Of the roughly two dozen prospects going through the paces at Kettler Capitals Iceplex this week, it is possible no player has more to gain or lose this season than defenseman Josh Godfrey.
Once bestowed the lofty expectations of being a high second-round pick, Godfrey scuffled a bit during his first season as a professional. Problems with both shoulders and a nasty cut on his leg limited Godfrey to 50 regular-season games and six of South Carolina's games in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
Godfrey doesn't turn 22 until January, but he needs to be durable and productive this season to avoid being buried on the depth chart at the organization's deepest position.
"It is [an important year]," said Washington Capitals assistant coach Bob Woods, who coached Godfrey for 13 games with Hershey. "Last year, he just got in a situation where he got hurt, and we had so much depth at Hershey at 'D' that sometimes for young defensemen it might hurt your ice time at that level. There is no rush. He's a guy who was able to play a lot at the East Coast level and win a championship down there. As long as these guys are playing, eventually they are going to get their opportunity."
Godfrey, who went undrafted as an 18-year-old, was a bit of a late bloomer to begin with. He had a breakout season in the Ontario Hockey League the next year, and the Caps snagged him with the 34th pick in the 2007 draft.
After another impressive year with Sault Ste. Marie, Godfrey turned pro. He found out just how deep the organization is on the blue line when he was demoted from the American Hockey League to the ECHL.
"I expected to play in Hershey, but I had a few injuries, and they had a lot of guys," Godfrey said. "Washington thought it was best for me to go [to the ECHL] and play, but then I also ended up getting hurt down there. I'm obviously looking to take a step up this year."
Blessed with a booming shot, Godfrey will never be characterized as a defensive defenseman. Shoulder injuries aren't helpful to anyone, but they can be particularly damaging for a player whose best asset involves winding up for a slap shot.
One of Godfrey's shoulder ailments was unique, and he may bear a reminder for the rest of his life. Godfrey was in an awkward position when he was hit into the boards, and the ligaments that connect the clavicle to his shoulder blade were torn.
Instead of having surgery to repair the ligaments, the recovery process involved waiting for the nerve endings to die and the pain to go away. Now when Godfrey moves his shoulders, his left collarbone rises several inches higher than his right. Godfrey said the pain is gone, and Caps trainer Greg Smith confirmed it will not impede his ability to train or play in any way.
That's a good thing for Godfrey because he faces an intense battle just to make Hershey's roster. Washington returns seven veterans plus Karl Alzner and John Carlson, both of whom are likely to be in the mix for a roster spot (not to mention dark horses Tyler Sloan and Sean Collins). Hershey returns captain Bryan Helmer, Patrick McNeill and Greg Amadio, plus any of the above players who don't make the Capitals.
The situation could leave rookie camp invitees Godfrey and Zach Miskovic with long odds to squeeze into the Bears' lineup.
"I think he has got the skills to do it; it could just be a maturity thing with him," Woods said. "You've got to remember these guys are 20-year-old kids and everyone develops at a different speed. Some guys just take a little longer. To me, he's got all the tools. He might just need more experience."