Generally Speaking

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Of the 24 rookies in town for the Caps’ 2010 rookie training camp, only 11 are Washington draft choices. A similar ratio holds for the team’s summer development camps. In order to flesh out a camp roster so there are enough players for scrimmages and games (like Thursday’s rookie game against Philly), the Caps’ scouting department has to constantly cast an eye about for players who might be a good fit. [/caption] When the Caps concluded their summer development camp less than two months ago, we sat down with Caps director of player development Steve Richmond -- a former collegiate standout (U. of Michigan) and NHL defenseman -- to talk about the value of rookie camps and the process of populating a summer development camp. Some of those free agents in attendance at Kettler in July impressed sufficiently to draw a return invite for this week's rookie training camp. Known as "The General" since his playing days, Richmond was on the ice with Washington's rookies during Monday's testing sessions and he has been watching from the stands during the rest of camp. Even as the Caps are on the cusp of opening training camp in preparation for the 2010-11 season, they are also in the process of preparing for next summer’s development camp. Talk a little bit about the value of summer development camp organizationally, from the standpoint of getting a look a your drafted guys obviously but also identifying players like Jay Beagle and Zach Miskovic who end up parlaying this invitation into a pro contract. “Obviously we want to look at our drafted guys and see their progress and the see how the new guys fit in, but a big part of it is to see these free agents and get a handle on them not only on the ice, but off the ice: how they are, how they act, their work ethic. Are they good kids? Are they problem kids? We’re around them all day long for a week so we get to see them. We eat with them, we talk with them, we sit with them, we watch them. “That’s a big part of it, and then you end up with a guy like a Beagle or a Miskovic and you get to know them. And when it’s time to turn pro, we know them and they know us and it’s a good marriage.” Compare this sort of thing to what you and George [McPhee] had when you were playing. “Well, we had nothing like this. I remember when me and George first signed, they sent us up to Brainerd, Minnesota for three weeks. We didn’t know where we were going. They just put us on the ice and they skated the crap out of us for three weeks. We ran all day long and there was no organization, no coaches. There were some scouts there running it and some hockey school guys but it was nothing like this. “We have a nutritionist, we have a strength coach, a physiologist, we have NHL coaches, American League coaches, ECHL coaches. GMs are here, owners are here, the team president is here. Everybody is here. It’s a great training tool and it’s a great place to showcase your talents in front of NHL people. The intensity of the camp is just terrific.” [/caption] Obviously, you’re going to invite all your drafted players, but in order to fill out two rosters you’ve got to get more guys. It’s natural to grab a few local guys, but how do you go about filling out the rest of a summer camp roster? “Basically, we start as soon as summer camp is over. We start making up free agent lists of college and junior players for the following year and then we start tracking them. Usually by November or December, the guys we think are going to be high-end guys for us, the guys we think are going to have a chance to play, we contact them and let them know what we have going on here and tell them we want them to come to our camp. “We get a lot of commitments by January. Some take a little longer because they’re weighing things out. I think the word-of-mouth is really good because we go after a lot of college kids. We had two kids from Miami this year. They go back [to school], and it’s a pretty high-end program. They love this camp; we get the feedback from them. It’s professionally run, and the NHL coaches are on the ice. “Word gets out. There are all these camps, so which one should I go to? Washington signed three or four guys out of their camp, Beagle and Miskovic type players. So they say, ‘You know, that’s a good opportunity.’ It’s a great city, it’s intense and they get to do things besides play hockey. They get to see the city and they actually get to interact with management and coaches. “So the word of mouth gets out that Washington has a pretty good development camp." It looked like it was a really competitive group. Right from the start of Monday morning, nobody was out of their element. Nobody was in the weeds the whole week. “I think out of all the camps we’ve had, this was the most talented from top to bottom. Maybe we had some higher end players before, but you put a [Evgeny] Kuznetsov and a [Marcus] Johansson in there with some college players including one who maybe has a chance to win the Hobey Baker, your skill level has gone way up. I thought that from top to bottom as far as skill level and compete levels in the players, it was the best we’ve had and it showed in the competitive games and practices we had.” Talk a little bit about it from the standpoint of drafted players. College guys like Dan Dunn and Phil DeSimone are in their senior years and they they’ve been to a few of these camps, but this is a big year for them as far as their possible pro career goes. Same with junior guys like Brett Flemming and Garrett Mitchell. This is their contract year. If they want that entry level deal, they’re going to have to show something. They’ve been to a few camps and you can see their level of familiarity and comfortability increasing as the years go by. “Sure. The first-year drafted players, we bring them to this camp to see them on the ice, obviously, but also just to get them ready for a pro camp so when they come here in September, they know where to get their laces, they know the trainers and they can get their skates sharpened and ask for a stick if they need one. “Sometimes, they come in here and they’re scared to death to talk to anyone, they just want to come in and play. They might have broken skates or who knows. But now they’re familiar with everybody. They’re comfortable. They know who [equipment manager] Brock [Myles] is, they know who [assistant equipment manager] Woody [Leydig] is, they know who [head athletic trainer Greg Smith] is, they know me and they know George. So they’re comfortable. “And the guys who have been around a couple years, we tell them ‘When you come to camp, you better be ready because you’re playing for a contract.’ They could come out of summer camp with a contract. Or going into last year of junior, if they have a good rookie camp and a good main camp, they could head back to junior with a contract in their pocket. That should be their goal. And you can see by the condition that they come here in that they have been through it two or three times, so they know what to expect. And they know this is serious, because this is their last year to get that contract.” Do you look at summer camp as the end of the 2009-10 season or the beginning of the 2010-11 season? “I told my wife before I left that this is my favorite week of the year. It’s the beginning of the new season and all the kids are here. This is the beginning of a huge season for us. That’s the way we look at it.”

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The Rest of the Story

January 14, 2013

Eric Belanger was one of four players acquired by the Capitals at the March 3 trade deadline of the 2009-10 NHL season. A veteran center with a consistent and steady résumé in the league, Belanger figured to draw the interest of clubs around the NHL as a pending unrestricted free agent. Days after

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