The Washington Capitals could have nine defensemen who played for them last season at training camp in September, but that doesn't mean Karl Alzner won't have a chance to make the team.
Alzner, the franchise's first-round pick in the 2007 draft, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Caps yesterday. Despite the possible logjam at his position, the blue-chip blueliner will have an opportunity to play his first professional game with Washington and not with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.
"Whether he starts with our team is up to him," Caps general manager George McPhee said of Alzner, who turns 20 in September. "If he's ready, he'll start with our team, and if he's not, he'll go to Hershey until he is. He's a good player, and it is easy to make room for good players."
Added Alzner: "I'm going to give everything I have. I want to stand out and try to make a good impression and make it tough for the coaches and the staff to not want to send me down and keep me there. That is my main goal."
The fifth pick overall last June, Alzner is considered one of the top prospects at his position in the sport. He had seven goals and 36 points in 60 regular-season games for the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League this year and added six more tallies in 16 postseason appearances.
Alzner's value goes well beyond offensive statistics. He was named the player of the year in the WHL and is a finalist for MVP honors of the entire Canadian Hockey League. He captained Calgary this season and also wore the "C" for Canada's gold-medal winning entry in the world junior championships.
"He's a very, very smart, reliable defenseman who is good defensively," McPhee said. "That is where you have to start with defensemen. He doesn't take penalties. He takes a lot of pride in being good defensively. We love the way he plays the game, and we're always looking for that type of defenseman."
While he has a mature grasp on playing at the defensive end, Alzner has some developing left to do offensively. He doesn't have the offensive prowess of Josh Godfrey, his teammate with Canada at the junior championships and Washington's second-round pick in June - yet.
"I want to be more of an offensive threat," Alzner said. "I don't know think I am good enough on the offensive blue line. A guy who you guys are very familiar with - Mike Green - he always seems to find lanes and get [the puck] across the line. I want to be able to do that more like him and a little bit less like me right now."
- The Caps extended their agreement yesterday with Hershey through the 2009-10 season with an option for 2010-11. Washington and Hershey have been partners for three seasons. The Bears have made three playoff appearances and two trips to the Calder Cup Finals in that span, winning the title in 2005-06.
"Hershey has been perfect in every way that you would want it to be, whether it is a great fan base; a great building to play in; a strong, well-managed franchise; or convenient travel from Washington to Hershey and vice versa where our fans can go see our young players and their fans can come see the players when they get to the NHL," McPhee said. ...
McPhee also said he expects center Michael Nylander (shoulder surgery) and right wing Chris Clark (groin) to be 100 percent when training camp begins. He said Brian Pothier is still battling symptoms from the concussion that ended his season in January. The team might not know whether he will play next year until September.