- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

It seems given that a player who makes the NHL can skate, but that is true only to a certain extent. Dino Ciccarelli skated with all the finesse of a turtle, but he was a great player. Guys like Peter Bondra and Jaromir Jagr are great skaters, which helps them be superior players.
Steve Eminger can flat-out skate, the primary thing that separates him from the other rookies in the Washington Capitals training camp. He skates so much better than anybody else on the ice that it is readily apparent even to the casual observer.
Eminger, who will be 19 on Halloween, played last season for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League, the same team that produced Scott Stevens. Eminger had 19 goals and 58 points in 64 games playing defense for the Rangers and still managed 93 minutes in penalties.
But Eminger's ability to move with or without the puck and to carry it with the skill and the confidence of an older man, the accuracy of his tape-to-tape passes, and his "escapability," to use a word coaches and scouts coined to describe him, make him even more valuable now than when the Caps took him 10th overall in the June draft.
If the NHL follows through with its vow to crack down on obstruction and enforces the rules, defensemen who can carry the puck will become paramount. They will be like centers who take the puck end-to-end, except they will allow others to work into the open while they exit the zone. In other words, a fourth forward.
"From the first time I saw him at 16, it was obvious he was going to be a very good prospect," said Steve Bowman, the Caps' Ontario scout. "He's one of the very few guys in the last few drafts who can carry the puck up the ice. He does a lot of little things very well. To me, he would be a very easy guy to have as a partner because he's always available to get an outlet pass. He takes charge of his half of the ice."
Eminger finds himself in a good situation: The Caps have a new coaching staff; there is a new stance on rules, in which speed and mobility are essential; and Washington's defensive lineup is in flux.
Veteran Calle Johansson's status is uncertain for the season opener Oct.11. He is still recovering from rotator cuff surgery performed Nov.11, and it takes a full year for complete recovery. Nobody wants to risk an injury with needless, premature contact.
That may or may not create an opening, but it certainly makes it worthwhile for coaches to take a longer look, which is what Eminger is getting.
"I don't think there's any doubt he's going to be an NHL player," general manager George McPhee said, "but when is the right time? Is it this year, next year, two years down the road? It's up to him."
McPhee winced when pressed about openings possibly developing where few existed previously.
"He's going to get a long look, and we'll decide at the end of camp what the pecking order is. But certainly his performance hasn't dropped off from rookie camp. In fact, he's improved as we've gone along," McPhee said.
Coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach Randy Carlyle, the latter a former Norris Trophy winner, both cautioned about anointing a prospect before he has earned his spot.
"Nothing seems to bother him right now, and that's good," Carlyle said, "but there's another level of hockey coming."
Said Cassidy, who has liked Eminger's ability since he arrived: "You don't ever want to get too excited. There's always a couple guys at camp that jump out, but because they're young, they just can't keep that level up."
Cassidy said the three upcoming exhibition games (tomorrow night at home vs. Philadelphia, Friday night in Boston and Saturday night at home vs. Pittsburgh) will be good tests not only for Eminger but also youngsters like Brian Sutherby, Boyd Gordon, Mike Farrell and Jakub Cutta.
Notes Pro scout Brian MacLellan used a 9-iron to ace the 160-yard ninth hole during a tournament at South River in Edgewater. He bought only for pro scouts, however, at the 19th hole. Tickets are still available for the exhibition game tomorrow vs. the Flyers at MCI Center.



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