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Laich did just what Chynoweth said, making Canada’s world junior team and becoming a second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators. George McPhee pulled off what turned out to be a heist by getting Laich for the past-his-prime Peter Bondra in February 2004.

Laich just appears to be hitting his prime now, blossoming into a complete player. He’s a natural center but has been able to adjust to left wing and right wing. Recently, he was even used as a defenseman when injuries crippled the Capitals on the blue line.

He’s happy to do it whatever he’s asked.

“I love it. I don’t know why I love it. But I do,” Laich said. “It’s something that keeps it interesting for me; you never fall into just a solid routine where maybe you get complacent with this or that. The game’s always changing, you’re always learning. … I think it helps you learn a lot more about the game, which ultimately makes you a better player.”

Karl Alzner flashed a wide smile when talking about Laich the defenseman and his new appreciation for defense. Forwards and defensemen constantly rib each other about their positions, but now Laich knows how the other half plays.

“I think when he signed his contract, they had no idea he was going to play defense,” right wing Troy Brouwer quipped. “I don’t think we need to worry about that. It’s not a regular thing — you pay D-men to play D, not forwards to play D.”

But the Capitals pay Laich to do everything, which includes blocking shots, backchecking and scoring. He said his role depends on the game and the situation. If his team is down 3-1, he knows his job is to score; if his team is up 3-1, he switches into defensive mode.

“Sometimes I have to sacrifice my personal goals of maybe trying to get an offensive chance or whatever, because you understand consequence and you understand the moment in the game,” he said.

Label-less leader

Laich doesn’t wear a ‘C’ or ‘A’ on his chest. Those honors belong to Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble.

But anyone who thinks Laich isn’t a leader doesn’t know the Caps and doesn’t know him. Assistant coach Dean Evason called him “an extension of the coaching staff” — a player who can take messages to the group at-large with the certainty they’ll get through.

Some players are better leaders without a label, and that’s Laich.

“He just goes out, plays hard every night, practices hard every day, he trains hard,” Evason said. “He does all the right things, says all the right things.”

Seemingly equal parts vocal and example, in a room full of players who have had varying levels of individual and team-oriented success, Laich fits in perfectly.