Keith Aucoin has been here before. Here, literally, like the Washington Capitals’ dressing room at their practice facility – for not only training camp but 22 NHL games. He also got into 53 with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Aucoin, a 33-year-old journeyman and career minor leaguer, thought there might be a place for him with the Caps given that Nicklas Backstrom is out with a concussion, and he got the call Thursday.
“I read that he was hurt and he was having a lot of trouble so I knew obviously the last couple weeks I have a better chance of getting called up,” Aucoin said. “I just make sure I didn’t worry about it – just went there, I worked hard every night, helped the team down there winning and hope for the best.”
Aucoin has helped the Hershey Bears a lot, recording 11 goals and 59 assists in 43 games this season for the Caps’ first place American Hockey League affiliate.
This might be the best season ever for a guy who will likely be in the AHL Hall of Fame some day.
“It’s been pretty good. I think it’s tough to say right now. Our power play’s going really well; we’re running close to 30 percent and doing a lot of scoring there,” he said. “We have three, four lines that can go out there and score every night. Me and Chris Bourque have been playing really well together. It makes it a lot easier when you have camaraderie with a guy like that. You can go out there and score.”
Go out there and score is what the Caps want out of Aucoin, too. They’re averaging just 2.25 goals a game in Backstrom’s absence after putting up 3.0 before he got hurt.
“He’s a centerman and we need more playmaking centermen, if you wanted to call it that. With Nicky out, it makes a big hole. So we’ve got to do it by a combination of a bunch of guys. So that’s basically why he was called up,” coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s an offensive guy in the lineup trying to generate more offense.”
Aucoin, easily more than a point-a-game guy in the AHL, has just eight goals and 18 assists in 75 career NHL games. He returns to NHL game action Saturday at the Montreal Canadiens, likely on a line with Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward.
He knew Bruce Boudreau but will have to adjust to a new system under Hunter. But his new teammates are eager to see what Aucoin brings.
“He’s always a fiery player, plays with a lot of passion and plays with an edge,” Halpern said. “We don’t expect him to do anything but come in, play his game, play within the system and help us get a win.”