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Photo: Mike Ehrmann

When the Capitals drafted Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall at last month’s NHL Draft, many people were surprised that the team, already stocked with goaltending talent, would select another netminder. In spite of conventional wisdom, the Capitals insisted that they always draft the best player available. In this case, Samsonov was the best player available.

“Our scouting staff as a whole, individually and as a whole, were more than happy to be able to call his name,” Capitals assistance general manager Ross Mahoney told reporters at the draft. “We’ve always talked in the past about trying to draft the best player that’s available to us and for sure we thought he was our best player that we could take with that pick, so we went ahead and took him.”

Despite a contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk that runs for three more years, the Capitals planned on Samsonov’s attending their development camp in July to work with goalie coach Mitch Korn.

“He has a contract, but we’ve had players in the past, some Russian players that we’ve drafted and they were able to come over,” Mahoney said. “We have tremendous confidence in our goalie coaches, being able to help this young man develop his game and bring it to a level that’ll get him to succeed in the NHL.”

That, however, never happened. While the Capitals first claimed Samsonov was missing camp due to a visa issue, he was actually attending Metallurg’s training camp as first reported by our own Ian Oland. Despite the mix-up, the Capitals didn’t purport to be concerned when they addressed the issue last week.

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Photos: Amanda Bowen

Saturday was the last day of the Capitals Development Camp and, subsequently, the team’s annual fanfest. Fans began jamming the rink around 8 am, eager to get a prime position for the weekend scrimmage and the team’s year-end equipment sale.

The event featured an autograph signing with new addition TJ Oshie, attracting a packed group of admirers. Despite the damp weather outside, the Caps hosted street hockey and moon bounce for little kids on the top deck of the parking garage. Indoors, thousands completely packed Kettler Capitals Iceplex to watch the team’s draft picks and the camp’s free agent invitees battle it out in a scrimmage, won by Team Red 7-3. During general manager Brian MacLellan’s press conference, one reporter brought up the possibility the event could be moved to a bigger venue.

“We’ve never thought about,” MacLellan said. “It’d probably be a good idea.”

Part of the reason the event has gotten so big is due to the camaraderie of Caps fans. On Saturday, a group of Caps fans who met on Tumblr got together to watch some hockey and see some of their favorite prospects in the flesh. The Papa Squad (named after Tom Wilson’s and Michael Latta’s nickname for Nicklas Backstrom) of Sydney, Victoria, Alexi, Taylor, etc gathered together to get take some selfies and some signature. Victoria even got the prospects to sign her TJ Yoshie poster, created by a fellow fan.

“We just bonded over our love of the Caps,” Sydney told me.

Days like today are the reason this fanbase is so great. Below, take a look at Amanda’s gorgeous pictures from the day.

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OshieMedia3

Photo credit: Amanda Bowen

Fans began lining up early Saturday morning, packing the top mezzanine at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. After 400 people were in their places, no more spots were issued. Caps fans were eagerly awaiting their first interaction with TJ Oshie, acquired last week from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Phoenix Copley, and a third round pick in next year’s draft. Oshie had landed in Washington the day before and would be signing autographs after meeting with local reporters.

“It was really hard to talk yesterday,” Oshie, sporting his new number 77, said in conference room at Kettler. “My fiancée and me were walking around. I was just so excited after talking to the coaches that I just want to start playing right away.”

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Stephenson

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

At this year’s Development Camp, the Capitals have shied away from the myriad of scrimmages they held under past regimes, teaching the invitees rather than pitting them against each other.

“We’re doing developing more than we are evaluating,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said. “This has been more education, more development stuff.”

Nevertheless, the team still hosted a big scrimmage at the end of camp, the anchor of the team’s annual summer fanfest. With one big chance to impress Washington’s brass, the players turned in a barnstorming, high-energy game.

One casualty of the chippiness was Chandler Stephenson‘s smile. The third-round pick lost parts of two false teeth when he was high-sticked by Marcus Basara during three-on-three play.

“I didn’t see the stick but just felt my head go back,” Stephenson said. “My front four are already fake. It’s going to be interesting to see what mom says.”

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LeonsisOvechkin

Photo: Amanda Bowen

When the Washington Capitals selected Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004, they received a generational player, one that was supposed to lift them out of depths of the league and win them the Stanley Cup that has eluded them throughout their 40-year history. Eleven years later, the Caps have still not won a Stanley Cup. Despite his nearly point per game pace in the postseason, much of the blame has been shouldered on Ovechkin, the captain and face of the team. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who stood on the draft stage with Ovechkin back at RBC Center, however, defended his star player.

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Vapiano

Photo credit: ARLnow

If there’s one thing hockey players like it’s pasta. For eight years, Capitals players flocked to the Vapiano on Wilson Boulevard, just a few blocks away from Kettler. At the end of June, however, the German-owned chain closed down its Arlington location. Upon hearing the news, Liam O’Brien, who skated 13 games with the Capitals last season, was crushed.

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Participants of the Capitals’ Development Camp come from many different backgrounds. The annual gathering this year features undrafted foreigners, college free agents, and some of the team’s top prospects. One invitee has a particularly interesting story: Kevin Lohan, cousin of actress Lindsay Lohan.

“We’re family, but I usually don’t say much about it,” Lohan said. “You can only control what you can control. You can’t control others.

“To be honest I haven’t seen her in a while,” he added of Lindsay, eight years his senior. “We used to be close when we were younger. Everyone went their separate ways.”

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KuznetsovContract

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

On Monday, the Capitals announced they had signed Evgeny Kuznetsov to a two-year, $6 million contract.

“I’m very happy to be here two more years,” Kuznetsov told reporters in a conference room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, adding that talks originally centered around a longer deal.

“It’s probably good for me and good for the Caps too,” the Russian forward said of his so-called bridge deal. “I have two more years to show my hockey. It’s always motivation for you when have one, two years. Maybe long contract is good too but I’ve never been in that situation.”

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MichaelLattaPatrickMcDermott

Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott

On the morning of Wednesday, May 13, my Twitter feed was full of skittish anticipation. The Capitals were about to faceoff against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The winner would face the Tampa Bay Lightning with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line. The loser’s season would end under that famous flat roof.

However, game seven wasn’t the only reason the Internet was abuzz: thanks to Eric Fehr, RMNB had just revealed the secret nicknames of the Capitals’ locker room. This came on the heels of my interrogation of Jay Beagle over the demise of his flip phone two days earlier.

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JoelWardSusanWalsh

Photo credit: Susan Walsh

In the summer of 2011, the Washington Capitals gave Joel Ward a four-year, $12 million contract. The deal was largely based on Ward’s play over 12 games when Ward scored 13 points during Nashville’s run to the second round under Barry Trotz. In the regular season that year, Ward had scored just 10 goals. He was 31-years-old. Some of George McPhee‘s gambles didn’t work out, but this one did.

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