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  • Competition heats up for Caps' final roster spot Print
    Southeast
    Written by Erika Schnure   
    Friday, 30 September 2011 00:00

    Competition is getting fierce in the nation's capital for one forward spot among three players. As the preseason winds down, the competition has become fierce at Washington Capitals training camp. 

    Erika Schnure

    One forward spot is up for grabs in Washington, D.C., and three players want it. Who will it be?

    Only one candidate has seen regular season action with the Capitals and that is 23-year-old Mathieu Perreault, who leads the team in preseason scoring with two goals and two assists. 

    He split last season between Washington and AHL affiliate Hershey, producing 14 points at the NHL level. He is projected as a fast skater who works well with teammates, and capable of playing reasonably well on any line.

    Perreault's upside comes with some large caveats – his size (listed at 5-foot-10, 174 pounds) and inconsistency, plus the fact that he cannot play any position other than center.

    Perreault is aware that his consistency has to improve in order to make the NHL roster.

    "(The coaches) know what I'm capable of doing," Perreault said. "It's just a matter of doing it every night."

    One thing that is out of Perreault's control is his height. In reality, he's about 5-8 without skates.

    Another strike against Perreault is that he's relatively easy to knock off the puck, and has the potential to be hurt by larger players – as evidenced in December when hit by Carolina's Tim Gleason (6-0, 217 pounds). That hit left Perreault with a badly broken nose that he later admitted may have been a concussion.

    Perreault almost made the roster out of training camp last season, but the open center spot ultimately went to Marcus Johansson due to the Swede's defensive upside.

    With Johansson now a permanent member of the Capitals, Perreault thinks it's his turn.

    "Hopefully this year it's going to be me," Perreault said. "I don't want to go back to the American Hockey League. I've done what I had to do down there. I feel like I should be up here."

    But as it was last September, Perreault has to battle another Swede with a good defensive mindset for the position. This time, it's Mattias Sjogren, an undrafted free agent that the Capitals signed in June after helping Sweden to a silver medal in the 2011 IIHF World Championships.

    Sjogren is a big body (6-2, 209) who can play center and wing. He also plays a physical game perfect for an available third- or fourth-line position.

    "He's smart, he's big, he's strong, and he doesn't get pushed off the puck," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    On first glance, Sjogren is everything that Perreault is not. But watch Sjogren skate for just a few seconds and it's clear that his skating needs work.

    There are tenured Capitals on the third and fourth line that could make up for Sjogren's lack of speed, but it's an area in which Perreault has him beat.

    Also in the mix for that last spot is Cody Eakin, a recent graduate of the WHL who competed in this summer's Memorial Cup Final with the Kootenay Ice. Eakin is most heralded for his speed and scoring prowess.

    So valuable are his all-around talents that Kootenay traded five players and three draft picks to snag Eakin from Swift Current in a blockbuster January trade.Cody Eakin He can kill penalties, play on the power play and be counted on to help protect late-game leads.

    "(I need to) just show that I can understand each position I'm in and each scenario that I'm in on the ice, whether I'm on the backcheck or the forecheck, just to do smart, simple things and always keep my feet going," Eakin said.

    So far, Eakin has done just that.

    Since he was drafted in 2009, he's gotten much stronger and has put on weight, but the strength he has put on still may not be enough at the NHL level. At 5-11 and 176 pounds, he will probably be sent to Hershey to develop for a year before cracking the Capitals roster.

    However, he does have the ability to play all positions, a welcome trait for a line-juggler like Boudreau.

    With several strong prospects eyeing the prize of a roster spot, Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee have their work cut out for them when it comes to making a decision, though that was easier when Chris Bourque was put on waivers Thursday with the intention of being assigned to Hershey.

    "With just three players left in the race, it's up to the players themselves to show why they deserve a chance," Boudreau said. "We're just waiting for somebody to say, 'It's mine and somebody take it away from me. It's out there. Guys know it's out there."

    Notes

    Mike Santorelli left Tuesday's preseason game with a shoulder injury and could lose three to four weeks, leaving a spot wide open for Jonathan Huberdeau to make the Florida roster. Huberdeau, who scored a goal in Tuesday's game, is a possibility for making the team, according to coach Kevin Dineen. "The opportunity is out there. Jonathan's done a very good job of showing everything he can at camp to make a statement for his case," Dineen said. "He's shown his skill set, his work ethic; he's very respectful. He's shown a quiet confidence. We think the world of him as a player, as well as a person, He's doing his part." ... It is Jacob Markstrom's turn to graduate from the AHL. G Tyler Plante was sent to the San Antonio Rampage, making Markstrom the pick to back up Jose Theodore in Florida. Scott Clemmensen is due to start the season on injured reserve following minor knee surgery. ... Carolina is another team that may not being returning a 2011 draft pick to juniors. D Ryan Murphy survived the latest cuts Thursday, putting the 18-year-old that much closer to making the Hurricanes' roster. Should Murphy make the team, he'll be following in the footsteps of Jeff Skinner, who also made the jump directly from draft to NHL last season. ... After off-season surgery, Ryan Malone will play his first preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. He missed the first four contests as a precaution. Coach Guy Boucher values Malone's toughness, saying, "More than any other player on our team, he submits himself to those areas where it hurts. It's impossible to not get injured when you do the things he does." ... Mark Scheifele continues to make his case to stay in Winnipeg, leading the Jets in preseason scoring with three goals and three assists. He's also one of the top preseason scorers in the NHL. "I'm feeling pretty good right now," Scheifele said. "I think every day gets more and more comfortable. Coming to an NHL camp I had no expectations. I just wanted to play good and wanted to stick (with the Jets)."

    Photo by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Friday, 30 September 2011 14:28