Washington’s most noteworthy offseason acquisition was center Mikhail Grabovski, so there was a bit of a natural letdown when a visa problem led to the Belarusian pivot’s absence from the Caps’ first day of their 2013 training camp on Thursday.
The Caps had hoped that the delayed and much-anticipated camp arrival of the newly signed Grabovski might occur as soon as Friday night. Early on Friday, that seemed to be at least a possibility. The worst case scenario at that point was that Grabovski would join the Caps in Belleville, Ont. on Saturday and fly back to the District with his new teammates on the club’s charter flight home.
By late afternoon on Friday, even the worst-case scenario was squashed and out the window.
As it stands now, Grabovski will meet up with the Capitals in Belleville. He may even join them on the ice for their morning skate prior to Saturday’s Kraft Hockeyville preseason game against the Winnipeg Jets. But he won’t be joining the Capitals on their return flight to Washington after the game.
Instead, Grabovski will remain in Canada where he has a Monday appointment scheduled at the U.S. Consulate that he and the club both hope will help smooth out the final wrinkles in his visa situation.
“[Troy Brouwer] and I were talking about it out on the ice,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of Grabovski’s ordeal. “I feel for him because obviously he wants to be here. He doesn’t want to get off on the wrong foot and [he wants to] get some reps and see the guys. A lot of people don’t understand that walking into a locker room is a tough thing. Going to a new team is not an easy team. You want to just kind of settle in and have as much time to do that as possible.”
Oates spent some of his summer traveling, but some of that travel was actually as much for business as it was for pleasure. As we reported here last month, Oates made a trip to Los Angeles during the summer to meet with Grabovski and his agent and to make somewhat of a pitch for the center to join the Capitals.
Mere weeks later, Oates journeyed to Russia to meet with Caps captain Alex Ovechkin in Moscow. Oates also made the trek to Chelyabinsk to meet and spend some time with Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is currently playing for Chelyabinsk Traktor in the KHL.
Oates wanted to congratulate Ovechkin in person on winning the Hart Trophy, but there was more to his visit.
“I wanted to go see him and say hi and and see his way of life,” explains Oates. “So we got to spend some time with him and go see Kuznetsov at the same time. “
For Oates, it was his first trip to Russia. The journey was a long one, and the trip home took two days.
“It was intimidating because of the language and because it was my first time,” he admits. “It was great because [Ovechkin] took care of us from picking us up at the airport to taking us into the city.
“I didn’t know what to expect. Once you got downtown by the Kremlin there, the architecture was gorgeous and you could see how the city is changing to a cosmopolitan-type city. He’s the man around there.
“I went to Dynamo, where he skated as a kid, which had some unbelievable jerseys from all the guys who played in the NHL. It was a really cool setup. I watched him workout with his trainer. It was a great experience.”
Oates saw Kuznetsov play in a pair of KHL games and also got some face time with the talented 21-year-old who was Washington’s first-round choice (26th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
“I’ve never seen him play and there’s a chance he’s going to be playing for us,” says Oates. “It was kind of a goodwill thing just to let him know that we care and to get a chance to watch [him play] and experience some more hockey over there.
“It was good, it was a good experience. I had dinner with him twice, I watched him play two games, I met his wife. [He is a] super nice kid. We talked hockey; we talked about the games I just watched. It was a good experience. It was good just to watch the hockey.
“At first I was a little worried that [Chelyabinsk Traktor team officials] might get upset that I was there. But he’s told them that he’s leaving. He took charge and he got us a hotel room. It was my first time so you don’t want to go over there if you don’t speak the language. It was tough.”
Oates compared Kuznetsov’s personality to that of Ovechkin.
“[He is] more like Ovi,” says Oates. “Outgoing, laughs. Engaging, talkative.”
Oates hesitated to give much of a scouting report on Kuznetsov on the ice.
“He’s a talented man, no question,” relates Oates. “It’s hard to tell; you don’t want to judge the hockey because it’s different. They play a different style. But you can see he is a very talented man.”
In the three years since Washington drafted Kuznetsov, Caps fans have wondered when they might finally get a glimpse of him in a Capitals sweater playing in an NHL game. Oates has good news for those fans.
“He’s anxious [to come over],” says Oates. “He wants to test himself with the best, is what he said, which is a huge compliment. Obviously he has thought about it because he is well taken care of over there and he wants to see how he would do in our hockey.”
The Caps trimmed two players off their training camp roster on Friday, releasing forwards Zach Harnden and T.J. Foster. Both players played in Monday’s rookie game against the Philadelphia Flyers, a game that resulted in a 1-0 Washington loss.
The trims leave the Caps with 68 players on their camp roster, including Grabovski.