Last week, the Caps inked goaltender Vitek Vanecek to a three-year entry level contract. The signing came days after the 18-year-old Vanecek finished participating in Washington’s annual summer development camp and less than a month after the Capitals chose him with their second-round (39th overall) choice in the 2014 NHL Draft.
With the signing of Vanecek, the Caps now have seven goaltenders under contract for the upcoming 2014-15 season. Three of those seven goaltenders have been added to the Capitals’ netminding stable in the last month and four of them have joined the organization since the start of calendar 2014. Washington also has a new goalie coach in veteran netminding guru Mitch Korn.
Washington obtained goaltender Edward Pasquale from Winnipeg in a draft day trade; then it signed Pasquale (a restricted free agent at the time of the deal) to a one-year contract earlier this month.
The Capitals also signed unrestricted free agent goalie Justin Peters to a two-year pact on July 1, the first day of the league’s annual summer free agent shopping season. Peters, who turns 28 late in August, is the eldest of Washington’s seven goaltenders.
Peters is expected to serve as a backup to Braden Holtby at the NHL level while Pasquale and Philipp Grubauer share the nets for Washington’s AHL affiliate in Hershey, Pa. Brandon Anderson and Pheonix Copley comprise the probable goaltending duo for the Capitals’ ECHL affiliate in Charleston, S.C. Copley was signed as an unrestricted free agent out of Michigan Tech upon the conclusion of the 2013-14 NCAA season.
At this point, it’s likely that Vanecek will be playing in his native Czech Republic in 2014-15, but that’s not etched in stone.
When Vanecek and Copley were in Arlington for development camp earlier this month, they benefited from the tutelage of three different goaltending mentors: Korn, Olie Kolzig and Scott Murray. Korn is one of the league’s most celebrated goaltending coaches; he’s been coaching goaltenders in the NHL for more than two decades and he signed on as the Caps’ goalie coach in late June. Korn takes over from Kolzig, who will be remaining with the organization in an as-yet-to-be-determined role. Murray will be starting his second season as the organization’s associate goaltending coach.
In Korn, the Caps have a disciple of longtime Washington goaltending coach Dave Prior, who was considered one of the best in the business for a couple of decades.
“I learned from Dave Prior when I was a teenager,” says Korn. “I worked for Dave at Can-Am hockey school. He was my boss when I first went from a counselor position to a coach’s position.”
Prior’s last season as Washington’s goaltending coach was 2012-13. He and then-head coach Adam Oates didn’t see eye-to-eye on some issues, and Prior was not retained after the ’12-13 campaign. Korn spent seven seasons in Buffalo and spent the last 16 seasons working under Caps coach Barry Trotz in Nashville.
Kolzig was a big believer in Prior’s methodology and philosophy during his days as a Washington goaltender, and he is also a Prior disciple as a coach. Korn mirrors one of Prior’s core tenets, that of maximizing the strengths while minimizing weaknesses of his pupils.
“We share the exact same philosophy regarding the goalies,” Korn firmly states, in referring to Prior. “I am not going to coach out of a guy what he does well, even if it isn’t totally mainstream. I actually made that comment the other day when The Buffalo News was doing a piece on Dominik Hasek, who everybody knows that I spent six years with in Buffalo. That is probably the epitome of not getting a guy to change. I used that line because I truly believe that. I try to work within what you do best and try to make that better. And I try to take what you may not do as well, and either find a way to hide it or improve it.”