When Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was done putting a group of players through a fairly grueling conditioning regimen Monday, Mathieu Perreault’s posture was evidence of the young center’s development.
Sure, he was breathing heavily and needed a minute to rest hunched over with his stick across the tops of his knees, but after that Perreault was fine. He was clearly not as taxed as some of the younger players around him — and not nearly as much as he was last summer, when he couldn’t finish the session of heavy skating and crumpled to the ice.
“I feel pretty good this week,” he said. “I only got back home [from playing in Hershey] three weeks ago and haven’t done much. Last year I had two months of training before I came here.”
The diminutive Perreault (5-foot-9, 166 pounds) hasn’t grown since last year’s development camp, but he has matured, and his conditioning is part of that. He spent the entire 2008-09 campaign, his first as a professional, in the American Hockey League, where he proved he can be a productive player.
Perreault began the season on a line with fellow rookies Oskar Osala and roommate Francois Bouchard, and he finished with 11 goals and 50 points in 77 games. He added two goals and eight points in the Calder Cup playoffs.
“Having a chance to win the [Calder] Cup with Hershey, I think it was awesome,” Perreault said. “There were some great guys, and it was a lot of fun. [Coach] Bob Woods said he didn’t expect that from us at all, because he already had so many good forwards, so it was a plus for the team that our line was so good and it was good for us.”
A native of Drummondville, Quebec, Perreault is quick, shifty and willing to do the unglamorous work in the corners. One thing he is not is tall, and Perreault’s size always has made him an underdog of sorts.
It didn’t affect his play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he racked up 233 points in a two-season span, but it did damage his draft status. The Caps chose him with pick No. 177 in 2006, and he has spent the past three seasons trying to dispel the notion that his stature will keep him out of the NHL.
“The size issue will affect him his whole career, but he might be one of those guys who can play because he’s smart enough,” general manager George McPhee said. “Small, talented guys are usually good with the puck or when they are on offense, but he’s actually good without the puck.”
Added Boudreau: “He’s a determined young man. Sometimes those small guys play so much harder than everyone else because they’ve had to go through so many battles to get to where they are.”
The Caps called on nearly every member of the Hershey Bears last season because of an avalanche of injuries, but Perreault and Bouchard were not among them. Besides earning more responsibility with the Bears this season, Perreault also considers his NHL debut on his to-do list for this season.
“Bruce and I talked about him; we wouldn’t hesitate to give him that shot this year,” McPhee said. “We really like him. He’s a very, very bright player - just terrific hockey sense and ability to go with it.”
Note - The Caps announced Thursday that defenseman Jeff Schultz signed a one-year, $715,000 contract. A restricted free agent, Schultz accepted his qualifying offer; it was faxed before the 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline, but it didn’t reach the Caps’ office in Arlington. It did, however, make it to the NHL’s Central Registry in Montreal.
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