- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Capitals are expected to make another round of cuts Thursday, trimming the roster down from 29 to the final few guys competing to make the roster.

Much has been written and discussed about the forward spot open, but John Erskine’s shoulder is still keeping him from taking contact in practice – and, by extension, opening the door for another defenseman to stick around.

“If John’s not ready to go at the start, somebody’s got to stick around,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’ll see who it is.”

It seems like the competition is down to Sean Collins, Patrick McNeill and Dmitry Orlov, with each guy bringing something a little different to the seventh-defenseman role. Collins is a 27-year-old veteran who got the call-up from Hershey last season and even got into the Caps’ final playoff game. McNeill is a 24-year-old with four years of AHL experience. And Orlov is a 20-year-old prospect who could one day be a top-pairing guy in Washington.

Erskine’s postseason shoulder surgery was expected to include a four-to-five-month recovery time. But Boudreau wasn’t optimistic the big defenseman would get into a preseason game.

“We think that there’s a bit of opportunity to stick around here for a bit,” McNeill said. “We all are just kind of going out there and doing our thing and hopefully making it hard on the coaching staff and the management to decide who they want to keep.”

McNeill said there hasn’t been much feedback from the coaching staff, but he’s happy to just be on the ice and “survive another day around here.” He’s the biggest unknown of the three, though he has been in the Caps’ system since the club drafted him in the fourth round in 2005.

“He’s a guy that was a really good offensive defenseman in junior and for one injury after another injury never had a chance to show it. So this is the first year that he’s been healthy,” Boudreau said. “So we get a chance to see him in a healthy mode rather than coming off a shoulder surgery or an injury. With Patrick, it’s all about getting confidence because he has the physical skills.”

Those physical skills were on display Monday when he crushed former Hershey Bears teammate Andrew Joudrey. And McNeill was expected to get another chance to show himself Wednesday night against the Predators in Nashville.

“I think this is the longest, obviously, I’ve ever been around at a training camp,” he said. “Every day is more experience and builds more confidence.”

It’s fair to say that the Caps’ coaching staff knows what it’s getting out of Collins, who is a top-pairing minor league defenseman trusted last spring to fill in for Mike Green in Game 4 at Tampa Bay.

Orlov has impressed since rookie camp with his poise and puck-moving abilities that seem to bely his age.
“He’s deservedly here,” Boudreau said. “It’s not just a fluke.”

It might wind up being the biggest shocker of camp if Orlov makes the team. If sent down to Hershey, he wouldn’t have to clear waivers and could see more playing time than if he stuck around as the seventh defenseman.

That could give an edge to Collins or McNeill, but both said they weren’t sure what the Caps were looking for in this competition. So they’re just trying to play their own style instead of seeking to impress.

“I think it’s kind of the same for all of us — we’re going to battle hard and work hard,” Collins said. “If Patty or Dmitry stays over me, I’ll be happy for them and I’ll go back to the drawing board and try working hard to get here.”