Day two of Capitals training camp was Saturday, and the team continued the tough pace set by Barry Trotz on Friday. Each of the three group of players spent about an hour and the half on the ice, focusing on drills designed to simulate game situations and learn the system. With the first preseason game just hours away, three groups of Caps battled along the boards for loose pucks and charged at the net. Unlike previous regimes, Trotz is throwing the players into the fire quickly.
“This is the one day we had to prepare to play tomorrow,” the coach told reporters. “We tried to get a lot of stuff in that was situational.”
Last Saturday, I spoke to Baltimore Orioles top prospect Dylan Bundy about a range of fun topics: baseball, pick-up trucks, Gettysburg, hockey, his own rehab, and why every time I saw him that weekend he was wielding a giant crossbow. Bundy, ranked the 12th best prospect in all of baseball by ESPN’s Keith Law, has a fascinating story, which I had the honor of documenting for The Washington Post.
You are certainly familiar with Stephen Strasburg, the hard-throwing ace for the Washington Nationals who was drafted first overall in 2010. Bundy, the top high-school athlete of the 2011 draft (and who can lift an insane amount of weight), was drafted 4th overall by the Baltimore Orioles the very next year. They’ve had mirror abilities and mirror career trajectories since. Both starters could throw 100 MPH. Both were robbed of a season due to Tommy John surgery after breezing through the minors. Both were heaped with humangous big expectations from fans immediately after they were drafted.
Two years ago, Bundy became the 16th youngest player to make the Orioles. He pitched twice in relief. 2013 was supposed to be the year he joined the rotation and dominated. Instead, he blew out his elbow in spring training.
After a year of rehab, Bundy returned to the mound with the Aberdeen Ironbirds in early June. A few weeks ago he was promoted to the Single-A Frederick Keys. While his velocity has not been the same, if all goes well, he could potentially join the Orioles down the stretch as they make their final push for the playoffs in September.
Skating on the first line between Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana (the Capitals last two first-round selections), the 25-year-old got a good look at the team’s future, mentoring two of the Caps’ biggest offensive prospects in the system. The line dominated throughout the wee as Urbas showed off his offensive flair and puck-pressuring skill. For a better idea of how he plays, think Jeff Halpern in his prime, but with less goal scoring ability.
First recruited by Steve Richmond (the Capitals’ director of player development) in Germany, Urbas got on scouts’ radars with his play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Despite playing in the 7th highest league in the world (DEL), Urbas was solid in the Olympics, scoring a shorthanded goal and helping Slovenia make it to the quarterfinals for the first time ever.
I had the chance to talk to Urbas after Development Camp concluded. The center talked in great detail about his experience in the Olympics and the hero’s welcome he received when the Olympic team got home. He also shared his thoughts on Burakovsky and Vrana’s future–as well as an update on if the Caps had reached out to him with a deal.
After his Team Red lost to Team White 7-4 on Saturday, 2014 first-round pick Jakub Vrana was visibly disappointed. Sure, Vrana was just a few weeks removed from realizing the dream of getting drafted by an NHL team, but the 18-year-old couldn’t get past what happened on the ice.
Vrana still shared some interesting nuggets before departing. Vrana said he’s signed to a three-year deal with Linköping of the SHL and is unsure if he’ll be at Caps training camp in the fall. He also revealed some details about that fancy shootout goal he scored and his newfound love of American sandwiches.
Fleetwood had the number 1 stitched below Beninati’s name, just to make sure it was crystal clear who the best play-by-play man in the business is. Emmys are great, but customized jerseys are forever. And cozy.
At last year’s development camp, Andre Burakovsky was the resident adorable European, talking about eating “cinnamon rollers” and Tom Wilson making him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This year’s first-round pick, Jakub Vrana, has high expectations to live up to. He’s doing well so far.
“Okay, let’s get this out of the way: Is it Jakub or Jacob?” CSN’s Chuck Gormley asked as Varna stepped to the podium, trying to rectify the duel names Vrana is known by. “What do you prefer?”
“You can choose,” Vrana responded sheepishly. “Your choice. … Call me whatever you want.”
As the temperatures outside reached the 90s, Caps prospects and free agent invitees gathered inside a freezing Kettler Capitals Iceplex Monday for the first day of the team’s annual Development Camp. Afterwards, head coach Barry Trotz met the media. After focusing on the young players who will be Arlington this week, the conversation turned to the recent signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Orpik’s 5-year, $27.5 million deal has been much maligned, as Orpik is an aging poor possession player.
On a hot late spring day a little over a month ago, Brian MacLellan met the media for the first time as general manager of the Washington Capitals. The move to hire him was surprising, with MacLellan’s only executive experience coming under his recently fired boss George McPhee. But in his first press conference, MacLellan conveyed a more analytic tone than McPhee. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis praised MacLellan as someone who would “refresh” an organization with an already strong core.
Many fans feared MacLellan would be a continuation of McPhee, accepting the status quo and perpetually insisting the Capitals could paper over their flaws. Instead, he has transformed the team in one day, spending a stunning $67.5 million.
“I think we had some needs and we addressed them,” MacLellan told reporters. “We had cap room. Ownership gave the green light to get to the cap and we spent the money where we thought we needed to spend it the most.”
Alex Ovechkin is the most important person under contract with the Washington Capitals, more pivotal than either the general manager or the head coach. Signed to a 13-year, $124 million dollar deal in 2008, Ovechkin has become the Caps. His jersey sales sustain the team off the ice while his goal scoring provides the plurality of their offense. The preeminent task for his coach, then, is to manage him effectively. Barry Trotz, hired Monday by Washington, will now have to do that.
“It starts with a relationship,” Trotz told reporters from the Verizon Center club level yesterday. “I know I’m going to work at that but it can’t happen until I have a relationship with him because there’s no trust. For me Alex has to trust that I’m giving him the best advice for the team, for him, to grow his game. I don’t know Alex as well. Going against him, I know what he does well, but I need to know Alex the person. Coaching’s not just about Xs and Os, it’s about people.”
“I don’t know if I could give specifics,” Brian MacLellan said when asked how he differs from his former boss George McPhee. “He’s a good friend. He’s a character guy.”
Then MacLellan broke down. After 10 years in the NHL, MacLellan retired from league in 1992. He got an MBA, becoming an investment banker. In 2000, his old college teammate McPhee brought him back to the sport, asking him to join his young administration in Washington as a part-time scout. MacLellan accepted. Thirteen years later, MacLellan was standing up against a wall at Verizon Center having just filled McPhee job. The two talked during MacLellan’s interview process.
“You know, it’s a hard thing,” MacLellan said, gathering himself. “We’re different people. We have different personalities, different way to approach things. I think any two people are different.”
“We’re good friends,” he added. “We’re really good friends, and we’ve grown up together.”