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Of course the Caps don’t count on Erskine for his offense. He’s there for muscle in the defensive end, where he uses his size and toughness, most of the time without crossing the line.

“You need to play physical; you need those bodies,” Oates said. “He’s playing a lot of minutes and handling it really well.”

Erskine handled last year’s time out of the lineup about as well as could be expected. He wasn’t happy about it, but his earning a contract extension is a lesson to teammates about not getting discouraged.

“I think even when he wasn’t playing last year that he’s a fun guy to be around regardless of the situation,” defenseman John Carlson said. “He had that positive outlook on things, and good things happen when you work hard.”

Missing all but 28 games in 2011-12 with injuries and time as a healthy scratch looked like it was going to derail Erskine’s career. Instead, it was just a detour, given his revitalization under Oates.

“John is that [guy] — he just keeps his nose to the grindstone. He just keeps working and doing what the coaches want him to do,” forward Matt Hendricks said.

“It’s been paying off for him this season, and there’s nobody happier in here than his teammates because we really appreciate when he’s playing for us. That’s what I’m getting at when I say that he’s such a great professional, that when he shows up at the rink, he’s ready to work, and that’s all you can ask.”