NASHVILLE, Tenn. | Joel Ward is who the Capitals thought he was when they signed him away from the Nashville Predators with a four-year, $12 million deal.
“I’m studly. I’ve got an unbelievable team. My fantasy team is pretty stacked,” Ward joked.
OK, being a first-place fantasy football owner isn’t what Predators coach Barry Trotz meant when he told Bruce Boudreau what to expect out of the gritty, 30-year-old right wing. The two coaches talked at length about Ward over the summer, and Boudreau noted that he’s “the kind of player Barry told us he was.”
“He’s done everything we’ve asked of him: Two-way player, great person in the locker room. He’s very responsible; you can put him in any situation and he thrives,” Boudreau said. “You put him on a line that’s not going well, the line goes well. He’s a great team player.”
That sounds in line with Trotz’s glowing praise of a guy whom he coached for the past three seasons. Back in September when the Predators were in Baltimore, Trotz compared Ward to Brooks Laich.
“He was a Mr. Fix-It for us,” Trotz said. “We can use him in a lot of different areas, and he plays a little bit different game than a lot of guys for the Caps.”
Ward, whose NHL career high for goals in a season is 17, has four to go along with three assists in just 15 games. And he’s part of what has been the most effective all-around line the Caps have, affectionately known as the “Meats and potato” trio of Ward, Laich and Jason Chimera.
Those three haven’t been together for every game. According to the website Left Wing Lock, which tracks combinations, they’ve been together for 16.14 percent of even-strength shifts, the most of any trio on the team.
But what Ward can do in moving up and down the lineup is what Trotz explained.
“When I talked to Gabby I said this guy can really be a good player – he can play on any line, any situation and he can stabilize it,” Trotz said. “And it looks like that’s what he’s done. Coaches are seeing the same thing that we’ve seen in a few years previous to that.”
Stabilization is a product of Ward’s fundamental game, too.
“He does all those little things: he gets pucks out, he’s strong on the wall, he’ll block a shot,” Trotz said. “When things get a little bit chaotic in the defensive zone, he can sort that out.”