Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jakub Klepis was one of the players who figured to go back to the Washington Capitals’ minor league camp with the team’s first cuts or shortly thereafter. Yet a week into the season, the center/right wing is still here, nudging others aside.

The mistake the Caps made was playing him in only one game so far.

“Jake Klepis,” general manager George McPhee said yesterday when asked to name the biggest surprise so far. “He has speed. He has skill. He has playmaking ability. He could be a really good player in this league for a long time.”

The 22-year-old Czech Republic native, who totaled four points in 25 games with the Capitals last season, is more outgoing this season, coach Glen Hanlon said.

“He seemed shy before. Now, there’s way more interaction, way more signs he’s really enjoying what he’s doing,” Hanlon said. “You can see him laughing, enjoying himself now.”

Klepis centers a line that includes Richard Zednik and Rico Fata, putting three fast skaters on the ice. The line should help develop the chemistry between Klepis and Zednik that the Caps spotted during camp.

“I think there has to be some form of determined approach from him, saying, ‘I’m going to do everything I can in order not to get sent down,’” Hanlon said. “And he’s doing all of those things.”

Zednik struggles

Zednik averaged nearly 19 minutes in his first two games since rejoining the Caps but doesn’t have a shot on goal. That worries the club.

“I think, two games in, concern is just a little premature,” Hanlon said. “But we want Zed to be a goal scorer. He’s in great shape. He works hard. He’s a good skater. He does the things we want him to do. He’s just not finding the net.”

Injury updates

The Caps play in St. Paul on Thursday night, and center/right wing Boyd Gordon (undisclosed injury) might not be there. He didn’t skate yesterday and is a question mark for the game against the Minnesota Wild.

Meanwhile, wings Matt Pettinger and Matt Bradley did skate, and Hanlon listed both as “pretty close.” …

Center Dainius Zubrus left the ice early, but Hanlon said that was OK.

“I’d like it if he didn’t skate at all,” Hanlon said of his first-line center, who is still recovering from knee surgery. …

Defenseman Ben Clymer worked out in the gym and is resting an old injury but will be ready for Thursday, Hanlon said.

“We’re going to Minnesota. You know he’ll be ready.”

Clymer is from Bloomington, Minn., site of the old North Stars’ home, the Met Center, which is now the Mall of America.

Looking back

Former Caps captain Steve Konowalchuk was forced to retire from the Colorado Avalanche a week ago because of heart problems at age 33. In an interview with the Denver Post, he had this to say about this career:

“I’m proud of where I came from. I wasn’t one of the favorites to make the NHL. I wasn’t a first-round draft pick [the Caps took his 58th overall in 1991]. I wasn’t supposed to make junior hockey. But I just plugged along and put a lot of years together. I’m proud of that, proud that I got to play a game that I loved. At first you hope you can get to 30; then, when you get to 33, your goals change. You want to play quite a few more years.”

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