Thursday, July 29, 2010

Focus on... um... Dudes Traded to the Caps

I've admitted that I have a weakness when it comes to the Western Conference - basically I don't (edit: can't without Center Ice which I can't afford) really watch much of it or know all the players.  But I definitely wasn't the only Caps fan saying "Who?" when it was announced that the Capitals traded (Ed. note: *sniffle*) prospect Stefan Della Rovere to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for D.J. King.  So for all those Caps fans who were wondering who the heck this D.J. King is, I've compiled some information, much in the style of my "Focus on Prospects" posts.  Just to help Caps fans get acquainted and know what to expect.  Here we go...

photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Name: Dwayne "D.J." King
Position: LW
Shoots: Left
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 230 lbs
Birthdate: 1984-06-27
Hometown: Meadow Lake, Sask.

Based on popular opinion, there's no question over what King's role is on a hockey team: he's a fighter.  A Donald Brashear 2.0 if you will - obviously younger than Brash at 26, but big, tough, and willing to drop the gloves with the toughest guys in the league.  In fact, he's already dropped the gloves with, well, all the toughest guys in the league.  Blues fans have pointed most often to his regular bouts with Derek Boogaard pretty much every single time the Blues met the Wild (and now with Boogaard also joining the East as a New York Ranger, their bouts can continue).  A notable fight with Boogaard is below, and is one of the longer hockey fights I've seen, as well as covering about half the ice:

He's also regularly matched up with Ducks tough guy George Parros (three times alone in the 2007-08 season).  King has even traded blows with... John Erskine?  In the 2003 preseason (a year after King was drafted), Erskine was with the Dallas Stars.  In a preseason game against the Blues, King and Erskine got into it, and King dropped Erskine with a heavy right hook.

All right, so the guy can fight.  Anything else?  Well, not really.  But that's why he's a fourth-line guy.  King started out his career playing in the WHL with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.  While there, his stats very much mirror Matt Bradley's current NHL stats - usually averaging around 12 goals a season.  He hasn't scored much more than 1 goal a season since being in the NHL, though that's not his job.  Hockey's Future says he can be a "fourth-liner in the NHL when his team is in need of some muscle."  He doesn't have much of an offensive prowess but can "bang in the occasional goal."  Not that we would need another power forward with the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin.

And "muscle" is something that the Capitals need - the Caps have been without a proven fighter since the departure of Donald Brashear, aside from the occasional fights courtesy of Matt "Paper Skin" Bradley, and to a lesser extent, Jason Chimera.  This has been a bit of a weak spot for the Caps - without a tried and true enforcer, guys like Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom have had a target on their backs (targets that have gotten Green and Semin injured in the past).  It's important to note in the above video that in the scrum, King seems to be coming to the defense of his teammate Weaver, who was boarded a bit after the whistle.  Case in point: after the trade, King was told about Max Talbot's recent comments on Ovechkin, and King responded:
"Wow. I guess that’s not going to be happening too much longer, I guess."
In summary, King is huge, physical, and protects his teammates.  While he's not exactly a 2C or the defensive defenseman that the Caps still need, he is filling a role that has been missing in the past.  He's had major problems with injuries, but seems to be recovered from his latest, and is fresh off a conditioning stint in Peoria.  He should be right at home on a tough forechecking line with Bradley and David Steckel.  It's tough to say how well he's going to do in an offense-loaded system as is typical to the East, but let's just say that training camp should be very interesting.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Exciting News

I've announced this on Twitter and Facebook, but The Fourth Period has come to me and asked me to be the Washington Capitals Correspondent for next season.  I have accepted.

I will be posting exclusive weekly content on The Fourth Period's website beginning in September with training camp.  I will still be posting here with prospect profiles and anything else that I feel like writing.  I'll also link to my TFP articles on here so you know where to find them.  I hope to eventually earn press credentials and be able to bring you in-depth coverage from a fan's perspective.

