stay-at-home defenseman everyone seems so high on.

Matt Bradley - Bradley is always good for a funny quote or a nice black eye, and his effort and his willingness to drop the gloves when necessary make him a perfect checking line forward. However, he faces stiff competition for his role-playing slot from current and future Caps and there doesn't seem to be much room for him anymore. 13 points in 57 games just may not be good enough.
Verdict: As sad as I am to say it, I don't see Bradley being with the organization much longer.

Dave Steckel - Having really achieved everything he could at the AHL level, Steckel will be looking to make the jump to the big club this fall. His penalty-killing and leadership skills are not in question, but its his mobility that raises some eyebrows and he'll need to learn how to use his body and his legs more effectively if he wants to stick around in the NHL.
Verdict: He may need a little more time to cook in the AHL but look for him to be a frequent call-up and potentially a mid-season roster addition a la Brooks Laich two years ago.

Brooks Laich - Called up to fill a roster spot in December of '05, Laich took his opportunity and made the most of it, earning a permanent spot with the club through the end of the season then returning to Hershey in time for their Calder Cup run. Last year he admittedly had a slow start and paid for it with a run of healthy scratches and limited ice time. Still, he started to pick up the momentum mid-season and was showing definite improvement. He's versatile in his ability to play center or wing but will probably be relegated to wing with the sudden glut up the middle, and he has developed an edge to his game that makes him a much more attractive third or fourth line candidate.
Verdict: He'll be in the red, white and blue when the season opens and should maintain his position on either of the bottom two lines.

Boyd Gordon - Last year was definitely Gordon's coming out party, as he put together a fantastic season and proved why he made the roster in the first place. His 7 goals were nice, but its the 22 assists and the +10 on a team that routinely was a minus squad that really make him stand out. And if you've never seen him out there killing penalties, you haven't seen it the way its supposed to be done. He made a believer out of a lot of us.
Verdict: Definitely a lock for third line center, and look for his offensive numbers to increase as his confidence and ice time go up.

John Erskine - Erskine is the kind of defenseman that Caps fans love in the sense that he'll drop the gloves at any time or just lay someone out with a monster hit. He started last season as a welcome surprise, turning a lot of heads as he came out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the top defenseman - and helped boost defensive partner Eminger's game, to boot. Still, the shine started to wear off midseason and a series of injuries including a devastating foot fracture really seemed to take him off his game.
Verdict: Will probably make the roster, but may spend many nights as the 7th defenseman in the press box.

Ben Clymer - Its hard to judge Clymer for his rocky season last year - after a failed experiment that saw him back on the blue line, Clymer had to readjust to his forward position and then found himself hampered by an abdominal injury that nagged him all season before finally electing for surgery in the last month. He's got the physical aspect down and, as we all remember from that infamous Atlanta game, isn't afraid to drop the gloves with someone much bigger and nastier than himself. I don't think the Caps are giving up on him just yet and will be looking for him to replicate his numbers from his first year in DC now that he's healthy again.
Verdict: Third or fourth line winger, will be around for opening night.

Tomas Fleischmann - Flash has shown, well, flashes of brilliance at the NHL level but has yet to find his consistency that made him so potent in Hershey. He's got talent but seems hesitant to shoot the puck - something you can get away with in the AHL but in the faster, bigger world of the NHL that just won't fly. He needs to find his game and quickly or he'll be another prospect who just didn't pan out.
Verdict: Could start the season with the Caps if his training camp is spectacular, but may be shuffled back and forth from Hershey or could be packaged with another player for a veteran.

Jakub Klepis - Poor Jake. First no one could pronounce his name, now no one wants to. A lot of people were high on Klepis for a long time but he's really just never shown that he's ready to make the jump. Besides a lack of offensive production he has an annoying tendency to take ill-advised penalties at bad times, putting his team at risk too many times.
Verdict: Back to Hershey with Klepis, with the possibility of a trade somewhere down the line.

Eric Fehr - For a long time Fehr has held the mantel as the Caps' bright new future and showed some signs of this in the few stints he had with the Caps last season. Still, hampered by a nagging back/hip injury and unproven at the NHL level, his time may be running out.
Verdict: Could potentially crack the lineup but needs to have a spectacular camp and start to the season if he wants to make it permanent.

Jeff Schultz - Schultz is one of those defenseman the Caps really need to hang on to. He does the little things correctly and quietly, becoming invisible on the ice in all the right ways. Towards the end of last season he really started to show what he was made of as he gained ice time and confidence in his abilities. If he can learn to use his size and develop a snarl he'll be very scary to play against - and that can only be good for the Caps.
Verdict: May fall victim to the fact that he's not forced to clear waivers and could see another year in Hershey, but there's a spot for him if he earns it in camp.

Mike Green - Its hard to figure Green out sometimes. There are times when he makes an absolutely brilliant defensive play; there are times he makes a completely bone-headed mistake; and there are times when he shows an offensive brilliance that makes you wonder if he's forgotten he's a defenseman. A full season in DC may have been a bit much for him last year, considering he's just 21 years old and defenseman take quite a bit longer than forwards to develop.
Verdict: Probably returning to Hershey for more development and more minutes, but could be a frequent call-up should one of the top 6 d-men go down with injury...or just go away.

Josef Boumedienne - Um...he's Swedish, right?
Verdict: Sorry, Boomer - back to Sweden with you, one-way contract in your hot little hand.


Hockey Amor said...

I loved your other items, but I for one think Boomer will stick as the 6th-7th D, alternating with Erskine.

I remember his mobility and puck skills from his former stint, and I'm sure he has progressed.


CapsChick said...

Yeah, that was just me being snarky because I honestly don't remember that much about him.

I doubt it would happen, but I would much prefer to see Schultz take that 6th-7th spot over Boomer just because I think he's developing into a tremendous defenseman.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone is a little to harsh on Fehr. He is only 21, he is still on his entry level contract and he scored 41 point in only 40 games for Hershey last year. Yes, he got injuried but before this injury he played 100 games, 95 games, 78 games, and 87 games (regular season, and playoffs) in the years 2002-2003 to 2005-2006.

Fehr still has all the makings of an elite power forward in the NHL and at right wing where the caps don't have many prospects beyond Fehr and Bouchard. If Fehr is healthy at training camp—I think, one of the top three ring wing positions is his to lose (the other two going to Clark and Kozlov). Fehr is 2 years younger than Fleischmann and has much more potential. If he doesn't make the caps this year however he is still young and I would give him 2 more years to make it in the NHL.

CapsChick said...

It's true, you make a good point. Fehr is very young and I've actually liked what I've seen from him when he's been called up. I do still see him being in Hershey for at least another year, though - partly because he is still developing and partly because I think the rebuilding thing is fading and the Caps are maybe trying to get away from preschoolers making up the whole lineup.

I do think he's got another few years to prove himself, though - I didn't mean to be so harsh to poor Eric. ;)