Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Forward March

There have been so many previews done and predictions made that doing another one would seem like overkill. After all, too many chefs spoil the broth.

...but who really likes broth anyways? Let's take a look at who made the cut as we head into the '07-'08 season, starting with the forwards.

- Alexander Ovechkin: the shifty winger resumed his intensive workout regimen this summer and came into camp looking like the old Alex. All you have to do is look at his performance against Philadelphia last week to see a kid who can lift a team on his back and carry them to a win - and that's what superstars do.
Knocks on Ovechkin - He will need to get more defensively responsible this season...-19 isn't going to cut it, especially when you're going up against checking lines most of the time. He should also look to unveil some new moves - opponents' defensemen have memorized his old ones and the good ones know how to stop them.

- Viktor Kozlov: Kozlov is one of those versatile players who can play wing or center, using his big frame and elite puckhandling skills to corral the puck for his linemates. He's a big body in front of the net and a power play and shootout specialist - two areas that Caps really struggled last season. Oh, yeah, and he knows and has played with both of our Russians.
Knocks on Kozlov - He has a reputation for not using his size enough and can be inconsistent; his numbers last year were a career high but in a contract year that's not so out of the ordinary.

- Tomas Fleischmann: talk about scrappy..."Flash" came into camp without a contract and with just the organization's word that they'd give him a shot. Not only did he get a shot but he's now playing with the big boys, manning the right flank alongside Ovechkin and Kozlov. He added some much needed muscle to his frame this offseason and his raw talent with the puck should come out with two talented linemates.
Knocks on Fleischmann - Flash is tricky, because one minute you're in awe of a move he just made or a shot he just took and the next you're wondering how he got shoved to the ice so easily. Way too soft on the puck - when you're skating with Ovechkin you have to be able to win the battles along the boards, period.

- Alexander Semin: The "other" Alex, Alex 2.0, whatever you want to call him - he really came out of nowhere last year to net 38 goals and provide the Caps with the other half of the third-highest scoring duo in the league. With a puck-slinging center like Michael Nylander to set up plays for him and a full year of solid play behind him, Semin could crack the 50 goal mark.
Knocks on Semin - With Semin it's always been about discipline and attitude. Last year he came in considerably more muscular and with a better demeanor thanks to a friendship with eternally-happy Ovechkin, but he was still prone to the stupid penalties of a petulant kid. He has to prove that last year wasn't just a fluke and remember that he plays on a team.

- Michael Nylander: Nylander was the highest profile signing of the summer, due partly to the little snafu with the Oilers, and could turn out to be the most important in a lot of ways. He has incredible strength, amazing work ethic and puckhandling skills that can draw you into a hypnotic trance. He can provide a steady, talented center to the likes of an Alexander Semin (with whom he's developed great chemistry) and can be a role model and mentor to young Backstrom - something he's already taken upon himself many times during camp.
Knocks on Nylander - Michael is fancy with the puck; sometimes a little too fancy. Whirling around the offensive zone making defensemen look like pylons is great, but if you lose the puck in the end or fail to pass or shoot, what's the point? If you're centering someone with the same tendencies like Semin, you need to be smarter with your playmaking.

- Nicklas Backstrom: Washington isn't a very high-pressure place for hockey players, but as much pressure as there can be is now being put on the youngster to perform and perform fast. Many expected him to center Ovechkin or at the very least Semin, but Hanlon has him playing the wing and he seems to have taken to that role fairly well. He's got all the talent in the world and in time I'm sure we'll see him up on the top line. For now, it's just fun to see him go to work.
Knocks on Backstrom - Skating is an issue; he's just not as smooth or quick as either of his linemates, at least not yet. He's been okay but not great throughout the preseason and will need to pick up his play a bit when the regular season gets going. A few more pounds of muscle wouldn't hurt although he's not afraid to hit when he has to.

- Matt Pettinger: Pettinger never really seemed to be 100% healthy last season, yet he still managed to rack up 16 goals in 61 games. He'll be on what could be a potentially deadly checking line alongside Clark and Gordon, a role for which his feisty demeanor and smaller frame seems perfect. Already in the preseason he's displayed some jaw-dropping moves that I'm not sure people knew he had and isn't afraid to drive the net or work the boards when he's on the ice.
Knocks on Pettinger - There's not much, frankly. Health for Petty will be the biggest thing this year - he has yet to play more than 71 games in a season for one reason or another, and if he can stay healthy he could have a career year.

