- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

Two days ago Tomas Fleischmann went through drills at Washington Capitals practice working with Michael Nylander, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Yesterday he was on the right side of a unit that included Viktor Kozlov and Alex Ovechkin — a spot he has been in before during this camp. The message is pretty obvious: If Fleischmann can prove he is ready to be a top-six forward between now and the start of the season, then he’s going to be one on opening night in Atlanta on Oct. 5.

“It is what I feel, and it is why I have to step forward and make the plays and show what I can do,” Fleischmann said. “I need to try to fit with those guys and show I can play like them.”

Added coach Glen Hanlon: “He is one of a few that we are trying in there. [Ovechkin, Kozlov and Fleischmann] looked pretty comfortable out there. I think the key to those things is to be able to skate with that group and to have the offensive awareness to play with them.”

Fleischmann was drafted by Detroit in the second round of the 2003 draft. He is a Czech Republic native, but he came to North America to play for Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League for two seasons after the Red Wings selected him.

Washington acquired him, along with draft picks that became Mike Green and Luke Lynes, from Detroit for Robert Lang at the trade deadline before the lockout. After a so-so year in the American Hockey League, Fleischmann blossomed in the “A” during the 2005-06 season. He had 30 goals and 63 points in 57 games before earning a late season promotion.

“It is his skill,” said Frederic Cassivi, who has been the No. 1 goalie in Hershey and watched Fleischmann at the other end. “The way he sees the ice — he uses his imagination out there to make some plays that you can’t even believe. He is just so good with the puck. The other thing is he works so hard. I think his effort level is very high whether it is practice or in games.”

Last season was more of the same for the man teammates call “Flash.” He had 51 points in 45 AHL games, and he had a more extended look with the Caps. He had four goals and eight points in 29 games.

Some nights he looked like he definitely belonged, and on others like he needed more seasoning. Playing time was also a factor. The organization didn’t want to keep him in Washington if he were only playing seven to 10 minutes a night on the fourth line.

“It is a price a lot of young players have to pay,” Fleischmann said. “It was better for me to be playing more hockey if I was just going to be sitting up here and there was no spot for me, so that’s what I was doing. I tried to play hard up and I tried to play hard down there. It was good.”

There are only a couple of open spots for forwards on this team, and one is expected to go to Backstrom. While there are other players like Dave Steckel and Chris Bourque competing with Fleischmann, he is in a rather interesting situation.

Fleischmann is a restricted free agent, and he is in camp without a signed contract.

“I don’t really think it is a big deal,” Fleischmann said. “It is a contract about me, but all the worries are for my agent and the guys up here. I have no idea what is going on. Sometimes I hear something is going on, but it is not that big of a deal. I know I will sign soon.”

“Flash” is not a big guy; he’s listed generously at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. He is an offensive-minded player who can be very creative in space. He must prove he can score in traffic and absorb the physical contact, as well as be mindful of defensive responsibilities.

Should the Caps decide he has done enough to fit on one of the top two lines, Fleischmann’s signing a contract could be a formality. If he doesn’t and the Caps decide to move Chris Clark into the top six, then there might not be a spot for Fleischmann on one of the bottom two lines. If that is the case, he likely would look for employment elsewhere — either with another NHL team or in Europe.

After two successful seasons with Hershey, the 23-year-old Fleischmann doesn’t have anything left to prove in the AHL. In the NHL is another matter.

“Every day I have to prove myself,” he said. “That’s not going to change. Every person is different, but just speed is probably the thing I need to work on. Speed on the ice and looking for open ice and space to do my work.

“I’m trying to do everything 100 percent. I don’t know. It is on the coaches and other people to say how I am doing, but I feel good.”

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