I'm thrilled for this opportunity to break into an industry that I've wanted to get into for some time.  Thanks everyone for your support and GO CAPS!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Focus on Prospects: Andy Miele

 photo by me

The last scrimmage of the Washington Capitals' development camp drew approximately 4,000 fans to Kettler Capitals Iceplex on a Saturday morning in July. One of the standouts of the scrimmage game, with the game-winning shootout goal, was Andy Miele, a camp invitee. So who is he? The Rink Rebel decided to find out.

 photo by Associated Press (Miele in white)

Name: Andy Miele
Position: LW
Shoots: Left
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 175 lbs
Birthdate: 1988-04-15
Hometown: Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan

Andy Miele started early in the last development camp scrimmage - he scored the first goal with a pretty move to send the puck past goaltender Philipp Grubauer. Later on, in the shootout, he scored the game winner with a stutter-step move to beat Braden Holtby.

Small (his listed roster height may be a tad generous) but speedy, the undrafted Miele began his hockey career in the USHL in 2005 with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. He blossomed after a 2006 midseason trade to the Chicago Steel, becoming a strong scorer and the star of the team. He was selected to the USHL All-Star roster in 2007, and was the team's top scorer. However, becoming college-eligible in January 2008, Miele announced his intention to attend Miami University (OH) and departed Chicago midseason. But not before breaking the Chicago Steel's all-time scoring record with 43 goals in his time on the Chicago roster.

When Miele got to Miami, he kept up his energetic scoring pace, scoring the game-winning goal against Lake Superior State in his first game as a RedHawk, just over a week after departing Chicago. In his next season in 2008-09, he improved still, becoming a reliable member of the power play unit (4 of his 15 goals in the season came on the power play). He was selected as the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week in October for his performance in a double-header against Notre Dame. Though he wasn't racking up the scoring numbers he'd seen in Chicago, he was earning the respect of the Miami coaching staff and his fellow players. According to Miami Assistant Coach Chris Bergeron, Miele came in to Miami "with his mouth shut and his ears open" and while he isn't a vocal leader in the locker room, he leads by example on the ice. 

2009-10 was an even better year for Miele. He was selected to the All-CCHA second team and was second on the RedHawks in points with 44. Miele's outstanding ability to see the ice and his puck control were benefits for both him and his linemates - he recorded a team-high 29 assists and was +22 for the season, which was also second on the team. He proved a defensive prowess as well and became a valuable guy in front of his own net and on the penalty kill, blocking 34 shots. The RedHawks went to the Frozen Four in 2010, besting Michigan in overtime to get to the tournament. However, Miami was knocked out of the tournament in a rout courtesy of Boston College, who won 7-1.
But Miele has high hopes for next year, especially as the rising senior has been awarded an "A" on his sweater. Miele hopes for a national championship for the RedHawks, but whatever the outcome, Bruce Boudreau may have a job for him after the season - Miele was one of the players the coach singled out at the conclusion of this week's development camp. Boudreau's "all-camp" team consisted of Miele and his former Steel teammate Eric Alexander, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Cody Eakin, Dustin Stevenson and Joe Finley. Boudreau was obviously impressed with the diminutive forward:
"I really liked that Andy Miele, I thought he had a great camp... How can you not like the little guys? He was shifty, made great plays, and had a beautiful first goal. When you get little guys and they compete, it’s hard not to be pulling for them... His skating is tremendous, there's little things he has to do, but we've got three weeks in training camp with the best players we have, and I think you'll see a marked difference... I like what I saw and I know he's going to improve."

The folks over at Rock the Red were able to sit down and have a chat with Miele during the week - it's worth a read.

Note: Miele was one of two current Miami RedHawks to be invited to camp - his teammate Steve Spinell (So.) also attended. Teammate Pat Cannone (Sr.) attended last year's Capitals camp.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Focus on Prospects: Philipp Grubauer

I was in Las Vegas working during the NHL Draft, and missed about 99% of it, so all my draft news came in tidbits of the 4 seconds a day I was able to check Twitter. So the second I saw that with our fourth-round selection, we traded up two draft picks in order to get Philipp Grubauer, I squealed in the middle of a crowded restaurant (yes, people stared). So without further ado, I present... Philipp Grubauer, my very favorite Capitals draft pick of the 2010 Entry Draft.

photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Name: Philipp Grubauer
Position: G
Catches: Left
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 180 lbs
Birthdate: 1991-11-25
Hometown: Rosenheim, Germany

I've become a Windsor Spitfires fan over the past two seasons, and while I was sad to see Andrew Engelage (now with the ECHL's Reading Royals) go after the 2009 Memorial Cup Championship, I grew to know Grubauer after he was traded from the Belleville Bulls to the Windsor Spitfires in January 2010. Grubauer took over the top goalie position for Windsor, and quickly made an impression with the 2009 Champions, being named as the Spitfires Player of the Week (as voted by Windsor coaching staff) in March. At that point, he was tied for first in GAA among all OHL goalies and second in save percentage. Grubauer entered the Spitfires roster as they were gearing up for their 2010 playoff run, and he helped them toward that lofty back-to-back CHL Champions goal.  

