Washington’s 2013-14 preseason continues on Monday night in Philadelphia when the Capitals take on the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. The Caps opened their eight-game 2013 preseason slate with a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Belleville, Ont. on Saturday night.
The Caps will send an entirely different group of players to Philly for Monday’s game than the bunch that went to Belleville for Saturday’s win over Winnipeg. Monday’s game against the Flyers will mark the NHL preseason debut of Caps forward Andre Burakovsky, the team’s first-round choice (23rd overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft.
The 18-year-old Burakovsky was impressive at Washington’s summer development camp and he has continued to impress this week in his first pro training camp. After playing in Malmo, Sweden last season, he is slated to play for the OHL’s Erie Otters in 2013-14.
During Washington’s 2013 training camp, Burakovsky has skated the left side of a line with a pair of savvy veteran pros. Jeff Taffe has manned the middle of Burakovsky’s line while Brandon Segal has skated the starboard wing.
The 32-year-old Taffe was a first-round choice himself back in 2000, going to the St. Louis Blues with the final pick (30th overall) of the first round. He has played many more games in the AHL (606) than the NHL (180) over the years, and he totaled his 500th AHL point with Hershey last season.
Taffe has had a pair of 50-assist seasons in the AHL and he tied for the league lead with 53 helpers last season.
Segal was Nashville’s fourth-round choice (102nd overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. A 30-year-old native of British Columbia, Segal has played 103 games in the NHL and 589 at the AHL over the course of his pro career. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Segal is capable of keeping the peace.
Burakovsky will take the ice with a player (Taffe) who is capable of getting the puck to him and another (Segal) whose physical nature can create a bit more space for Burakovsky.
“I didn’t think much of it until I realized where we were playing,” says Taffe. “It’ll be a tough game. Obviously everybody knows how Philly plays at home and guys are trying to make statements. I hope the game has changed enough where guys aren’t taking runs at him.
“It’s going to be a fast game, but this kid flies around the ice. If anything happens, Segal’s a big, tough guy. Hopefully we can complement him pretty well and kind of let him do his thing out there.”
The threesome of Burakovsky, Taffe and Segal has been practicing together for four days now, since camp opened on Thursday.
“I’m really impressed with his shot and overall speed,” says Taffe. “He’s a quick player who plays the game fast and that’s something that you need these days. You can tell he is a smart player who looks to make plays.
“I think myself and Brandon are the same way, but we’re about a zone behind him right now with those young legs. It’s hard keeping up with him sometimes. But you can tell he thinks the game and he’s going to be a good player.”
Monday’s game against the Flyers will also give Caps fans their first look at Eric Fehr as a center. Caps coach Adam Oates has decided to experiment with Fehr – a right wing since coming into the league in 2005-06 – as a center.
Fehr will skate the middle of a line with Jason Chimera on the left and Joel Ward on the right. Fehr and Chimera have skated together frequently over the years, but always on the flanks.
After Sunday’s practice, Fehr noted that he thought he’d been improving on his face-off work in practice and said that neutral zone regroups was an area in which he wanted to concentrate on improving.
“I think at game time you really see it because you’re used to going certain places at certain times,” says Chimera. “It’s one of those things where as a winger you always want to come back to your wing. I think it will be different with Fehrsie coming back. We’ll fill in and talk to him a bit and help him out. It’s certainly different when you haven’t played there your whole career, that’s for sure.”
Veteran defensemen John Erskine and John Carlson will anchor the Caps’ defense in Philly. The backline will be decidedly younger beyond that pair.
At the tender age of 23, Carlson is set to start his fifth season in the NHL. As he does, the eyes of the selection committee for the U.S. Olympic team are on him.
“I try to not worry about it,” says Carlson, of the possibility of playing for his country at the Sochi Olympic Games in February. “Obviously there may be a little more emphasis on it at the beginning of the season.
“I’m excited; it’ll be great if I get the chance to make that team. But if I get caught worrying about it, things usually don’t go well. I play for the Capitals; that’s my job. I’ve got to make sure that I’m helping my team win every night.”