jan-urbas-washington-capitals

Photo: RRBG Photography

In May, Fedor broke the news that Slovenian center Jan Urbas had agreed to a try-out agreement with the Washington Capitals. In July, the six-foot, three-inch, 218-pound forward made his debut in a Caps jersey at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in the team’s Development Camp.

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.

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Vrana (3 of 5)

Photo: Chris Gordon

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.

When I spoke to Vrana afterwards, the Czech winger wasn’t his usual joking, smiling self.

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.

My full interview with Vrana, who signed his entry-level contract with the Capitals on Tuesday, is below.

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joe-beninati-customized-caps-jersey

Photo: @AdamVingan

On Tuesday morning CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley and NBC Washington’s Adam Vingan reported something right up our alley. Michael Fleetwood, a hardcore Washington Capitals fan, arrived to Development Camp wearing a red Caps home jersey customized with Joe Beninati‘s name on the back.

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.

I had to ask Joe B himself about it.

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Vrana (5 of 5)

Photos by Chris Gordon

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.”

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Trotz

Photo: Chris Gordon

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.

Last week, new Caps GM Brian MacLellan defended Orpik’s numbers, saying he is relied upon for tough minutes and defensive zone starts. Trotz’s rationale for the signing was a little bit different than MacLellan’s, but probably just as disturbing to the Twitter intelligentsia.

“The effect is not going to be in goals and assists,” Trotz said. “It’s going to be in culture and winning and attitude.” Continue Reading

Trotz MacLellan (8 of 13)

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

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.”

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Trotz MacLellan (7 of 13)

Photo: Chris Gordon

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.”

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Trotz MacLellan (6 of 13)

Photo: Chris Gordon

“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.”

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McPhee (7 of 14)

Photo: Chris Gordon

After this season, with the futures of Adam Oates and George McPhee in doubt, many wondered what the relationship was like between the two men. There was good reason to. During Oates’s administration, McPhee made two major offensive acquisitions: Dustin Penner and Martin Erat. While McPhee talked up both players as top-six powerhouses, Oates never gave them significant minutes on the top two lines. During his final press conference as the Capitals general manager, McPhee declined to talk about whether there was a row with Oates.

“I don’t want to talk about individuals because when you do that you either miss somebody that you should be praising and people get upset, and I just would rather have a happy day and duck individual talk,” McPhee said, adding later that Oates’s firing “was unfortunate for Adam because it was a short tenure.”

However, McPhee heaped praise on Bruce Boudreau, a coach he personally fired, and Dale Hunter, whose departure led to Oates’s hiring.

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McPhee (10 of 14)

Photos by Chris Gordon

Monday morning, George McPhee said goodbye to an organization he’s known for 17 years.

He was charming, not bitter, during his 34-minute press conference at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Canned on Saturday, McPhee deflected blame toward himself, refusing to discuss individual performances.

“Should I start by saying fire away or is that the wrong terminology?” McPhee joked as he walked up to the podium. “I felt it was coming, but in this job, you’re 24 hours away from being fired almost any time.”

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