When Nicklas Backstrom missed 40 games last season, the Washington Capitals called on Mathieu Perreault to help fill that hole. When no moves were made at the trade deadline, the Caps called on Jay Beagle to become a shutdown center.
Amid what has been a quiet offseason, the team rewarded both young players Thursday with new contracts, signing Perreault to a two-year deal worth $2.1 million and Beagle to a three-year deal worth $2.7 million.
With Alexander Semin likely gone, the Caps could look to Perreault to fill a scoring void. He had a career-high 16 goals and 14 assists last season.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Perreault said in a phone interview. “This is the team that gave me my first chance, and I really wanted to get a deal done with the Caps, and I’m happy to get it done today.”
Beagle was the most-improved player after the All-Star break, blossoming under coach Dale Hunter into more than just a solid bottom-six forward with an impeccable work ethic. He developed into a faceoff, penalty-killing and shot-blocking specialist.
The 26-year-old missed time early in the season after suffering a concussion and then was forced to sit out the final two games of the Caps’ playoff run after breaking his foot blocking a shot.
“It didn’t start the way I wanted it to and it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, that’s hockey. Injuries happen and hopefully it will make me stronger as a player and as a person,” he said in May. “You really appreciate the good times when they happen once you’ve gone through some adversity.”
Perreault expressed frustration at the end of the season after being made a healthy scratch following the first four games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Boston.
“Obviously, I wasn’t happy. But they never really told me anything. That’s probably the worst part; like you don’t really know how you’re playing,” he said in May. “But it’s really been like that every time I get sent down in the past year or get sent down in another year. I never really knew why. It’s not fun. I didn’t enjoy that.”
The 24-year-old who was a restricted free agent proved versatile in his first season as a full-time NHL player, bouncing up and down the lineup and adjusting to time on the wing.
His concerns about playing time and the hiring of coach Adam Oates played a role in his making another commitment in Washington.
“The last few talks we had, they told me I was part of the top forwards of the team and they want me back with them. I’m assuming they’ve got to make room for me to hopefully get ice time,” Perreault said. “We’ll see the new coach coming in, too, so it’s going to be new dynamic, it’s going to be all different.”
Unless the Caps acquire a top-six wing such as Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets or Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks, it’ll be scoring by committee.
“You sort of write it all out, where the goals are going to come from, what can we expect from Brooks [Laich] and [Marcus] Johansson and Alex [Ovechkin] and sort of come up with a total and if you’re happy with it, you go with it,” general manager George McPhee said earlier in the week.
But McPhee also mentioned Perreault as a possible piece of a fourth line along with newly signed right wing Joey Crabb.
For the Drummondville, Quebec, native, it’s not about specifically filling a top-six role.
“Even if I’m top-nine forwards, it’s no problem because the Caps when they’ve been playing well in the last few years they’ve always had three sets of lines,” Perreault said. “Even if I’m on the third or even the fourth line, it wouldn’t really matter. All I want is to get ice time and get a chance to play a little bit more. That’s it.”