As we know, the Spitfires did indeed repeat, and Grubauer was an integral part of the victory - in the Memorial Cup tournament alone, his stats were outstanding: besides being undefeated, he had a 2.14 GAA and an exceptional .930 SV%. Keep in mind that though these stats were only over 4 games, they were against the best teams in the Canadian Hockey League. During the games he played with the Spitfires in the regular season (19 games) he was 13-1-2 with a .906 SV% and 2.37 GAA. Still impressive numbers for the well-traveled German.  

He becomes more well-traveled next season - he and a 2010 draft pick were traded to the Kingston Frontenacs just last week in order for Windsor to gain higher draft picks in the OHL Entry Draft. Windsor has also signed WJC US goalie Jack Campbell, and thus didn't seem to have much use for Grubauer with Campbell's pedigree and experience putting him as the obvious starter in Windsor. However, it should be a good move for Grubauer, since with Campbell in charge in Windsor, Grubauer would play limited minutes, whereas he is slated as the Kingston starter next season.

There has been talk amongst Capitals analysts that has labeled Grubauer as "inconsistent." He was yanked from net after allowing 12 goals in the first 2 games during the tough playoff series with the Kitchener Rangers (the Rangers went 3-0 the first 3 games). However, as the starter in Game 5, he shut out the Rangers, stopping 28 shots. In the Spits' later series with the Barrie Colts (Stefan Della Rovere's club) for the OHL Championship, Grubauer was seeing (and stopping) over 30 shots in the majority of those games.

In terms of the consistency issue, I'd just say keep in mind that he is only 18, and has played just two full seasons in juniors. He has had a great amount of experience in just these past few months: winning the 2010 Memorial Cup, and also competing as the starting goalie for Germany in the 2010 WJC-20 Division I Championships: where he racked up unbelievable numbers - a 0.64 GAA and .974 SV% in 5 games (he also participated in the 2008 U17 Challenge and the 2009 WJC-20 Championships). At the end of those 2010 WJC-20 D1 Championships, Germany finished with the gold medal, and Grubauer with the "Top Player on a Team" honor. Germany's win means that they will be competing in the 2011 WJC. So we know he at least is good under pressure.

And of course, he has many years to continue to develop as a goalie. Being just 18, he has at least two more seasons in Canadian juniors before he ages out, plus he will be gaining experience in this year's Capitals development camp. His glove hand definitely needs to be improved, but his kick saves in general are excellent due to his agility and quickness in the crease. With next year's expected Caps goalies being Varlamov and Neuvirth, Grubauer could end up in Hershey after juniors. But I wouldn't worry about any inconsistency just yet - he's got a lot of time before he sees solid ice time with any team in the Caps organization. Right now his job is to take all he can from development camp and get as much experience as possible as the starter in Kingston next season. Overall, he may condition enough to be a great goalie, and it is a good goalie draft pick for the Caps.

To see more of his grace under fire, check out the below video (which I watched live and was outraged over of course) during Windsor's OHL Finals series against the Barrie Colts. In the final minute of Game 3 of their series (which Windsor swept), the Colts were already losing 5-2 when Colt Darren Archibald ran over Grubauer as he stepped behind the net to clear a puck to his defensemen. The collision was troubling, but Grubauer got up, smirking a bit as if to say, "Is that all you got, punk?" I think Grubauer has the sense of humor necessary to deal with the pests in hockey, and also has the smarts to brush off the insults. Archibald, by the way, was suspended for this incident.

(Note: I wish I could have used a picture of Grubauer in a Caps draft jersey, but alas, there isn't one, as Grubauer was in Germany during the draft and thus was obviously not present. Grubauer's first appearance in a Caps jersey will be during next week's development camp - all five 2010 draft picks are slated to attend.)