If competition breeds a good atmosphere at Capitals camp, what happens when there really is no competition? Braden Holtby knows that — barring injury — he has no chance to start the season in the NHL, thanks to the signing of Tomas Vokoun and presence of Michal Neuvirth.
In a strange way, that might be a good thing for him, as he is taking a different approach to this camp.
"I don't want to say there's not as much to prove, but I think I feel a bit more comfortable to be able to work on things during camp instead of trying to be in top form on the ice, worrying about every goal that goes in," Holtby said. "It's familiarity with the situation and knowing now that training camp is to get into peak perform[ance] for the start of the season.
Holtby, who said he "never faulted" general manager George McPhee for nabbing Vokoun at the bargain basement price of $1.5 million for one season, admitted that this season he'll spend at Hershey is a step back in his goal to make it in the NHL. But this is the first time since Jose Theodore that Holtby can learn from a seasoned vet in camp.
"I'm going to take that out of it and learn as much as I can and make myself better for when I'm called upon next," said Holtby, who called himself a "visual learner" when asked what he'd talk to Vokoun about. "I can already see a few things that I've picked up on."
But the mindset of knowing he's going back to the Bears isn't a fresh one. Goaltending coach Dave Prior said he talked to Holtby before July 1 and sent the message that with Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov around, there's not much wiggle room.
"[I told him] maybe your performance in Hershey will lead to a trade during the season or something, but that's the reality of it," Prior said. "So he was well-aware that he had another year."
Holtby was — understandably — excited in the 24 hours or so between the trade of Varlamov and the signing of Vokoun. But Prior said he called Holtby shortly after to point out that the organization really was confident in him and Neuvirth — but that Vokoun was a move that's hard to say no to.
"When you get a guy like that available to bring him into your team and your organization, obviously you take it," Holtby said.
And now he's able to use the next few weeks — here and in Hershey — honing his game.
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