Monday, July 13, 2009

Culture of the Caps: Summer Development Camp

Easter Day 2003. Call it the tipping point. The cherry blossoms were in bloom. The news was confusing me and making me hungry for uranium cake. The DOW was at 35 trillion gazillion. The Caps were squandering a 2-0 series lead to a lower seeded team. I kissed a girl, and I liked it.

The tipping point in question here was, of course, the bitter 3OT loss to the Lightning that changed the course of Washington Capitals history forever. That Easter Massacre proved that the old ways of team building were fatally flawed and that the defeatist attitude that pervaded the team and its fanbase would have to be wiped clean. From the ashes of this ill-fated day would emerge the phoenix of Alexander Ovechkin and the new Capitals: a shrewdly built roster whose core talent was drafted and developed by Caps scouts and coaches. Leonsis and McPhee realized on that day that real champions are made from within.

Now, after five years of replenishing the prospect ranks, streamlining the scouting system, stabilizing minor league affiliations, building a state-of-the-art complex in Ballston and standardizing a hockey system from the NHL down to the ECHL, the Caps have created a cohesive organization top to bottom.

The inner-workings of the revamped Washington Capitals are on display during this week's Summer Rookie Development Camp when the organization's prospects get a taste of professional experience and begin their assimilation into Caps Culture. Boudreau on the camp:

Our whole thought process is to show these young players...what it's like to be in the NHL. How many meetings you go to every day, the video you see, the work ethic on the ice. And I think [last year] we accomplished all of that. So the guy's leaving here saying "You know what, I know what I gotta do to become a better player" and that's what we want them to do. And we also want them to say "You know what? What an organization. Look at the place we're playing in, look at the people who are watching." Get them hungry.
And they have good reason to be hungry: 9 Hershey Bears (AHL) made their NHL debuts with the Caps in '08-'09; seven current Caps were Calder Cup champion Bears before they made the big squad. Hope and promise are not empty words in the halls of Kettler Capitals Iceplex. You work hard, you get rewarded. The meritocracy applies to the coaching staff too: Boudreau and new assistant coach Bob Woods were promoted after championship seasons with the Bears, and Bears assistant Mark French is the new Hershey head coach.

As the prospects learn to play together, they also learn to like each other. Mike Green in a recent interview explained what makes these Caps different: "We have such a good group of guys. You get on a lot of teams and guys don’t care that much. Here, it’s a lot different. The guys are my family.” The cameraderie amongst familiar faces at Summer Rookie Camps is already evident after Day 1 on the ice. And free agents actually want to come to DC for less money now. "Hockey players enjoying their time and each other in DC" is the new "Jagr hates everyone and nobody gives a shit."

Most importantly, however, Caps Culture is about where the Caps are going and not where they have been. The likes of former Caps greats hang from the Kettler rafters, but otherwise the past and its spotty history has been left behind. Previous Caps squads have been good but not quiiiite good enough; gritty but unskilled; skilled but half-hearted; playoff flops. The team's rocky history has developed a cynical fan base bitter towards departed stars who couldn't get it done.

But that's over now. The organization is stocking itself with winners and getting it done in the minor leagues. Ovechkin is the world class player and leader around which the Caps have built a steady organization replete with hockey talent, with able coaches to mold it, and the infrastructure and ownership to support it. It's a positive place where nobody remembers Esa Fucking Tikannen and the future continues to look brighter by the day. It's on display this week at Kettler.

Camp Roster (not including free agent camp invites):

5 Star Prospects to watch:
D John Carlson ('08, 1st round pick)
C Anton Gustafsson ('08, 1st round pick)
D Dmitri Orlov ('09, 2nd round pick)

4 Star Prospects to watch:
G Braden Holtby ('08, 4th round pick)
RW Dmitri Kugryshev ('08, 2nd round pick)
LW Stefan Della Rovere ('08, 7th round pick)
C Mathieu Perrault ('06, 6th round pick)
LW Francois Bouchard ('06, 2nd round pick)

3 Star Prospects to watch:
G Dan Dunn ('07, 6th round pick)
D Josh Godfrey ('07, 2nd round pick)
D Joe Finley ('05, 1st round pick)
D Eric Mestery ('08, 2nd round pick)
D Patrick Wey ('09, 4th round pick)
C Jake Hauswirth (free agent signee)

Notable Absences:
D Karl Alzner, LW Oskar Osala, G Michael Neuvirth, G Semyon Varlamov are all too damned good at this point.
C Marcus Johansson ('09, 1st round pick) could not get out of a prior commitment to his Swedish team.
D Keith Seabrook ('04, 2nd round pick) hasn't been to a Caps camp yet. What's the deal Keith-y-poo?
D Sasha Pokulok ('05, 1st round pick) is officially a bust and will never wear a Caps sweater.
C Red Rover (undrafted free agent) has gained 15 pounds of solid beer gut and has lost a step, though he's now a monster in the corners like never before.

A likely scene at some point this week:


  1. I understand mentioning Esa F. Tikkanen, but did you really have to link to the video? I was having a good day, I really was.

    Nice post. Can't wait to get out there and see Big John, who's already earning rave reviews.

  2. Good post, but I'm wondering why Orlov is listed as a 5-star prospect and Joe Finley as a 3-star? They both are 4-stars, in my humble opinion.

  3. Orlov was a 1st round talent who slipped due to being Russian and the complications over player transfers. 9th best international skater in the draft per the ISS. By all accounts he is a first rate talent, and after a few days of camp he is keeping up with Carlson in the eyes of many.

    Finley is humongous but cannot skate. He has a long way to go. No way is he more than a 3-star talent.

  4. John Erskine 2.0?


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