- Boyd Gordon: I remember expressing surprise that Gordon cracked the opening night roster last season, but it didn't take long for me to understand why. Gordon really had a stellar year last year, consistently doing all the little things that may not show up on the scoresheet but that can make or break a game. He's becoming an elite penalty killer and a very talented defensive forward, and I'll add my voice to those already calling him a Selke candidate - if not this year then soon.
Knocks on Gordon - Again, not many. He might want to add a bit more offensive production, but increased ice time and talented linemates should help that naturally.

- Chris Clark: Is there anyone who is a Caps fan who hasn't fallen head over heels for this guy? He's become the consummate leader, willing to fill any role at any time and not bothered by the fact that the real captain can't wear the 'C'. His first two seasons with the Caps were both career years for Clark and while he may experience a little bit of a dropoff without Ovechkin flanking him, his gritty style of play and intense work ethic on the ice should keep him in the 20-30 goal range. And let's not forget the luxury Hanlon has of just sliding Clark into any other slot among the forwards should any line start to falter.
Knocks on Clark - Nope. I got nothing.

- Donald Brashear: Brash was a welcome surprise last season. Caps fans knew him as a tough as nails enforcer before coming here, but he's turned out to be more than just a fighter. He'll never wow you with his offensive ability but he's a deceptively smooth skater and can create plays out of nothing. Oh, and he can pound guys into the ground without breaking a sweat.
Knocks on Brashear - It's hard to really find something wrong with a guy whose role on the team is to provide toughness and grit. I guess you can say a little self control would be good, if only to prevent him from sucker-punching a mouthy Ranger again this season.

- Dave Steckel: After a few years of trying Steckel has finally earned a spot on the roster and even though it resulted in one of my players being sent to Hershey instead I really am glad to see Stecks up here for good. His big frame is deceptively smooth on the ice and he can win faceoffs, kill penalties and work the boards for his wingers - he may get limited ice time on the fourth line but he'll make the most of it.
Knocks on Steckel - I don't think anyone has seen enough of him at the NHL level to find flaws in his game, per se, and that may be the only flaw - lack of experience. A flaw easily mended, of course.

- Brian Sutherby: Sutherby came into camp with a one-year deal and the pressure of having to put together a great camp to hang onto his spot. So far he's done just that and has found some nice chemistry with Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley. Whether that line will ever see the light of day is hard to say and Sutherby may spend more time in the press box than on the ice this year, but he's at least shown that he has the determination to stick with the team to this point. He got that 'A' on his chest for a reason last year.
Knocks on Sutherby - the biggest issue for Sutherby is lack of offensive production, even on the third and fourth line. No one is expecting him to put up 50+ goals or even 30+ goals, but it shouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to get 10-15, especially if he wants to stay in Washington beyond this year.

- Brooks Laich: Another one of the "cusp boys", Laich also had a great camp and continues to show signs that he's some bizarre hybrid of Chris Clark and Matt Pettinger. He picked up momentum towards the end of last year and came into camp in great shape and hungry for a spot. He's proven that he can be depended on in all sorts of situations and could be another one of those utility playes for Hanlon who can be tossed out on any line to get the job done.
Knocks on Laich - He is notoriously a slow starter, easing into the last two seasons before finding his rhythm. Laich has some moves and often makes nice plays but the finish is still not there.

- Matt Bradley: Bradley is two things that Caps fans love - fast and feisty. Off the ice he's one of the funnier guys in a room full of comedians; on it he's a gritty, hard-nosed guy who will gladly drill someone into the boards at top speed, and he's never afraid to drop the gloves. But he's also got some skill with the puck and can make the nice passes and pretty plays you don't often see from players like him. He's the kind of utility player that all championship teams have.
Knocks on Bradley - Much like Sutherby and Laich, Bradley's offensive production tends to be less than spectacular because of the finish and he has the tendency to try and do too much with the puck rather than just throwing it at the net.

Next up...the defensemen and the goaltenders.


Chris & Sarah said...

One knock on Clark - His propensity to do TV interviews without the false teeth in, and with the camera on the side that shows the missing teeth so clearly.

Nice review, very insightful.

CapsChick said...

Oh my god, I know!! Did you see him on Sportsnite? I just...Clarkie, please put your teeth in. Please. No one wants to see that.