- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

HERSHEY, Pa. — The Washington Capitals yesterday signed center Brooks Laich to a one-year, $606,000 contract.

It was just a routine announcement, one of several the team will make this summer. Signing a young center who has just completed his first NHL season — and an unspectacular one at that — is not the stuff movies are made of.

But in this case it might signal something else. The holes the Caps had on the roster at the end of last season are starting to fill and there won’t be many openings left.

Washington still needs an experienced defenseman and another forward, preferably a right wing who has an offensive upside. The team also needs some toughness on both sides of the blue line to ensure nobody takes runs at the skill players on the top two lines without retaliation, and to make sure goalies can work undisturbed.

An inexperienced group was in Hershey last night, when more than 30 possible prospects (some are college students who paid their own way) went through their final scrimmage of the Caps’ development camp. A few will play for the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears next season; the others will resume their careers in junior leagues or in college.

“We don’t want to go into camp with a slew of undecided spots,” a Caps team source said yesterday, “nor do we want to shut out the kids who will be competing. The kids have been told if they played well enough to earn a spot, they’ll be here.

“Let’s put it this way — we have a pretty good idea who will be here at the end but we don’t know where they’ll be playing, and by that I mean who will be playing with whom. And there’s always the chance that we look out there and see a hole we can’t fill with available personnel and we have to go shopping.”

Some of the spots with the Caps — in fact, many of the roster openings — already have been filled. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Matt Pettinger will be on the left side; Chris Clark, Richard Zednik and Matt Bradley will be on the other side. Dainius Zubrus will center the first unit, Brian Sutherby will center a checking unit and Laich will pivot for another line.

That fills nine of the 12 (probably 13, a spare) forward spots. Wing Tomas Fleischmann, coming off a championship season in Hershey, surely will be in contention for one open position while Kris Beech will fight for one of the spots in the middle. Wing Jakub Klepis also is in the mix.

Center Boyd Gordon has filled defensive roles for the Caps but has not shown much offense at the NHL level, an obvious drawback. Center Dave Steckel is an excellent penalty-killer but probably needs another year in Hershey developing playmaking skills.

Defensively, there are plenty of bodies but some of them have yet to prove they have earned permanent status in the league. Shaone Morrisonn has a spot as does Mike Green, who also was part of the playoff run at Hershey, and Brian Pothier, the free agent who played in Ottawa last season. Steve Eminger and Jamie Heward are holdovers and Bryan Muir may become a power play specialist.

Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson have the two goalie spots locked up and yesterday the Caps signed Hershey mainstay Frederic Cassivi to a two-year deal, meaning the No. 3 spot is now taken.

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